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Space Education by JAXA - Fostering Young Hearts and Minds - Developing Children's Interest in Science Koichi Otsuka Planner of Cosmic College: the Discovery Kids Science Experiment Museum

The Themes: "Dreaming of Space Development" and "The Environment in Space and on Earth"

Q. How does the Discovery Channel collaborate on space education with JAXA?

Making a rocket with an umbrella bag
Making a rocket with an umbrella bag

Children shooting umbrella bag rockets
Children shooting umbrella bag rockets

Last year, the Discovery Channel and JAXA co-hosted Cosmic College: the Discovery Kids Science Experiment Event. This event is targeted at elementary school students in grades 3 to 6. The idea is to let these children and their parents experience the joy of science through images and experiments related to space. Last year, we held this event in the seven largest cities in Japan, and about 1,000 pairs of parents and children - 2,000 people in total - took part.
Last year's themes for the event were "Dreaming of Space Development" and "The Environment in Space and on Earth." The contents were divided into three parts: 1) rocketry, which is the means to go to space; 2) building a lunar base and living on the Moon, which is the next challenge after the International Space Station; and 3) the environment on Earth.
In the rocketry section, for example, we started with the history of rockets, presented in images of pencil rocket development at Tokyo University, through the Apollo program, and the successful launch last year of the first H-IIB Launch Vehicle, which carried the H-II Transfer Vehicle.
After that, we let the kids actually make rockets using umbrella bags. You take one of those plastic bags for wet umbrellas that you find at the entrance of department stores on rainy days. You inflate the bag, then complete the rocket by adding a tail, and fly it toward a target "planet" set up 15 meters away. Kids and their parents have to work together on this.
After that, a lecturer from JAXA explains the principle of rocket engines. Participants perform a combustion experiment by mixing oxygen and hydrogen, and then conduct flight experiments with bottle rockets. This is one example of a program that integrates visuals, hands-on experiments and lectures. Sometimes we also add a "quiz show," which is fun for the children.
It's challenging to plan a two-hour scientific event for children, because they get bored easily. But we've had so much success that this event now has a great reputation. In some cities we received twice as many applications as we had spaces. I think the success was due to a combination of the knowledge brought by the volunteers from JAXA and our skills in image production and event production. Also contributing to the success were people from the event venues, scientists who gave talks, and universities that provided the experiments. Last year was our first time running the event, so we held it only in the seven largest cities, but next year we would like to expand the event to all 47 prefectures, so that more people can participate.

JAXA helps bring hands-on science to schoolchildren

Q. What motivated you to start Cosmic College?

A child engrossed in a science experiment
A child engrossed in a science experiment

Since the Discovery Channel broadcasts many science documentaries, we need to keep boosting the number of science fans in order to survive as a company. We are a pay channel, so it's important for us to attract not only children but also their parents. To that end, we've been holding scientific experiment events for children and their parents since 2006, and we now have a solid reputation. However, if we only showed scientific experiments, people may think that science is all fun and games. We want people to deepen their understanding of science, and think about their dreams for the future, rather than thinking of science only as fun. At the same time, we want to be sure we are delivering accurate and timely information about what's happening in science today.
On the other hand, since last year was the International Year of Astronomy, the 400th anniversary of the first space observations by Galileo, it was a year to focus the public's attention on space. So we decided to hold a new scientific event with a space theme. When it comes to space, many people think first about NASA in the United States, but Japanese space technology - including the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the International Space Station - is also world-renowned. It's sad to say, though, that there are still many people who don't know about Japan's work on space technology and science. In order to make people feel closer to space, it's important to make them aware of what Japan is doing in the field and the progress we've made. For this reason, I thought it would be meaningful to create a program in collaboration with JAXA.

Q. Why is it important for the private sector to support education?

Enjoying a science workshop
Enjoying a science workshop

As I mentioned before, I think drawing people's interest to science will allow us, as a provider of science TV programs, to grow as well. Some firms try to boost their corporate image by contributing to society in fields completely different from their business activities. But in our case, our corporate interests match up with an important social goal, so in some ways I feel it is just natural that we contribute through activities such as Cosmic College.
In addition, when you think about environmental issues, for instance, the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite Ibuki is helping track and predict global warming more accurately. So you could say that in the future scientific technology could help save the Earth and humanity. Therefore, first of all, adults need to understand the importance of science, and then we need to provide an environment for children to understand it.
We also need to create an environment where children develop a permanent interest in science. You cannot expect schoolteachers to do everything, as they are very busy and need to teach the government-set curriculum. So even though elementary schools teach children about the stars, and these science classes may foster an interest in space, teachers don't have enough time to really develop their students' curiosity about space, since they have to keep teaching many different things. I think it's difficult for children to maintain an interest in science just from their activities in school. I think it's important to foster their interest outside the classroom through the science programs we broadcast every day, and through this kind of educational campaign. I think this is where science-related companies must be proactive.

Courtesy: Discovery Communications, Inc., © 2010

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