Observing the skies

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Background Information: 

Brief Description: Students will explore the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the design of its primary mirror. This activity outlines three engineering issues. Teachers may choose to explore any single issue or all three. What is the best way to make a large mirror that can go into space? How can we get the telescope to fit in the launch vehicle? Will the telescope survive launch?

How does the lesson relate to STEAM education: This Engineering activity can be related to larger science themes of the Universe, and includes a strong mathematical connection to tessellations.

Age Range: 10 to 14

Didactical Hours: up to 3 by 45 min sessions

Learning objectives: The students will:
- appreciate some of the constraints when launching a space telescope
- review the structure and functions of a telescope
- use mathematical reasoning to explain why the JWST’s primary mirror has been designed with hexagons
- construct a folding model of the JWST (optional: design and make their own version of a folding telescope)
- create and carry out a shake test of their model

Relation to the Big Ideas of Science:

Energy > Energy and Forces > Electromagnetic radiation and radiant energy: Telescopes use mirrors to reflect light.

Forces > Forces and Motion > 3-dimensional motions: JWST will remotely unfold to its final configuration and has been designed to withstand the forces and vibrations of launch.


The Polar Star consortium is grateful for the input of the Star Advisors, who helped to choose the star topics. We would like to warmly thank Star Advisors who provided valuable ideas, materials and feedback for this particular activity: Karen Billingham, Dr. Semra Demircali, Maria Eleftheriou, Paula Galvin and Daniela de Paulis.

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POLAR STAR aims to bring together state-of-the-art learning pedagogies and combine them with exciting activities that focus on contemporary science, thus helping teachers to introduce STEAM successfully in their class. At the same time the project will focus on the development of students’ key skills and competences as well as deepening their knowledge of fundamental science principles, increasing their appreciation of science and technology and their role in todays’ societies. POLAR STAR aims to offer an open and innovative training framework to teachers of primary and secondary education which will focus on:

  • Promoting the 'Science as a Whole' concept;
  • Promoting a holistic STEM educational approach;
  • Promote the introduction of contemporary science activities in schools;



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Email: polar-star@ea.gr