Planetary Science Resources

Schools in the UK (and across much of the rest of the world) are closed for the vast majority of children, and we’re all being told to stay at home to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. As many parents who never envisaged homes chooling are now being asked to help their children with distance learning (while, in many cases trying to keep up with work for their own jobs at home at the same time), we thought it might be helpful to point you in the direction of some online earth and planetary science resources. And some of them might be interesting to the parents too – you never know, you might learn something new too while we all stay at home to beat this disease.

This isn’t a definitive list, and I’m sure many other organisations are producing similar lists too, but I hope this will be useful to even just one family to make this difficult time a little easier.

As and when we come across any additional resources we’ll add them to this list. If you have any suggestion you’d like to see added please leave a message in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Lets start with what we’ve got! We’ve always tried to aim this blog at a general audience of 6th form students or older. Our podcast, The Cosmic Cast, is aimed at similar audience, perhaps those who are studying geology at A-Level or have a general interest in the field. And don’t forget you can always keep up to date with what we’re doing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where we’re part way through introducing members of our group and highlighting their research and the paths different people have taken through their careers to date. The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences also has some resources listed on their Schools and Colleges page.

Our colleagues at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre have a new Science Learning At Home page on their website. The first set of activities they’ve launched are called #WatchTheSkies, a series of activities focused on the night skies. There’s tips for photographing the Moon, and activity to plan a journey to the Moon, and a talk about Jodrell Bank’s role in the race to the Moon by Prof Tim O’Brien (I’ve seen him give similar talks, and its really interesting). Similarly, the UoM School & College Twitter account is sharing resources and activities online, for primary, secondary and post-16 students.

BBC Bitesize recently posted a nice introduction to meteorites: Are these rocks the oldest objects on Earth? They have a whole range of resources, not just about meteorites, all broken down in to Primary, Secondary and Post 16 age groups, to match the curriculum in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

One of the encapsulated disks containing Apollo samples, that is part of the STFC Borrow the Moon scheme. Photo: Torsten Henkel

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) run a fantastic Borrow the Moon scheme that enables schools to borrow a selection of meteorites and Moon rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts. For security reasons they won’t be able to loan this out to individual families at home, but all the teaching resources are available online and with a bit of imagination I’m sure many of these can be adapted to do at home. STFC have also produced a range of activity booklets and broadsheet posters, aimed at 7 to 11 year olds, that you can download (under normal circumstances schools can request copies of these free of charge):

STFC have announced today that they’ll be introducing STFC Science At Home later this week, and the theme for the first week will be Exploring Our Solar System. I can’t find any info on their website just yet, so keep an eye on their Twitter account (@STFC_Matters) and the hashtag #STFCScienceAtHome for updates for the time being.

The online Virtual Microscope has digital thin sections of a whole range of samples that you can browse – from Martian meteorites to rocks Charles Darwin collected during his Beagle voyage. You can study the mineral’s properties, shape, size and colour.

The Open University have a large number of free, online courses including:

These are all Level 1 introductory courses for those new to a subject, but I would guess they are probably best for those aged 16+

If you want to take part in a citizen science project, visit Zooniverse where there’s a huge range of projects, from locating supermassive blackholes to classifying features on the surface of Mars. And if it all gets a bit much and you need some time out, you can also count penguins!

ESERO-UK (European Space Education Resource Office) provides free curriculum-linked resources, support and information that can be used by teachers and shared with families.

“Kids”, big and small, making craters.

Both NASA and ESA also have a whole range of educational materials and fun activities to do at home on their websites, as does the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI). NASA have also put together a NASA at Home webpage to bring together e-books, podcasts and activities for children and families. There’s also a page of Virtual Tours and Augmented Reality, some of which can be run from apps on your phone – a great reason to get out that VR headset! ESA Kids is particularly good for activities for younger children. Note that the NASA and LPI educational materials are targeted to the American school curriculum, so things may not quite tie in with the UK curriculum for a particular age group, but I’m sure they can be easily adapted (or just used as they are). If you need to get messy, I can recommend the Think SMALL in a BIG Way activity to investigate how craters form on planetary surfaces – although I would advise doing this in the garden!

Girl Guiding introduced a new Space badge for Brownies last year (in conjunction with the UK Space Agency and Royal Astronomical Society), and I’m sure there’s nothing to stop anyone doing the activities that would earn the badge – whether a Brownie or not! Similarly Scouts have a Space Activity Badge for Beavers, an Astronomer Activity Badge for Cubs, and Astronautics and Astronomer Activity Badges for Scouts, all of which are accompanied by suggestions for activities that are available online.

Geobus, a project supporting Earth Science learning in schools in London (led by UCL) and Scotland (led by University of St Andrews). The London team have online resources for KeyStage 1-2 and Keystage 3-5. They’ve also put together a page of resources for primary school age children for you to download and try at home, including activity pack on rocks and fossibs. The Scotland team also have activities online, randing from Climate Change to Mission to Mars!

More generally STEM Learning have a broad range science, technology, engineering and maths resources, including a page of fun, hands-on activities for families to do at home, that are free for everyone to access. They have subject experts online weekdays via their webchat.

The Great Science Share for Schools will still go ahead this year, and the event organisers are exploring ways that young people can share their science virtually if they are not in school – so keep that science coming!

The Manchester Museum have put their digital content online so you can explore and enjoy the museum from home. The Science Museum Group (which includes the Science Museum in London and the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester) also have an online collection, which contains over 250000 objects and archives, and online Learning Resources. You can take virtual tours of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London, and they also have a range of activities and crafts you can do at home.

The Royal Institution of Great Britain (as in the Christmas Lectures!) are live streaming ExpeRimental Live on their Facebook page at 2pm on Thursdays, with “Explosive science videos for young people, ages 7-11”. The first episode last week (1st April) , which was about chemical and physical changes, included pancakes (I mean, what more do you want from an educational video!) and a pH indicator made from red cabbage. Similarly, Waters will be straming The Science of What’s Possible for Kids on their Facebook page each Wednesday at 9:30am, starting Wednesday 8th April.

Finally, check out hashtags like #ScienceFromHome and #ScienceAtHome on Twitter for a whole host of other ideas that various individuals and organisations are posting online.

And if you get really desperate, there’s some great space themed Lego that you can order online – a Saturn V rocket, an Apollo 11 Lunar Lander, and an International Space Station. Our ISS just arrived, and I’ll try to post updates on our social media accounts as build it while I’m staying at home – but I’ve saving it for a while, I don’t want to do all the fun stuff too soon and then have nothing fun left to look forward to!

I hope some of those links will be helpful. As I said, this isn’t a definitive list, and if we thing of any other suggestions we’ll add them and update the post. And if you have any suggestions that you’d like to share please add them to the comments below.

Update April 2021. Europlanet has produced The Mars Collection, a set of school resources exploring the possibilities of life on the Red Planet. These resources are desinged to be earily translatable so they can be used across Europe and beyond. English versions are being released on a weekly basis through March and April – so there’s already quite a lot available.

About Sarah Crowther

I'm a Post Doc in the Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. I study xenon isotope ratios using the RELAX mass spectrometer, to try to learn more about the origins and evolution of our solar system. I look at a wide range of samples from solar wind returned by NASA's Genesis mission to zircons (some of the oldest known terrestrial rocks), from meteorites to presolar grains.
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