Our Students Are Learning Like Astronauts

In the summer, as I drove back and forth to the cottage, I listened to Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and it inspired me. Hadfield’s passion for learning is just the sort of learning energy I wished my students could find. From planning to become an astronaut to preparing for a mission to recovering after a mission, Hadfield’s book is filled with lessons we all need.

Astronauts need to be able to excel as individuals and as part of a team. Not only are astronauts super cool and fascinating, but they are artists, athletes, and scientists. They have developed mastery in many areas by learning with intention.

“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person.” Chris Hadfield

I wondered how I could use the ideas in Chris Hadfield’s book to inspire my school community, engage students, and build some learning spirit.

What would it be like if we all learned like astronauts?

So I developed a year long whole school mission. Our goal is to discover two things:

  1. What can life in space teach us about life on earth?
  2. If we were going to learn like an astronaut, what would we need to do?

To accomplish our mission we have three main monthly experiences:

  1. Monthly class challenges embedded with K-8 curriculum.
  2. Monthly space days with intramural activities to encourage healthy active living, teamwork, and leadership.
  3. Bulletin board in the centre of our school to document evidence of our learning and progress toward our goal.

Getting Started

To launch the program, I met with two classes at a time in the library. When they entered the library a live view of earth from the International Space Station was projected on the screen to be used as a provocation for student thinking. None of our students had ever seen this before.

Once they were all seated, I asked the students questions.

What do you think this is? How do you know it’s earth? Who is recording this? What is that?

Most of the students could identify that it was a view of earth. None of the students identified the International Space Station, most suggesting instead that it was a satellite where television comes from. One student in each group talked about how the earth moved around the sun. Generally, students showed a limited understanding of space with the same few simple ideas repeating with each group: it’s dark, there’s no gravity, and there are planets.

After I put up the bulletin board, one of our staff asked why the moon wasn’t a planet. A parent asked if the students learned any of the physics behind the big bang theory. A student asked why the astronaut had a helmet and a pack on his back. Curiosity about space started to grow instantly.

At the presentation with the classes I outlined the two ways students would explore our mission: monthly class challenges and monthly space days.

The Classroom Challenges

I decided to roll out each challenge one month at a time. Each month will focus on developing a different skill so we can all learn more like astronauts.

  • October: Prepare your body.
  • November: Prepare your mind.
  • December: Practice problem solving.
  • January: Work as a team.
  • February: Practice in the simulator.
  • March: Figure out how things work.
  • April: Explore technology.
  • May: See things from another perspective.
  • June: Find a real astronaut.

To launch our first challenge in October, I created a video to play in their classroom on the Smart-board (and made an avatar!!):

October’s Mission:

Why is it important for astronauts to prepare their bodies for space by becoming fit and strong?

Design a fitness test for astronauts and show evidence that your class has passed the test.

Classes will have until the end of the month to complete this challenge. We have a team of students to judge the entries with me. We will meet together this week to identify success criteria for this mission and post it in our hallway. For each challenge, points will be given for:

  • Creativity and Imagination
  • Connection to Our Mission
  • Quality
  • Percentage of the Class Participating

Email me if you’d like a copy of the year at a glance so you can begin this project at your school–I didn’t want to post it here yet because the other missions are still top secret at my school.


Your First Mission Handout

Mission Count Down

Teacher Resources: Design a fitness test for astronauts

Some sites with great resources for educators:

Space Days:

We are part of a Promoting Mentally Healthy Schools pilot project and healthy active living is a priority for our staff. We have set up monthly Space Days which are basically whole school K-8 intramural cooperative sports for 100 minutes. We want to use these days to build school spirit, cooperation skills, physical fitness, and well-being.

There are clear connections with three of the Active Healthy Living strands: Living Skills, Active Living, and Healthy Living. Through our Space Days students will develop interpersonal skills (communication and social skills), critical and creative thinking skills, participation in a wide variety of activities, physical fitness, safety, and making connections that relate to personal safety.

Our first Space Day was a huge success. Students were divided into teams (each named after a planet and assigned a colour). From big ball volleyball to a challenging obstacle course to x-ball, there were six activities to engage teams.

Documenting Our Learning

As we learn about space and life in space our learning will go up on this board so we can continue to learn and make connections:


Thank-you Col. Chris Hadfield for inspiring this project!!


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