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National Space Centre - From a School Trip Point of View!
National Space Centre (Leicester)
Member Name: tinkerbell18
National Space Centre (Leicester)
Advantages: Very informative, easy to book, pupils were entertained
Disadvantages: Extra activities begin to get costly, perhaps not suitable for large groups
At the start of the year, there was a request for a teacher to help organise a school trip for the year 8s. I decided to volunteer, and ended up being put in charge of organising and running the trip (gulp). That was in October. 7 months later, I have not only planned the trip, but have managed to get there and back again with little trouble. So I thought I would tell you of the Year 8 Science Trip to the Space Centre in Leicester.
What is the Space Centre?
Before completing my teacher training, I had never heard of the Space Centre. After narrowly missing out on a trip there, and deciding against the Science Museum, I ended up looking at the Space Centre. As the name suggests, the Space Centre focuses around all things to do with space and space discovery. It is affiliated with Leicester University, which appears to have a lot to do with astronauts and space research. There are a range of exhibitions housed in six galleries, ranging from exhibitions about the planets in our solar system, to a mock-up of a section of the space station (I found the shower in there particularly fascinating). There is a large tower at the front of the Space Centre, which houses two sections of rockets (one of which was used to take mice up to space). These were rather incredible to see, and help you begin to imagine the size of rockets used to take humans up into space. Finally is the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium, 'the UKs largest domed planetarium', a 360 degree space theatre.
What can you do?
There are a variety of shows running at the Planetarium, and I have seen two of them; Astronaut, which is about what it takes to become an astronaut, and We Are Aliens, which is about the possibility of alien life in the universe. I found We Are Aliens more thought provoking, but I feel that Astronaut is more suitable for younger viewers who are less interested in microorganisms and where they can survive. Looking at the website, it seems that you get one show free on your first visit, and then you need to pay for additional shows (not quite sure how that works). Both shows I saw were free, but there was an option to pay for other shows at the cost of 50p per child (not a lot, but when you are taking 110 pupils, it does get expensive!). But it was absolutely amazing viewing the films in the Planetarium, and kept my year 8s quiet for 20 minutes (give or take the odd 'wow'). During a pre-visit we even captivated the attention of a 3 year old, although the finer points of We Are Aliens were lost on him slightly.
Around the Space Centre are six galleries as I mentioned. Although they aren't massively separated, they do have archways over the entrance with a title to give you an idea of where you are going. The rockets are at the front of the Space Centre and are accessed by stairs (or a lift) and a walkway. The six sections are as follows:
- Orbiting the Earth, which talks about the satellites in space that help us with our everyday lives;
- Into Space, which is where the Columbus module mock-up of the Space Station is housed, alongside astronauts and their life in space;
- Exploring the Universe, which looks at wormholes, the Big Bang and the science behind searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence;
- The Planets, which is split up into eight sections (no Pluto I'm afraid). You can even drive a Mars rover over the 'surface' of a planet, and see Venus in 3D (no snazzy glasses necessary). Here there is also an under 5s play area available;
- Space Now, which is in area which shows you what is going on in space right now
- Tranquillity Base, which is an activity area requiring the tickets given to you on entry. Here are several activities, including controlling a rock digger, and interactive games. There is also a simulator, which costs an extra £1 per person.
There are a lot of interactive activities, such as sending a person into space (this is a two man job), memory, the mars rover, building a model rocket as quickly as you can, a reaction test and much more. The thing I like most about all these activities was that they all worked. I tried out quite a few, and I guarantee my pupils tried out the rest - they all worked well and most didn't require anything to work, although some needed the ticket. One or two required money (such as the simulator and arcade games), but overall that's not bad. The Tranquillity Base activities and the launching a person into space had the most wait time (or the biggest crowds around them), but the longest we had to wait was about 5 minutes. This must depend on how busy each area is, but there is plenty to keep you busy whilst you wait. The final activity is the Weather Pod; this is where you can be filmed on a green screen giving futuristic weather. If you like your film enough, you can scan your ticket again to upload it onto YouTube. Be warned - this does get shown on screens around the weather pod once you have filmed it!
Aside from the activities, there are a lot of informative displays around the centre. The information presented depends on the section you are in, but the level of detail does vary to allow some younger visits to access the information, whilst allowing older visitors to also enjoy their visit. I learnt a lot of things I hadn't come across before, especially about the astronauts that have been into Space. There was also a timeline in the rocket tower, with events such as the release of Sindy dolls, and Sound of Music, as well as key space travel dates. I loved this and found the events on the display quite interesting (if not a little random). It's a shame I didn't have more time to look at them.
Pre-Visit and Booking
I found booking the trip very simple. There was an option to email or call the Bookings team - I opted for email as I hate the phone. I had to send my school details, the number of pupils going, the date and some details about myself. I got quite a prompt reply, with a booking letter and invoice attached. To confirm the day of the visit, the letter needs to be filled in and returned within two weeks (which I just about managed!). You then receive a welcome pack with some FAQs which I found very helpful, as they answered my questions. The Centre also recommends a pre-visit, which two members of staff can go on free of charge, as long as they have ID. I called to book the pre-visit, which was very simple. All I needed to do was give my name, school address and the day I was visiting. When we got there, we had our badges but not much attention was given to them. We were granted access and were able to look around just as visitors would. It was very helpful to go on, as it allowed me to learn where things like toilets were, and which areas we would like pupils to focus on. I was half-expecting a little guidance, but this wasn't really necessary.
Groups are given big wheelie buckets to store their bags in during the visit (the Centre asked for all bags and coats to be left there). These were then stored in the main eating area, and didn't seem to be locked away, which I found slightly unsafe. All bags and coats were returned though, so the system does work. There is an eating time and area available for your group, which is just off the public area. If you are just visiting, there is a café and small eating area nearby, and a larger eating area under the rockets (I'm not sure how I feel about eating under very large rockets!). The café was quite reasonably priced, with 3 teas, 4 donuts and a juice coming to just under £7 (cheaper than other places I have been to). A shop is also at the Centre, with a variety of items such as model shuttles, play mobile (space themed, of course), space ice cream (which my pupils assured me was very yummy) and Dr Who items. There was much more in the store, including your usual pens and rulers, but far too much to list. It felt slightly pricey, but I think that is usual with gift stores.
There are toilets next to the shop, and behind the weather dome in the centre itself. I do think they could have been signed clearly; even though they had a large male/female sign above them, the ones in the centre were hidden behind a lot of displays and were hard to see. There are a large amount of toilets and sinks in there, which is good for busy periods.
You can go to the café and back into the main centre as much as you need - just make sure you have your tickets, as these allow access into the main centre!
Cost & Times
The cost for our trip was £6.95 + VAT per pupil, and each adult per 10 pupils could enter the Space Centre for free. The cost for a usual visit is £13.00 per adult, and £11.00 for a child between 5 and 16, as well as concessions. Under 5s go free.
There are other activities, such as workshops or school visits, but these were for groups of about 30 pupils and some cost hundreds of pounds, which unfortunately was out of our price range. On the positive side, there was enough for pupils to do and learn without the need for workshops.
Parking is available at the Space Centre, and this costs £2 for the entire day, so make sure you have some change on you (it is a Pay and Display car park).
Tuesday-Friday the centre is open 10am-4pm, whilst Saturday-Sunday and school holidays (stated on their website) the opening times are 10am-5pm.
The Space Centre recommends about 4 hours (including lunch and a Planetarium show) to look around, and I agree. I found that by half 1, the pupils were very restless and had explored the centre and activities, as well as completing a work booklet I printed out. The Space Centre provide the booklets online for you to download, or can print it out at about 9p per page, so it is worth you making copies yourself!
I found the Space Centre overall a really good visit. It was very informative, and I especially liked the fact that every activity available worked (give or take a queue). I think that it perhaps wasn't suitable for such a large group (110 12-13 year olds), and the staff did end up following us around a lot, and limiting where the pupils could go, even though they were behaving very well (give or take 2 or 3 individuals). However, in the two visits I have been there, there were several groups of different ages, including a birthday party, a Brownie group and a toddler group. I'd make sure that the group have the activity booklets provided on the website, as this did focus the group and ensure they paid attention to key parts of the centre. It may be worth printing one off if you go as a family, depending on how fast your child takes in the displays. It is a very informative and enjoyable centre, and I'm very glad I went - as are my year 8s, who all seemed to enjoy their visit!
Summary: I survived my first school trip into Space!