WITHIN the appropriately-named ‘mission control’ a group of young growers are embarking on a project that is literally out of this world.
Delicately and diligently they are sowing seeds from two separate packets, one blue and one red, into trays.
Each seed is numbered so the child who planted it can take ownership and chart its progress through the nationwide ‘Rocket Science’ project.
Launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show last May, the project is a collaboration between the Royal Horticultural Society Campaign for School Gardening and the UK Space Agency.
St Columba’s, in Bradford, is one of around 10,000 UK schools participating in this nationwide ‘citizen science’ experiment giving half a million children the chance to learn how investment in human space exploration contributes to our knowledge of life on Earth, using the invaluable expertise of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the RHS Science team.
Rocket science involves 2kg of cultivar of rocket seeds sent to the International Space Station as part of Tim Peake’s six-month Principia mission.
After spending several months on board, orbiting the planet at around 17,000 mph, the seeds have now been returned to Earth and distributed to the thousands of UK schools.
Linda Marshall, teaching assistant at St Columba’s and who is over-seeing the project within ‘mission control,’ explains how the growing project links in with their National Curriculum topics.
‘Prediction’ is an element of their literacy studies and Linda explains how the children will be predicting which seeds have been grown in space.
“Nobody knows which packet has been to space at this stage,” says Linda.
For the school’s Year 4 pupils, the project ties in perfectly with their growing topic this term. “So Year 4 will do the data,” says Linda.
The project also encompasses science and maths as the aim of the experiment is to discover and record any differences between the growing processes.
“You have numeracy, literacy, science, you have imagination,” says Linda, referring to the competition they previously launched among younger pupils to design their own Alien Seed.
As well as documenting the data, the youngsters are also capturing the process through the Raspberry PI camera they received as part of their award kit for achieving Level 4 in the RHS school gardening scheme.
Linda says they also intend bulletin the rest of the school with regular seed growing updates through the school newsletter and during assemblies.
“The children are really excited about it, but rather than just plant it we want them to take ownership of their seed.”
She explains the children are also keen to find out whose seed starts germinating first.
“They cannot watch them every day but they have a sense of ownership and also we have set up the Raspberry PI camera so we hope to have a video of them when they start to germinate,” explains Linda.
When the project is complete Linda says they will send the collated data to the RHS.
She says they also have some extra packets of rocket which they will grow separately enabling the school’s 450 pupils, including children from the nursery, to take some school-grown rocket home.
For the pupils here, environmental initiatives are very much integral to school life. Despite St Columba’s’ location close to one of Bradford’s busiest commuting corridors, the school has developed The Quad, a natural area within the grounds to encourage youngsters to get growing and nurture nature.
Another project the school is involved in is the Grow Wild scheme. Linda explains the school has received lots of wild flower seeds as part of the scheme to introduce flowers to people.
She says they are already planting and sharing the wild flower seeds around the school - and they recently included a packet of seeds along with Birthday cards they sent to the Queen for her 90th Birthday.
Linda says they have also shared seeds with other schools in the area.
The school offers opportunities for pupils to get growing out of school too through its evening gardening club which teaches them the importance of growing their own and eating healthily.
Linda says she is proud to work at a school where they are encouraged to get involved in these type of activities as she believes it enhances the youngsters’ learning experience.
“It further enhances what they learn, it is still learning but they are learning in a different way,” explains Linda.