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Let’s Talk Science and the Royal Society of Canada have partnered to provide Globe and Mail readers with relevant coverage about issues that affect us all – from education to the impact of leading-edge scientific discoveries.

Kate Soper is a Marketing Officer at Let’s Talk Science.

What are some of the first books you buy for a baby? Shapes & Colours, Animal Sounds, and Our Solar System. Then, when they are slightly older, what do kids say they want to be when they grow up? A firefighter, a veterinarian, an astronaut! It is clear that our children love space from an early age, and that doesn’t go away.

The joy and wonder that children experience when thinking about outer space makes it a perfect gateway to other learning opportunities. Let’s Talk Science runs many projects and events in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, bringing various learning opportunities to students of all ages through the lens of space. In the younger years, the connections are basic, using space as a hook to get students engaged in critical thinking and skill-building - draw a picture of what you think a community on the Moon would look like and explain all the jobs people would need to make the community possible. As students mature we are able to dive into deeper issues - what needs to be considered when living in a completely enclosed environment for long-term space travel? What can we learn about human health while in zero gravity? What are the consequences of our actions on earth that may lead us to need to think about setting up colonies on another planet?

Space Seeds Spark Curiosity in Youth

The Tomatosphere™ project which has been running in classrooms for 20 years across the U.S. and Canada teaches the scientific method, inquiry-based learning, and the importance of a blind study, which is a common method used in clinical research where information that may influence the thinking of the participants is kept hidden until after the experiment is complete hoping to reduce or eliminate biases that arise from a participants’ expectations. These are all basic building blocks to scientific literacy and they are made fun and accessible to kids as young as the first grade by incorporating the aspect of space. Students are excited to work on a “real experiment” that includes materials that have travelled to space and the results of which are provided to researchers who are working on expanding our ability to grow nutritional food in the harsh elements of space for use in long-term space travel and exploration.

Participating classrooms are sent two sets of seeds, one set has been to space, and the other is a control set that has stayed on earth. The students plant both sets of seeds and record day by day how many seeds germinate from each group. They don’t know which set has been exposed to space conditions and are asked to develop a hypothesis on what might happen to the different seeds. Once they have completed their observations they submit their results to a national database and the space seeds are revealed. This project can be scaled up or down to work for many different learning levels, but the context of working together to make future human space travel better is always a strong motivator.

Air-quality Project Empowers Youth

Another space-themed national STEM project offered by Let’s Talk Science is the Living Space project, geared towards students in grades 6 to 9. With this project, students explore the impacts of CO2 levels on human health and wellbeing and discuss the many factors that are monitored and maintained aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to keep the astronauts onboard healthy and productive. Students also monitor their own classroom environments and determine if they are working in an optimized environment, and if not, what can they do to improve it.

For one school in Renfrew County, Ontario, their small student project about space and air quality, blossomed into a much bigger environmental and social justice mission not only in their school—but in their entire community! And the best part, the kids were leading the way! The discovery about the poor air quality in their classroom made the students want to learn more and develop a plan to improve their classrooms. Learn more about The Power of a Class Project.

Students also learn digital literacy skills and coding as they have to program custom-built sensors developed by Let’s Talk Science that work with Micro:bit microcontrollers and collect and analyze their data sets to make data-driven conclusions. Participating classrooms, and the ISS, share their findings with each other through a national Let’s Talk Science database. These are real-world problems that students can connect directly to their current experience.

Connecting Space Experts with Youth

Some of Let’s Talk Science’s most popular symposiums for high school students have been on the topics of space travel. The upcoming Let’s Talk Lunar Symposium, Thursday, October 5, is a discussion with world-renowned space scientists, and engineers to learn about the exciting journey to the Moon, the vast array of technology involved, and how it’s all connected to your daily life. They will be discussing questions like “How does space science shape our life on Earth and what should humanity’s big goals for space exploration be?” and “How does lunar exploration help us tackle challenges in such areas as energy, healthcare, and the environment?”

It is inspiring to see the engagement and enthusiasm of students when you talk about space inside or outside of the classroom. It is important to foster their imagination and interest in space - these are the leaders, researchers, coders, and astronauts of the future. Together we need to prepare Canadian youth for future careers and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.

Celebrate science and technology through World Space Week and the contributions to the betterment of the human condition. The United Nations General Assembly declared in 1999 that World Space Week will be held each year from October 4-10.