A Final Message from Earth, to Voyager & the Final Frontier – Lesson Ideas

Have you heard or did you read the news yesterday? Incredibly, the Voyager space-probes, which departed Earth in 1977 and were sent to explore our own solar system, are entering interstellar space. Soon, the two probes will finally lose contact with Earth, but that’s not until us earthlings have their last word (in a certain number of characters of course).

This post will hopefully inspire teachers and children to get involved with this, as well as sharing possible lesson ideas and questions to ask in class. I really hope it’s helpful.


Here’s a short video describing some of Voyager’s incredible history and findings so far.

Currently, both Voyager probes are speeding towards interstellar space with one job left – to take a message from humanity as far into space as they can in the hope of encountering intelligent life.

Artist’s concept depicts NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by the plasma, or ionized gas, that was ejected by the death of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. The environment inside our solar bubble is dominated by the plasma exhausted by our sun, known as the solar wind. The interstellar plasma is shown with an orange glow similar to the color seen in visible-light images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that show stars in the Orion nebula traveling through interstellar space. Image released Sept. 12, 2013. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Each probe carries an identical golden record, which contains music, sounds, greetings and pictures that were gathered in the 1970s. Their aim: to share a small piece of information with extra-terrestrial life.

What scientists are now saying, is because life on Earth has changed dramatically since 1977, we should really think about updating Voyager’s information, just incase we do come across alien life.

Questions for your class (1): 

How has it changed?

What important discoveries have we made in this time? What inventions or things do we now have, that we didn’t then? 

Because of the changes and advances humankind has made, scientists want to update the Voyager spacecrafts with a message, informing them on our new time and changed earth.

Similar to an old LP (vinyl) that your parents and grandparents would have used to listen to music on

Photograph: Time Life Pictures/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Photograph: Time Life Pictures/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Questions for your class (2):
Do you agree? 

Will a snapshot of our planet be able to be understood by other ‘intelligent life’? 

Who should send the message? 

Who should write it?

Some people however, believe that the probes should be uninterrupted as they’re time-capsules.

Do you agree? Seeing as they are the furthest man-made objects to reach interstellar space, should we not take advantage of this final opportunity to send a final message?

Losing Contact

In the mid-2020s, Voyager 1 and 2 will run out of power entirely and therefore be unable to transmit any messages back to earth, or perform any other tasks NASA ask it.

They now aim to send a message of 1000 characters (which is the length of about 7 tweets of 140 characters).

Prof Riley says: “Before the Voyagers power down, why not add one final message from planet Earth, as a digital postscript to these most remarkable time capsules of humanity?”

Prof Riley says: “There’s really no reason why a message can’t be written by an impartial representative from the human race, so we’re inviting suggestions from anyone who would like to contribute a thought.” (c) Sky News 2015

Here’s the website where you can submit a Facebook message of your own 1000 characters, as well as read other people’s messages. Voyager’s Final Message 

Facebook access for primary children will be a problem, so I thought it would be ideal if I set up a Padlet for this, so that teachers and children can share their own message that they’d like to send to Voyager. Here’s the link: http://padlet.com/mrcotter/6a19gor31232

What's Your Message?

What’s Your Message?

Please, please share as widely as you’d like, and I will definitely be sharing with my great contacts on Twitter and Facebook. Who knows, maybe one of or some of, our messages will make it to interstellar space. Godspeed…

Lesson ideas:

– Ask the children to write their own message to Voyager, for potential extra-terrestrial life.

– Ask them to compose a tweet of 140 characters instead of 1000. Your teacher can share it for you.

– Maybe combine 7 chosen messages to create 1 longer message from the class or even school.

-As a class, list the important things to have within the message, before creating the overall text.

– Possibly imagine what a response to this would be, using some of the carefully selected Facebook messages from earthlings.

– What will they see themselves doing in the mid-2020s.

– Write a journal/diary entry or blog post, from the perspective of the probe, on what you have seen and your final words before leaving the boundaries of our own solar system.

– Write a postcard from space (KS1/KS2), adding images and pictures from what you have seen so far.

– Create a fact file/information text on each planet you’ve passed as Voyager.

– Write a balanced argument on whether or not we should update Voyager’s message for potential aliens.

– Generate a comic-strip retelling using Comic Life of Voyager’s journey so far.

– Make Voyager out of Lego, photograph it and give the detail of each important part on the probe. How does this differ to our more recent probes sent in to Space.

– Create your own playlist for extra-terrestrial life. Using Spotify or iTunes, generate your own playlist for what you would send to Voyager that encompasses the wide variety of genres in today’s music. See the SoundCloud link below, where you can now actually listen to the sounds/music on Voyager.

Here’s a quick doc I created on Google Docs for you to download, share or adapt:

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 16.09.38


Voyager Message 1000

Useful Websites/Links:

Space.com’s website on Voyager: http://m.space.com/22729-voyager-1-spacecraft-interstellar-space.html

Nasa’s Website on Voyager’s Mission: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

Nasa’s Job Advertisement for old coding using Fortran: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/10/31/brush_up_on_your_fortran/

The Sounds of Earth that are on-board Voyager (Soundcloud link): https://soundcloud.com/nasa/sets/golden-record-sounds-of

Sounds of the Earth on Soundcloud from 1977

Sounds of the Earth on Soundcloud from 1977

Using Question of Sport’s ‘What Happens Next?’ as a Writing Stimulus

I have fond memories of watching quiz shows growing up. In particular, BBC’s Question of Sport. Recently, I wondered about the possible use of the ‘what happens next’ game as a writing stimulus in the classroom, and wanted to share some potential ideas with you.

In case you haven’t seen QoS before, here’s an excerpt from the show, airing a snippet from a game involving Exeter City.

As a part of the programme, contestants in the game are given options to what they believe happens next based on selected sport footage. As you can see from watching the conclusion to the question, Jamie Mackay scores but the ball sneaks through the net and has to be finished off by Adam Stansfield (RIP). Somewhat unpredictable I know, but engaging and it will hook the learners.

There are so many other videos available online and they don’t have to feature short snippets of edited footage like this one below.

In this video, ten questions are presented requiring an answer for each, which are great fun and thoroughly entertaining. (Please be careful though, as this particular video shows Cantona’s famous stamp on a fan in the crowd.)

I believe such footage is an excellent hook and could possibly be used in many ways to engage writers, generating discussion and stimulating possible ideas and imagination.

1) You could ask the children to discuss in teams what they believe happens next.

2) Share their ideas from one (or more) excerpts from what they think may follow.

3) Finally, show the class what happens. Were they close? Was anyone right?

You could do this with any video, pausing at the moment before and allowing the learners to delve into their imagination. It’s always incredible what they come up with!

Gathered suggestions may resemble the following:

‘The player takes on the keeper, chips it towards the goal but misses an open net!’

– Firstly, to extend this, you could create a narrative from the first or third person. Using carefully chosen Alan Peat sentences (such as ‘3 Bad – (Dash) question’, ‘3ed’ and ‘_ing, _ed’, emotion word (comma) etc.), invite the children to extend their original idea. A superb writing opportunity.

– A brilliant way of organising this, is to use Mat Sullivan’s (@InspiredMind5) comic planner approach. Using screenshots from the clip, which can be placed on the template, ask the children to produce a Roy of the Rovers style comic, using speech, internal monologue and detail to continue their story. In my opinion, Comic Life is the best software (currently) for producing this digitally, allowing users to add speech, thoughts, captions, onomatopoeia and narrative; even their own photographs to create a dramatisation/reenactment of what will happen.


Children could also write from the perspective of the opposition, instead of the sports person in question. It could even from the viewpoint of a fan! In addition, I’ve blogged before about writing from the perspective of an inanimate object before. This could be a goal post, the ball, the stadium or the floodlights…

– Also, learners could recount the event, either in the form of a diary, blog or newspaper or online article. Lee Parkinson (@ICT_MrP) has some good ideas on his blog http://mrparkinsonict.blogspot.co.uk and in his ebook https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/15-ipad-lessons-for-world/id880547720?mt=11 about the use of iMovie and Morfo to create commentary.

– Pupils could use Explain Everything to analyse what happened. It could even be used by the children to note and discuss what they believe could have happened next. This would be great fun! And remember, it doesn’t even have to be sport – plenty of short films and animations can be used too.

– Finally, I leave you with a great video from The Masters at the weekend. Jordan Spieth, the outright winner and only 21, is stuck behind a tree on the 14th at Augusta and is up against it, with an object right in his line. I wonder what he was thinking? I don’t think anyone could have guessed what was about to happen next – I certainly couldn’t!

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 21.55.52

Jordan Spieth at The Masters, Augusta, 2015

This is one short video that I’ve found but it is important to add that the app Vine is a superb tool for accessing footage online. This app shows six second footage and great for pausing at any chosen moment, just by tapping the screen. Video is looped continuously but the material available online is huge! You just have to choose carefully.

I hope some of these ideas are useful and if you have any suggestions, please share them!

Using GoPro First-Person Footage as a Writing Stimulus

I’ve been thinking and writing about Go-Pro cameras for a while now and wanted to share some ideas on here; even if just to make you aware how useful certain footage could be to stimulate quality writing, as I see real potential in them.

What is Go-Pro?

Firstly, Go-Pro is a type of camera that fits to a helmet or part of the body, to give the user the ability to record video footage from a ‘first-person viewpoint’.

Within extreme sports, such as surfing, sky-diving and other adrenaline sports, these cameras are widely used and can be so impressive and fascinating to watch.

Here’s a first-person video of Kelly McGarry’s (a daredevil mountain-biker) backflip over a cavernous 72-foot wide canyon.

Daredevil Mountainbiker:

Writing Ideas:

– Write a narrative/story of the daredevil ride.

– Write a recount or blog of the ride, with you as Kelly McGarry from before the event and after. 

– Create a news report as a sports journalist who was there on the day. 

– Using Lee Parkinson’s 15 Lessons for the World Cup e-book ideas, which you can buy here, you could record a pre-race commentary using Explain Everything – an app that Lee suggests in his book. I absolutely love this and used it recently in history, teaching about Anglo-Saxon settlements – see Lee’s great blog on its use on marking here

– You could generate vocabulary linked to the person or even location. See my previous post on using vocabulary art for this approach. 

– Write a description of the location, focusing on pathetic fallacy, a type of personification I’ve learned from Mat Sullivan and Alan Peat, where nature is given a ‘human form’.

What About Other Footage I Could Use in Class? 

There’s so much about! I recently shared Huffington’s Top 26 videos on my digital magazine, ‘Moving Writing’ on Flipboard which is here: https://flipboard.com/section/moving-writing-through-sport-bQJVGH

Huffington Post’s Top 26 Go-Pro First Person Videos: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/12/15/best-gopro-videos-2014_n_6327672.html

There are some great first person shots and not all are sport related either, such as this Lego man from Canada (my birth country), who travelled all the way to space. Children will love this!

Lego Man Enters Space:

Writing Ideas: 

– Children could write about their incredible day from the perspective of the Lego man. 

– Using Mat Sullivan’s comic planner, writers could sequence the events, adding internal monologue and dialogue to the story. 

– Twist the end. What happened after? Pause the video and get the children to come up with an alternate ending, possibly starting an intriguing new story! Again, the use of a comic planner here could be vital! Make the moment at the end of this video the start, using an ‘in media res’ opening. 

Or what about this guy jet-skiing through a canyon? Looks like great fun! Reminds me of the pod race in Star Wars: Phantom Menace.

Jet Skiing Through a Revine:

The Telegraph’s top 10 from last year is excellent as well, which you can view here.

One of my favourites is this: a Go-Pro camera attached to an eagle.

Writing Ideas: 

– Allow the children to comment over the footage in the style of David Attenborough. They could use Explain Everything or iMovie to create their documentary on an eagle or other animal. 

– Create some descriptive writing, focusing on the senses, with writers listing things they can hear, see and feel based on the video, with them as the eagle itself soaring above this beautiful Alpine landscape. 

Imagine the engagement and potential writing you could obtain from this.

What if an eagle was to soar through a city…

This could also generate an interesting debate and discussion, as the aim of the above has been to increase people’s awareness (in cities such as London) of the threats to endangered species like the Imperial Eagle seen in the video above.

Please have a look online and feel free to ask me on Twitter for any suitable ideas or links you might need @johndcotter.

My advice is have a look and see what you can find, but also, be mindful of some of the content and language used in some of the videos, as some of it is rather ‘extreme’.

Thanks for reading – I promise to update this with further videos and links I’m allowed to and will always credit the author, creator or person with the original idea. Cheers.