How to Use an iPad and Other Technology to Get Kids Excited About Space

This article lists gadgets, apps and websites that teachers can use to teach a class about space and provide them with some truly incredible experiences.

Space is a fascinating topic, and it is one that should be relatively easy to engage children with. This isn't some dull mathematic equation, or story about a long-dead king – this is the final frontier. Most children have an innate interest in space in fact, which is why they'll tend to spend a lot of their free time blasting aliens in Halo or watching the latest Star Trek movie. Many kids dream of being astronauts and even those who have no interest in the science aspect will still marvel at the stars on occasion.

But every teacher knows that even the most fascinating topic can lose its charm when you bring it to the classroom. Drifting through space and learning about the planets is only fun when you don't have to do it. Stick an exam at the end and suddenly it becomes as dry as any other subject. Go into detail on Einstein's theories about gravity and watch as every child in the room loses their admiration for and interest in space…

The question then, is how you go about making your lessons in space educational without sapping the joy right out of them. Here we will look at how you can go about doing that using an iPad and other technologies that will make space interactive, tangible and fascinating – while still being educational.

App: The Night Sky ($0.99)

Let's start with an app that every stargazer will have tried at some point. The Night Sky is an augmented reality app that allows you to hold your iPad or iPhone up to the sky and identify each constellation and each planet.

This is a fun app that can help children to recognise the shape of space around them – point the app at the floor and it will show you the constellations hidden beneath the Earth that currently can't be seen for instance, which really puts things into perspective.

Tech: Telescope

Lessons with The Night Sky of course will really come alive if you can get your class outside in the evening. It will require them to give up their free time, but if you promise them they'll be able to see other galaxies (Andromeda of course) and planets then it might just entice them. And if you can get hold of a good telescope too then this can become even more fascinating. It's one thing to read about Saturn's rings in the classroom, it's quite another to find the right spot in the night sky with an iPad and then to see them in person. If you have a camera then you can even get involved in some astrophotography.

Website: Planet4.org

When most young children dream of becoming astronauts, it's often the exploration that piques their interest and the idea of seeing things that no one will ever have seen before. Well you can help them to do exactly that right in the classroom by using a website called 'Planet4.org'. This is basically a repository for pictures of Mars' surface taking by satellites which haven't been looked at by anyone yet. The site invites members of the public to look through them in case they show anything interesting – meaning that when your children view the images on their iPads, they will be the first people on Earth to see that section of the planet's surface.

App: Mars Globe (Free, with $0.99 HD option)

To put some of these images in perspective, you could next show the class 'Mars Globe' which is basically 'Google Earth' but for Martian geography. Very interactive, and great for making Mars feel like a real place rather than just a dot in the sky.

Tech: The Oculus Rift

If you want to go one step further, then you could always send your students on a guided virtual reality tour of the planets and stars in our galaxy. The Oculus Rift isn't available commercially yet so it's hard to come by, but if you can get hold of one and a copy of 'Titans of Space', then this is something that your class is sure to get excited about. Virtual reality and space? What's not to like?

Video: VSauce

Every teacher knows that videos are a great way to get a class to settle down and focus, so why not get your students to visit the YouTube channel 'VSauce' next? This channel poses a range of interesting questions such as 'What Would Happen if the Sun Disappeared?' and provides fascinating scientific explanations to answer them.

This list should prove useful in helping any teacher to bring a lesson on space to life with tech, but it is far from complete. Take a look around the web and the iTunes store and you should find that there are many more options. To infinity and beyond…

 

About the author:

Nancy Baker is a freelance blogger who writes for gSoft Production Media, a company creating iPhone applications for businesses. She enjoys cooking in her free time. You can follow her on Twitter @Nancy Baker.

 

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