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Space Messengers International From A Learner's Perspective

Updated: Apr 12

Space Messengers International immersive installation, Ars Electronica 2023, Image Agnes Chavez / STEMarts Lab, NM

Since October, Future Focus21c has been working with Agnes Chavez, STEMarts Lab in New Mexico, as an international partner on the STEMarts Youth Space Programme, developing aspects of the  Space Messengers International  (SMI) education programme, for the Irish classroom. This partnership is a result of a long-term collaboration, on-going since 2011, between Dr Anita McKeown, and artist Agnes Chavez, and aligns with the development of our SMARTlab Skelligs / SMARTLab IDRC, UCD Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM, Future of Space programme, in development for roll out in September 2024 (funded by Science foundation Ireland and Dept. of Education).

You can find out more about this work in an earlier blog, yet we thought what better way to share what the programme is than to hear from one of our participants, Dan. Dan was one of our self-selecting young people from Coláiste na Sceilge who helped us explore and develop the programme within a post-primary context. We interviewed Dan while he was on work experience with us and we are delighted to share his perspective with you.

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself

Hi! My name is Dan and I am a TY Student from Coláiste na Sceilge. I am 16 years old and I enjoy cooking, reading, listening to music and gaming!   

In your own words, can you describe the Space Messengers International (SMI) programme?

Space Messengers International is one of the most unique programs I’ve seen in my school. It helped me learn about space, and also the different types of jobs you can get relating to space and research. The SMI program is really fun and I think anyone who did it would agree!

Can you tell us about your overall experience with the Space Messengers International (SMI) programme? 

Of course!! With this program, I’ve learned about particle physics, theories about space, the VR world, how different cultures see the world and how that ties in with western sciences’ views and a lot more about the way the world works; all while having fun with my friends. I think the fact that I was able to mess around with my friends helped me in learning all these tricky subjects. 

A lot of our work was based off resources existing already online such as YouTube videos or different websites created to share this kind of knowledge at an easier level. 

I really enjoyed doing this programme, and so did all my friends. We found parts of it challenging, but in a good way. We actually learned a lot when we think back on what we did, but because we had fun doing it, it didn’t feel like sitting down in a class and being bored out of our minds.

What were some of the most memorable moments for you?

I mean I made a lot of memories doing this course. We had so many fun moments in class doing the set projects and working with VR and the Space Board. But one of the moments I remember is when we went on a trip to Valentia Weather Observatory, which is just next door to our school. We spent 3 classes in school researching what exactly they do in the Observatory and how we could tie that in to what we were learning the  past few weeks. We went to lunch and afterwards, we headed off to the Observatory. We were given a full tour by a worker who was so kind as to show us around all the equipment. They had brand new weather equipment outside, as well as a sort of archive / library inside which held all of the old fashioned equipment.

So you might be asking yourself: “Dan, how does this have anything to do with what you were learning throughout the whole course???” Well let me tell you! The weather station uses satellites up in space to observe. They can use these satellites to measure what we call ‘Space Weather’.  Space weather involves things like meteors and solar radiation. These satellites are basically the base for all tech up in space. So yeah! It was a pretty relevant trip. And the fact that I’m able to remember all of this months after the trip is proof that it was really fun AND informative. Believe it or not!

Valentia Weather Observatory, Nov 2023

What did you find most valuable?

The whole course gave me new skills and knowledge that I don’t think I would’ve gotten on my own or with current school programmes/subjects. For me, I found that learning how to use and create spaces in VR was difficult, but definitely worth it. By the end of the course, me and my group were able to create a new ‘space’ in the VR world and navigate through it. 

The SMI programme aims to develop learners' creative / artistic skills, understanding of scientific knowledge, and ideas about the future of space. How do you think participating in this programme has influenced your understanding of these subjects?

One of the things I found really interesting about this course is how it taught us about what we, as a society, know about the world. What I mean by this is that the Space Messengers Course not only talks about western science but also about different cultures’ views on the world. For example we looked at indigenous creation stories, and how they can be similar too. I think that because  we were given time to discover these different stories, it helped us to form our own ideas and understanding of them. 

Could you share one session or workshop from the SMI program that you found particularly impactful? What did you learn from it, and how has it influenced your perspective on space exploration or related topics?

Yeah totally! We learned about particle physics and particle acceleration with things like the Hadron Collider and the ATLAS project. To tie into this and to really give us a better understanding of the topic, we had a video call with Steve Goldfarb. He’s a particle physicist who works in CERN, the largest science lab for collective knowledge around. We prepared for the call by researching particles and what exactly it is that he does in CERN with the ATLAS experiment.

We asked him all sorts of questions about the Higgs Boson, The Large Hadron Collider and questions about him, like how exactly he got to be a particle physicist. He told us that he never really liked maths, until he got introduced to physics in college. He started taking the course and fell in love. He worked hard on his exams and that's how he got to where he is today. This talk was really really interesting as we learned all about the things he does, but also about how you can work in space sciences without actually going up to space! He showed us how it's all linked in with each other.

Like he would be doing the same exact things as other people who work for NASA or researchers for a government lab. It was pretty cool to hear this from someone actually in the field and at such a high level. I definitely learned a lot from that talk and that it basically doesn’t matter what courses you do, you can always tie them into the career you want to go into!

The programme encourages participants to explore the universe through diverse perspectives, including science, art, philosophy, and culture. How do you think this interdisciplinary approach contributes to a deeper understanding of space and our place within it?

I think that the way we were introduced to all this knowledge was very easy to understand. As well as this we were given multiple different viewpoints of the same topic, like the myths of creation. Because we learnt it this way, we were able to form our own opinions on the subject. It also made the difficult topics (like particle physics and quantum mechanics) easier to understand because we broke them down.

In one of the sessions, learners discussed the Overview Effect and its significance. How did this discussion resonate with you, and do you think it changed your perception of Earth and humanity's role in the cosmos?

Absolutely! I never really thought about it before we went over it in a session but once we did, it really stuck with me. The Overview Effect goes hand in hand with  a whole bunch of climate action movements. Basically, the Overview Effect is something that astronauts feel when they are up in space, looking down on the Earth. It gives them a sense of belonging and puts everything into perspective. They can see that we all live on Earth and so we all need to take care of it, like good planetary citizens!!!!

Developing an avatar and writing bios for the Space Board was part of the program's activities. Can you describe your experience with this task

Yeah so one of the first things that we did when we started the course was create our accounts on the Space Board. We went online and found an avatar generator. We had full creative freedom when we were making our avatars! Same thing goes for our bios: we could decide what we wanted to tell each other through our bios,(and what we wanted to hide)! 

The programme includes hands-on activities and projects designed to further explore and apply knowledge. Can you share an example of a project or activity you participated in and how it enhanced your learning experience?

Yeah! The program definitely had a lot of hands-on activities. We had trips and video calls like I’ve mentioned, and we also spent a lot of the time working in VR and working on tablets and laptops creating presentations and doing other projects. For example, we had a final project that we spent a good few weeks on. The brief was to create an imagined space in outer space using Irish mythology. My group created three scenes in VR using CoSpaces. We based our idea around Tír na nÓg (the fairies, Oisín, the salmon of knowledge, etc.) but put in a futuristic setting in space. We brainstormed this idea for a couple of weeks before getting started on the project!

Participants also had the opportunity to visit the International Space Station through the VR app Mission ISS. How did this virtual experience impact your understanding of space exploration, and what insights did you gain from it?

This was one of the first experiences we had with VR. I remember that the low gravity made me feel like I was going to fall over in real life, it definitely took some getting used to. This experience gave me a better understanding of what Space Stations look like on the inside, what types of tasks they do regular and as well, it helped me to understand the Overview Effect, cause I could see Earth from so far!

Participants also went to Mars - using VR and had to undertake a challenge - what did you think of this experience?  

Oh yeah I remember doing that!!! It was a bit hard to get used to the controls, but once I got the boundary set up and the controls just right, I was able to reach the Rover and complete the mission. It was super cool because the game was well put together and doing the tasks was really fun!

The programme aims to develop participants' own VR spaces linked to a core challenge exploring the relationship between Earth and Space Science. What was the challenge and did you enjoy it? 

So like I mentioned earlier, we had a big final project. We made a VR world using aspects from Irish Mythology. We used 3D models in CoSpaces and we also found images on google to use as backgrounds. We spent a few days brainstorming our ideas before we got started. My group based our projects around Tír na nÓg and the salmon of knowledge. It took us a good few weeks to finish our project and a lot of fiddling around with parts and coding, but we got there in the end!! I liked doing this project because I was able to have fun with my friends and also learn how to use CoSpaces properly!

What did you like most about the challenge?

My favourite part of the project was understanding how to use the CoBlocks, the coding in Cospaces. I was able to make a sort of riddle pop up on screen using code and it was super cool to mess around with. I figured out how to make my characters move and speak and I thought that was really cool. 

Stills from our imagined place in Space

Finally, how do you think participating in the SMI program has influenced your personal and academic interests e.g. how you might apply what you've learned in the SMI program in the future?

Yeah I think it’s given me more of an interest in space and studying space. All the information I’ve learned could help me decide what subjects I should do for Leaving Cert. And I will probably research more about space exploration in general.

Since doing SMI do you have any interest or ambition for the future in relation to space exploration or related fields?

Similarly enough, it’s really opened a window into the careers associated with space, our world, researching, and technology (such as the VR world). It’s 100% something that I’d look into for the future. Thanks!!

Thank you Dan!

It so important to ask our participants questions, not only about what they did but what impact they feel it had and what they think they learned. Not only does it gives us an understanding of how to develop resources for learners, but also for teachers. We know what being in the classroom is like and what many are teachers are up against with teaching loads, exams subjects and a points system.

We also know no-one likes to deliver a project or lesson that doesn't engage learners or has no meaning for them. We also know how much it takes to facilitate learning with a thematic interdisciplinary values-led approach - it is not easy and takes a sense of security, curiosity and the freedom to explore ideas. We feel deeply privileged to be able to work with young people in school in a way that enables them to have fun while learning and engaging with complex ideas that are at the forefront of contemporary life, in ways that enable them to think through their own ideas. Space Messengers ran in weekly, 2-hour sessions from Oct. 2023 - Feb. 2024, which is not possible for many schools and we are now in the process of developing this to make it easier for other teachers to engage with the project and the ideas embedded within it. We are looking forward to hearing from the others in the cohort and integrating what we as teachers and have learned into the Future of Space.

A huge thank you to Agnes Chavez / STEMarts Lab, Dr Steven Goldfarb, ATLAS project, CERN, Michael Gill, Meteorologist - Chief Scientist at Met Éireann, Valentia Weather Station Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald, Principal, Coláiste na Sceilge and Mr. Padraig Murphy, Transition Year Co-ordinator, who supported us to bring this opportunity to learners in South West Kerry.

For more information:

Please get in contact at if you are interested in using our resources with your learners.

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM uses a transdisciplinary, STEAM-based pedagogical approach. Returning to SDG 4, Target 4.7, one of the core missions of the Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM programme is to ensure an arts / design and culture-led approach to learning that is transdisciplinary and transformative. Learning that supports the development of informed citizens, that are systemic, critical and creative thinkers who can apply their knowledge in agile ways that are sensitive, generative and appropriately responsive to context, in relevant and meaningful ways.

This is done through placed-based learning, which enables individuals to experience learning in local, real-life scenarios. Place-based approaches to learning grounded in local communities and contexts are relevant, engaging and inquiry-based. Students gain confidence and competence in affecting change, learning to manage risk, and develop creative, real-world solutions that are eco-socially just and restorative.

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