If the idea of sending something into space on a rocket to the International Space Station seems like a far-out concept, you'd probably not be alone in your thinking.
However, two people passionate about space, science and technology have made this reality for over 1000 Australian high school students. In 2016, Solange Cunin and Sebastian Chaoui launched the Cuberider learning program with the aim of turning STEM into an exciting, creative and highly collaborative exercise. The program gives young students practice in the highly sought-after skills they'll need for their future careers, such as coding, data analysis and critical thinking.
Generally delivered over a whole term, high schools in the program turn their classroom into "mission control" and complete learning via the Launchpad online portal. The portal (hosted on Microsoft Azure) houses all the activities, learning material and teacher notes to prepare students for launch!
From here the creativity really begins. Students are encouraged to think big, designing their own hypothesis and experiment, utilising their collaboration and problem-solving skills. Once a testing process is complete, the crescendo of the program incredibly sees the experiment students have produced launched on a rocket to the International Space Station!
The launch is streamed live so students can watch and feel a special part of this event. The fun is not over once the launch is complete: NASA astronauts then connect students' experiments recording the data allowing students to review and analyse the findings.
With over 100 experiments on board, Cuberider's first space mission was launched from Japan on December 11th, 2016. It holds the honour of being the first Australian launch in decades and the first ever mission to the International Space Station for Australia.
One student went so far as to say that participating in Cuberider was “the most exciting thing in my life so far”.
Sylvia Eleftheriades Science Coordinator at De La Salle Catholic College, Caringbah said of the program "Being a part of the first-ever Cuberider project last year was very exciting for our students and raised a lot of interest from the wider school community. The fact that our experiments were going to be conducted on the edge of space in the ISS was enough to draw into the project students who would otherwise not have had much interest in science or coding. The Cuberider project at our school involved a range of students with varying abilities, it included students from Year 8 who had never coded before and allowed them to begin to understand the basics of data logging and how challenging it could be more than 10,000 km up, to students who were more experienced in manipulating both the technology and the code to design more advanced experiments. "
She also went on to say "Our Year 10 team, after considering options such as measuring time dilation, eventually settled on using the Sagan's on-board camera to detect the presence of high energy radiation within the ISS. Their enthusiasm and advanced technical skill as well as their perseverance to push the limitations of the technology inspired the younger boys in our junior team to learn more about the Sagan and how they could use it in new ways. We're looking forward to working with the Cuberider team again this year. It's great working with such an enthusiastic group of young people like Solange and Sebastian who inspire our students to engage with science and astronomy in real world applications of what they learn at school."
The program is highly flexible and can be tailored to the abilities and levels of those participating. Cuberider also offer teacher support, in the form of training days and workshops as well as support throughout the program. The founders encourage teachers extend the program to all students as a way to engage those who might normally be unengaged in STEM subjects.