Increase teacher motivation at your school by organising a CPD trip. Here, several participants recount one particularly worthwhile CPD visit, with one participant describing it as ‘the most effective training I have had in over 20 years of teaching’

Out of the blue in December 2002, I received a letter from the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET – see box, below) inviting my organisation to participate in a programme that enables teachers to visit NASA in Florida, USA. I had never heard of ISSET, so my immediate thought was that it must be a scam. But I took a chance anyway, and we have been working with ISSET since.


ISSET aims to use space and space exploration to increase student and teacher motivation and to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning. This has been achieved through a range of programmes:

  • Student competitions, both local and national, such as Edge into Space, in which students design or develop concepts relating to life in space or space travel.
  • Student projects on space-related topics that use ICT in the form of website design, email attachments and CD-Rom development.
  • UK student and teacher science, technology and space experience at NASA Space Centres in Houston and Florida.
  • Teacher research-based training at Master’s degree level that includes developing teaching and learning programmes, training at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and Johnson Space Centre, Houston, and evaluation and report writing at schools and universities in the US.
  • Astronaut and space scientist visits to schools, colleges, universities and communities in the UK.
  • Videoconferences with astronauts and space scientists at the NASA Space Centres.
  • Relating aspects of space and space exploration directly to the curriculum on

I am CEO of The Exchange, the education business partnership organisation for Norfolk. We work with teachers, students, schools, colleges and businesses, bringing them together in win-win partnership working. In 2003 we paid for a group of eight teachers to take the trip to NASA, meeting the full cost. Unfortunately, times have changed and we can now only provide a 50% bursary for four teachers, but we are still inundated with applications.

The NASA experience is one of a range of space-linked opportunities ISSET has within its portfolio. It also offers a range of opportunities for students and we have previously sponsored young people to go to NASA as winners of a project. But funding issues have stopped this. The teachers’ programme continues, though. And earlier this year we took another four teachers to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Expected outcomes
We expect the experience of working at the heart of NASA, with first-hand contacts with space and science experts, to be inspirational and invigorating.

It is expected to:

  • bring a new, exciting range of highly motivating approaches to teaching
  • motivate the students in school to more fully engage in their studies, to increase their work rate, performance and results
  • increase the application of ICT in teaching and in students’ learning
  • increase the variety of education, showing real-life applications in one of the world’s most prestigious industries
  • provide role models from space exploration who have achieved their positions through determination, goal-setting and dreams
  • develop extra-curricular student activities relating to space and space exploration.

The majority of teachers tend to be science-based, but not all. We’ve taken English, maths, business studies and PE teachers to see NASA. And all have benefited hugely.

Since the beginning of the programme we have had a very loose NASA network that meets occasionally. Members were also involved in the BA Festival of Science staged in Norwich in September 2006. The network provided several workshops for teachers. In addition, the experience provides them with web links and email addresses for personnel they have met at NASA. Teachers are able to follow up the links when they return home and remain in contact.

The experience is life-changing, but, unfortunately, not free. The total cost in 2008 was £1,550 + VAT. The Exchange provided a bursary worth £750 and covered all return travel costs to Heathrow and overnight accommodation. And as we arrange for the school to be invoiced for the full amount, the VAT can be recovered, constituting a saving.

The visits to NASA take place during May/June half-term holiday, so teachers undertake it in their own time and supply cover is not required.

Tom O’Connor, chief executive, The Exchange – Norfolk Education Business Partnership Organisation

Participant’s impressions

‘The most effective training I have had in over 20 years of teaching’
Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon on my 10th birthday. I cannot remember a time when I was not inspired by the space programme. In Florida 10 years ago, I took the opportunity to visit Kennedy Space Centre as a tourist. I remember being most affected by an IMAX film on the space shuttle. This time it was different.

NASA is probably the best-known scientific and technical organisation in the world. When my picture appeared in the local paper announcing I was going to NASA, all of the students in my school knew what it was.

Fifty teachers from all over the UK took part in the course at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in 2003, eight of them from Norfolk. Their experience and enthusiasm ranged from the mad keen, like me, to some who were having doubts about staying in the teaching profession. A week later everyone was transformed. Even the mad keen were keener and madder. I think what affected us most was the feeling of privilege. From being bused to areas closed to the general public in coaches emblazoned with ‘NASA guests’, to being able to try on genuine Apollo space suits that had been to the Moon, NASA called us and treated us as VIPs. The first thing our instructors did was to give us their email addresses to use to get help when we returned home. We worked on space science lessons and were given armfuls of teaching materials.

It is difficult to imagine that any other in-service training will ever match up to our experiences at Kennedy Space Centre. Everyone was inspired. Even those having doubts about their future in teaching came home believing it was the only job for them. Being grasped around the shoulders and hugged by a space shuttle pilot as he tells you the astronauts really appreciate what teachers do, is quite something.

Looking back the experience at Kennedy Space Centre was both the most expensive and the most effective training I have had in over 20 years of teaching. Five years later I am just about to start our annual rocket day for Year 8, which began as a direct result of my experience in Florida. My previous visit to Kennedy as a tourist had had little impact on my teaching. Making paper rockets and launching with compressed air next to the real thing is something you always carry with you.

In everyday teaching I frequently get asked questions about manned space flight, particularly if there has been something in the news. Certainly, most people are more interested in the human dimension of space exploration, and the fact that I have spoken directly to several astronauts gives students a closer experience than would otherwise be possible. In fact, partly because of press coverage of my involvement in the course some students still believe I have actually been in space.
From experiencing the ‘space race’ as a child, I never thought I would find myself in the position the course put me in. Basically, it widened my horizons and subsequently I put together several projects that were much more ambitious than I would otherwise have thought possible. 

Mike Cripps, head of science, Dereham Neatherd High School

‘The NASA experience helped me get my current teaching post’
The impact of the NASA experience for me has been significant in terms of my day-to-day teaching and career development.

Since the opportunity in 2003 I continue to use space and astronomy as real-life examples of mathematics and in teaching applied mathematics at Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level. I have also used my experience to teach science as a secondary teaching subject at a previous school and to work on research projects for universities.

My learning and understanding gained from the experience has enabled me to organise a funded visit in 2004 to the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (home of the Hubble space telescope operations centre), and Goddard Spaceflight Centre to write online mathematics and science learning activities, which have been catalogued by NASA for its education outreach programmes.

In the summer of 2005, in collaboration with a colleague whom I met on the NASA experience, I took a group of sixth-form students to Cape Town, South Africa, to promote space science in township schools. This trip inspired me to create my own website to host mathematics and space/astronomy-based resources and is a resource that I use in my teaching every day.

As an extra-curricular activity I run an after-school astronomy club and this year have entered a few students for GCSE astronomy as a result of their interest in this. I have hosted numerous planetarium evenings and rocketry workshops as well as running competitions to win places for students on the very same trip to the Kennedy Space Centre that was the catalyst for my teaching of space and astronomy.

Outside my own school I have completed outreach work at local primary schools and through contacts met on the NASA experience have been an adviser to many professional development and curriculum planning meetings at the National Space Centre in Leicester, UK.

While all of these achievements could be analysed and used to evaluate the benefits of the NASA experience I believe the more important outcomes are those that perhaps cannot be so easily detailed. For example, I know that the NASA experience helped me to get my current teaching post, colleagues met on the trip have become good friends and, most of all, for me, it has ensured teaching mathematics remains interesting.

Graham Colman, maths department, Wymondham College

Bringing the resources back home
I took on the NASA experience in 2008 through The Exchange because I wanted my students to feel the excitement I had for science and technology, much of which came from my experience of the 1960s space race to the Moon and beyond. It was much more than I expected.

The personal: I just didn’t realise how fiercely these rocket ships leap into space and how warmly those ‘new frontier’ men and women at the Kennedy Space Centre would take us ISSET few into their space programme and their lives.

The professional: bringing back those incredible resources and experiences for my students and fellow teachers.

At school, we are already looking at how the KS3 science curriculum can be enlivened with the great range and variety of teaching resources available on the NASA website. These include the developing programmes on the ISS and the next Ares project for a moon base (see In due course we hope to engage a county-wide group of students who will be able to visit and experience the facilities at NASA.

We also noted that the ‘space science’ theme has many exciting cross-curricular opportunities that will allow our science teaching to integrate with many key skills areas.

Allan Wright, teacher of physics, engineering, electronics and astronomy at the City of Norwich School, participated in May/June 2008

The children will benefit from the integration of space-related activities into schemes of work
Ten teachers were chosen from all across the country in 2006, with four, including me, from Norfolk. We worked very well as one team alongside the two directors from ISSET. We were selected to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime experience and were keen to use every minute of a fully structured programme; for example, conducting several space experiments at NASA’s biggest resource centre of education and visiting the Solar Energy Centre and space centre’s wildlife reserve. Also, we were given a tour of the Cape Canaveral site to see the previous military launch pads and the control room for the launch into space of  Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut.

We met and interviewed rocket engineers and scientists who were either working as high-profile personnel at NASA or were retired but still actively involved in NASA’s space programme.

We had the honour of having lunch with astronaut Story Musgrave, who, in 1997, and at age of 61, became the oldest human being to fly in space. Now he is a handsome man at the age of 71, with six degrees and six journeys into space under his belt. As we were asking him all sorts of questions about his experience, he was kind enough to give us more of his time.

The trip is over and the beauty of learning and teaching is to share many good experiences – that’s what it’s all about. I am busier than ever, planning an Inset day for the staff at Oriel High School. Also, I am putting the final touches to a one-week programme for 30 students of all abilities to take part in the Challenge summer school, sponsored by University for First Age. During the summer holiday I will be setting another plan for the gifted and talented workshop. Finally, the children will benefit most from my trip by the integration of space-related activities in the schemes of work of science, DT and mathematics, hopefully inspiring future generations.

Dr Nadhim Shamoon, head of maths, Oriel High School, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth

Alligators and rocket ships
What a truly amazing teacher training placement in 2008 – an opportunity of a lifetime that I will never forget. The workshops were informative, challenging and fun, and taught us about the initiatives used within science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of particular interest to me was meeting the astronauts of the past and the future, as they were able to offer me first-hand information regarding what it takes to become an astronaut and give me a better understanding of the meaning of space from a human point of view.

But the overall highlight of the trip was the grandstand view we had of the launch of shuttle mission STS-124; a truly awesome and breathtaking sight and experience. I am really looking forward to passing on my knowledge and enthusiasm to the pupils at my school and I will endeavour to use the contacts I made to ensure we continue to explore the diversity of space within our classrooms. I will be working closely with the science department, trying to use the techniques and practices I learned at the space centre and I have also forged a link with the leader of the astronomy club and will be promoting space and astronomy to our pupils at Reepham High School and into the community.

From my own subject point of view, I will be starting a ‘Fit to be an astronaut club’ in the new school year, where pupils will be given the opportunity to train, think and act like astronauts preparing for their own missions. I truly believe the experience has been extremely rewarding and has inspired me to continue my professional development within this field and hopefully will encourage the future generation of astronauts.

Katie Lake, head of physical education, Reepham High School