At Al Ain British Academy, we are truly excited to be part of the ELF in Space program whilst Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi writes a new chapter in history books as he completes a 6-month mission as the first Arab to spend the longest amount of time in Space. Thank you to the Emirates Literature Foundation for collaborating with the Mohammed Bin Rashed Space Center for organising this 20 week ELF In Space program, that brings the wonder of space travel into our school community.
As you look through this website, you will see that the ELF in Space Program includes an engaging pathway for school students of all ages to delve into the science of space and explore the world around them.
To educators considering embarking on a journey with the ELF in Space program, whether you are a classroom teacher, a subject specialist, or a school librarian, you can be the captain to lead this ELF in space mission! Here are the top tips from our experience at Al Ain British Academy that have helped us to involve around 500 students in the ELF in Space experience by the 10th episode.
1. Involve the school leadership.
Share an overview of the program and how this program can benefit the students with the school leadership team. Be sure to highlight that the video content is produced in collaboration with the Mohammed Bin Rashed Space Center and the videos feature the two UAE astronauts along with many local role models and international experts. All of this aligns well with the theme of UAE National Identity.
At our school, after the initial information exchange with the senior leadership team and discussion about how to integrate this program into the school, it was decided that the school library would be the central hub for the ELF in Space program. Our assistant principal for secondary, who is one of the social media administrators, also agreed to be the point of contact for guidance.
2. School’s social media policy and social media posts.
Another key conversation to have with the senior leadership team is about the social media posts on school social media channels. The ELF in Space program encourages the sharing of student work using #ELFinSpace; this means it is important to cover the following topics:
3. Use of Technology:
In addition to learning new content about space and the world around them, the ELF in Space program also offers the students the opportunity to work with various software platforms, apps and take digital images and prepare video footage suitable for sharing through school social media. Consider which software you and your students are familiar with and have access to produce the social medial content for sharing. Consider which tools would allow students to collaborate and how much support students will need with use of software and who can support them with this task.
To create content, we use CANVA Professional, Microsoft PowerPoint and Clipchamp, the online video editing tool. We also make use of iPad for augmented reality experiences
4. Recruit a core group of students to champion the program.
While you may be keen to get everyone involved from the start, it is okay to hold back a bit and just start completing the first couple of challenges with a small group of students. This allows you to focus on completing the weekly challenges for the topic, prepare student work to share on social media in line with the social media policy at school and coordinate with the social media administrator to work out the best way to share material.
At the beginning of the ELF Journey, our school started with 5 students from Year 7 and Year 8. These five students now serve as ELF in Space Ambassadors for our school. They help promote the program in school and help with creating content on a weekly basis.
5. Share student work from the ELF in Space on multiple platforms.
After you share the weekly student work on Instagram, take the time to re-post the student work using other school communication channels available to you. The time you invest to raise awareness of the ELF in space initiative will pay off in the following weeks.
We use the library website to make the students’ work available for other students to access. In addition to this, we also share the weekly video content in the weekly newsletter to parents.
6. Support from teachers.
It is useful to familiarise yourself with the school curriculum and what topics are delivered in each year group. Based on this information, you can make decisions on which students and teachers to approach about a weekly topic. Pitching the topic at the correct time will make it easier for class teachers to involve students to collaborate on the ELF in space tasks.
Depending on which ELF in Space topic is offered, invite the relevant teachers to help lead each topic. For example, English teaching staff may be able to support you with the creative tasks. In our experience, we found ELF in Space activities aimed at students aged 4 – 7 years, worked well as whole class activities, whereas tasks aimed at secondary students were better for students on an individual basis depending on interests and availability.
7. Student engagement and participation.
It is important to accept that student participation may vary on a weekly basis, depending on what commitments they have and the exam timetables. Also, some students may prefer creative topics over STEM topics.
Consider approaching school clubs for participation. For instance, if your school has an ECO club, invite the lead teacher for the ECO club to lead the episode on Water in Space.
If you have a projector in the library space, invite different classes to visit the library to watch the episode together on a Thursday morning!
Encourage students to utilise break times to work on ELF material. Provide them with a space and be available to meet with the students. Our ELF in space participants have the option to come to the library during morning break and lunch break and they are welcome to have their snacks while they work.
Organise an afterschool club to meet once a week to work on ELF in Space tasks. We found the after-school club is a good option for students who like to participate on a weekly basis.
8. Establish a communication channel.
If you choose to work through the episodes on a weekly basis, you need to consider how you plan to communicate with students, teachers on a frequent basis. Consider using only one channel for communication. In this way over a period of time everyone knows where to look for additional information.
At our school, every student and teacher who has shown interest or has worked on any of the episode challenges are added to the ELF in Space group on Microsoft Teams. In this way everyone can know about the upcoming episodes and activities. Also, we encourage students to submit their work though Microsoft Teams. All of the videos made by students are shared on Microsoft Teams.
Depending on how you plan to organise activities and the timeline you plan to set for weekly work, you may need to consider being available outside of school times to answer any queries students may have with regards to weekly challenges.
9. Celebrate the small wins!
Regardless of how many students contribute to each week’s challenges, find ways to celebrate their work. This could be done through school assemblies, bulletin boards, emails to class teachers, displaying student work in school TV monitors and emails to parents. If there is a bulletin board in the staff room, share information about the ELF in space program and add a QR code to direct teachers to the main website.
10. Involving parents.
For the two episodes that fell close to the spring break, we involved parents to support the students to complete some of the ELF tasks. Since then, we have shared the videos and tasks with parents via the classroom newsletters. This always opens the option for more children to participate in the activities.
At Al Ain British Academy, we are looking forward to continuing our journey with the ELF in Space program, and helping more students learn about space, our place in the wider universe and helping them to envision a better future for our planet.
School Librarian at Al Ain British Academy.