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Author Topic:   Teaching space exploration history in schools

Posts: 1030
From: New Jersey, USA
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 08-15-2012 03:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In my schools, they teach up to Vietnam and that's it. Nothing in the past 40 years or so is taught. I've asked why and it comes down to 'we don't have enough time.' Space exploration isn't even mentioned that much in the textbooks.

My college Western Civilization II book has no mention of it all. I've talked to my fellow students and they have no idea who John Glenn is.

Isn't there something that can be done so that space exploration (with focus on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era) is taught? I'm sure there is stuff they can cut or at least condense.

We don't need to spend two weeks learning about the 1920s regarding the child labor laws and unions for example.


Posts: 170
From: Ohio
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 08-15-2012 04:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for canyon42   Click Here to Email canyon42     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's not really up to the schools themselves — it's a question of what standards and assessments have been adopted at the state level. I teach third grade, and I have very little discretion in terms of the topics and skills I teach in each of the major subjects. HOW I teach them is more up to me, although even there it depends quite a bit on the administration of the school district — some are more definitive in the teaching methods they require, while others leave it more to the teacher.

In addition to teaching third grade, I oversee a science club for fifth graders. We mostly do hands-on activities and projects, but I also include each year a couple of sessions on the history of space exploration (including a viewing of the Apollo 15 episode in the "From the Earth to the Moon" series, followed by a family field trip to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to see Endeavour and the other spacecraft at the museum), with an emphasis on how spaceflight started and the steps that were required to reach the moon.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 08-15-2012 04:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Originally posted by Fezman92:
We don't need to spend two weeks learning about the 1920s regarding the child labor laws and unions for example.
You are far less likely to learn anything about child labor laws and the organization of unions later in life than you are space exploration history. And yet both of those topics are still contemporary issues today (just reference the upcoming presidential election for discussions about outsourcing and civil servant jobs).

I'd love to see space exploration history become part of a standardized syllabus but not at the expense of topics that still play a daily role in our social structure as a nation and world.

Also, be careful of using personal (anecdotal) experience as a model for the country. There are many high schools and colleges where space exploration is taught, if not part of social studies, then as part of the science or engineering syllabi. There are even dedicated 100 and 200 level undergraduate classes offered in space history at several universities.


Posts: 2024
From: Belfast, United Kingdom
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 08-15-2012 04:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space exploration would probably be considered too narrow a topic to teach in its own right. The Cold War might be a suitable subject in which to include space exploration. A topic worthy of study might be: was the space race the Cold War by proxy? Were astronauts and cosmonauts the equivalent of medieval knights doing battle in place of whole armies? Was the Moon the 20th century Holy Grail? Plenty of food for thought there, but I suppose it's a matter for the education authorities.


Posts: 368
From: New York, NY USA
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-15-2012 04:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM1   Click Here to Email LM1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am not a teacher, but I can imagine that the little time that you have with your class is already filled with a prearranged agenda. What I would suggest is that you somehow mention the subject of space exploration occasionally with your pupils and their parents in off hours. Make it interesting. Perhaps you will get some agreement to form a space club. Children like clubs. You could print membership cards for the Space Club. They would like that. Then, after school hours have meetings of the Space Club for 30 to 45 minutes twice a week. Would that be helpful?

I am now retired and I read a great deal. I have learned a great deal from reading. You could start a small space library in your class. Devote one small bookcase to space exploration. If you have no space books, they can be obtained very inexpensively from library book sales, thrift shops and even garage sales. You could ask for donations from parents. Your students could borrow the books and may become interested in the subject. There are many books on this topic for children.

You could also bring a piece of space memorabilia into your class and place it on your desk and wait for your students to ask about it. A picture of astronaut Sally Ride may inspire some student to emulate her and follow in her footsteps.

You cannot eliminate such things as child labor laws from your curriculum. So much is already eliminated because of lack of time. You could place space posters in your class and still maintain your schedule. You could occasionally play a game with your students - Who can name the 7 Mercury astronauts and perhaps have a poster of them. I remember in high school that there was very little mention of the US Civil War. It was only in college where I learned a great deal about the Civil War and its effects upon the future of the United States. Your Space Club and Space Library could inspire a future astronaut.


Posts: 1030
From: New Jersey, USA
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 08-15-2012 05:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm a college student with a major in history so I know that the history of child labor laws and unions are important but spending three weeks (in high school) on the Haymarket riots and how the big business tried to show the unions as 'anarchist' in my view was a bit to long. I have no plans of going into teaching but I am going to be a tutor for college history in the fall and will ask if anyone wants to be taught space exploration history.


Posts: 355
From: CA.
Registered: Jan 2011

posted 08-15-2012 05:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I volunteer on a semi-regular basis to teach 4th and 5th graders at NASA Ames. Most NASA bases will have some sort of an education department where kids from the surrounding areas (generally school classes, but also summer camps) can come for an educational field trip. At Ames the curriculum is broken down into 4 fields; Aeronautics, Space Physics, ISS and Mission Control (MC is kind of a grab bag including a variety of different stuff).


Posts: 961
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 08-15-2012 11:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MarylandSpace   Click Here to Email MarylandSpace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I rotated space posters on the windows of my classroom. They would pique the curiousity of students and stimulate discussion. For the first 34 years of my teaching career I taught Accounting, Business Law, Typing/Keyboarding/MS Word, Businees Math, Consumer Economics, Retail Selling, Management Skills, and other subjects as assigned. My last 3 years, I was the Gifted Seminar Support Teacher.

I always enjoyed the NASA Spinoffs publications and often worked space concepts into my teaching. My main goal in teaching was to have my students become critical thinkers and problem solvers for their success in life.

By the way, I obtained many great posters from Kim Poor of Novaspace. I thank you Kim. Teacher resource rooms at NASA Centers provided some great resources, too.


Posts: 368
From: Holbrook MA, USA
Registered: Jul 2008

posted 08-16-2012 07:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My wife teaches science, so space exploration is not part of the curriculum per se. Whenever she teaches about space, though, she gets questions about the moon landings, the Shuttle, etc. At that point she invites me in to speak to the class. I bring some of my signed photos and artifacts and go over the history of human space flight (briefly). I usually have them submit questions ahead of time, so I know what they want me to talk about. It's gone over pretty well the last few years, and now the high school history teacher (who covers the Apollo program at least) wants me to come in and speak this year.

Regardless of the curriculum, most teachers love to have guest speakers come in and talk about things they are involved with, or are passionate about. If you want space exploration talked about in the classroom, consider being the person doing the talking. I'm not a scientist, and I can't afford to spend the GDP of a small country on a flown checklist page or anything like that, but I like to think I know my stuff when it comes to space flight history. When I don't, I'm not afraid to say "I don't know, but I'll find out." Also, I've had the great good fortune to meet some of these men and women and hear them speak about their experiences. I try to convey what I've gotten from them when I talk to students. Kids love to hear about it, and maybe you will be the person that a future astronaut looks back on as part of thier inspiration.


Posts: 374
From: Lansing, MI, USA
Registered: Mar 2012

posted 08-16-2012 08:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well put, Steve and I thank you for time. You do make a difference. I wish others would follow in your footsteps!

I agree that space exploration should be taught. It was/is a major part of our sciences and continues today. Many things have been invented/created/envisioned because of space exploration. And sadly, that, in my opinion, is what is lacking in schools today — inspiration. Due to the requirements of curriculum dictated by the state, what is taught today is facts, not curiosity or inspiration. It's become too much of a learn this, regurgitate it for a test, move on to the next thing, get out and move on.

And that disappoints me. When I was in high school (many moons ago), I had an absolutely GREAT math teacher (I thank you still today, Mr. Jeff McCann!). I went to a small town school but Mr. McCann came to our school because he loved what he did and was burnt out by the fast paced schedule of a NASA engineer (yes, he worked in Houston). So he decided to teach. But what I got from him was an inspiration to actually WANT to learn more in the math and science fields. Today I work with big computers. If it hadn't been for him, I doubt I would be where I am today. He gave me that inspiration.

But it still remains, space exploration was, and still is today, a major part of our country's agenda and hope for the future. As mentioned, the Cold War, exploration, world politics, national budgeting, and as I mentioned, inspiration in math and science are all involved. And to me, that is what is sorely lacking in our education system. Imagine, just for a moment, if every kid coming out of high school was INSPIRED by someone like Mr. McCann? Where would they go from there? What could they accomplish for the world? THAT is the real purpose of education.

So I'd like to hear a valid argument against why space exploration and history SHOULDN'T be taught!


Posts: 771
From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 08-16-2012 09:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's so much that never gets taught in history classes about a lot of important topics, it's easy to see how space exploration gets left out, too.

I remember clearly in middle and high school that we never got the last chapter of any history texts.

The child labor law comment got my laughing because I, too, never understood why so much focus is on the pre-WW2 era for all kinds of things most people wouldn't consider all that important, then they will leave out such apparently 'trivial' things as, say, the landings at Normandy. A friend who teaches high school history told me the focus on WW2 is on the internment of the Japanese Americans in the US and racial injustice within the US military. Yes, those are important but it's sad that THOSE are taught when the basic reasons for the war and the campaigns fought aren't covered at all.

And history is boiled down ridiculously. Many schools teach the American Civil War was fought only because of slavery (which is a modern PC thing), or that everyone in the US loved FDR (which is totally untrue).

So, knowing this, is it any shock that the space program is left out?

Fra Mauro

Posts: 1015
From: Maspeth, NY
Registered: Jul 2002

posted 08-16-2012 10:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As a high school teacher and an administrator, I can tell you space is a tough sell but when the students hear it, they usually love it. We took a group to the Cradle of Aviation Museum on educational tour day.

In my U.S. History class, I do mention space events, despite the fact that the textbook mentions very little about them. I do mention the budget issues in my Government class. In the past I have a taught a senior elective on Space History, and that depends upon the desires of the seniors and the Vice-Principal, who favors more "intellectual" electives.

As some of you may remember, I have formed a space enthusiasts club and our patches are coming shortly (thanks Tim!). In my office, I display space photos, autographs and mission patches. I do what I can in a city that is not "space-friendly."


Posts: 4046
From: Geneva, Switzerland
Registered: May 2006

posted 08-16-2012 02:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Make that book a textbook.


Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 08-17-2012 01:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The big problem is that just to teach the history makes it too narrow.

Back in the 60's, as part of my degree thesis, I did a paper advocating the teaching of astronautics as a cross-curricular subject. The history has been covered above. But what about the geography of the launch sites and the problems of mapping worlds with no magnetic field; the chemistry of rocket fuels; the physics of orbital mechanics together with the basic maths of calculating payloads and fuel needed to orbit them; the science of nutritional foods in a weightless environment; the needlework problems of stitching an airtight spacesuit; the biology of keeping a body fit and healthy; and, perhaps the most contentious of all, the theology involved in who converts who should extraterrestrial life ever be found.

Back in the 60's the latest idea (fad) in education was something called IDE - Inter Disciplinary Education - where all subjects were connected by a central theme. This course/theme would run for up to a term. It's been about 40 years since this was superseded with other 'bright' ideas by educationalists seeking to make a name for themselves. It's time someone rediscovered it. What better platform to do this than astronautics?

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