Out of this world - RSA blog - RSA

Out of this world


  • Picture of John Peto
    John Peto
    Lead Producer, Nerve Centre
  • Design
  • Education and learning

John Peto explains how the Our Place in Space project, as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, convened astronauts, academics, artists, authors and engineers to bring the universe to thrilling life for schoolchildren across the UK.

Among the many challenges of the Our Place in Space project was our determination to use the platform Unboxed gave us to deliver access and opportunity around creative learning experiences to children and young people across the UK.

At the Nerve Centre, we have been developing and delivering award-winning curriculum-linked learning resources for more than 20 years, fusing our creative design skills with teacher/academic-led content creation to engage teachers and learners around hard-to-reach areas of the curriculum.

As a Derry~Londonderry-based organisation, the vast majority of the Nerve Centre’s educational work had been focused in and around Northern Ireland. Our Place in Space allowed us to grow this work in both the UK and internationally and apply our existing knowledge and experience within the wide context of Unboxed – one which saw us working with international artist Oliver Jeffers and global academic Professor Stephen Smartt, as part of a UK-wide family of ten large-scale creative projects.

In addition to this strong foundation, the focus of Our Place in Space (around space and the solar system) made it a compelling offer within the schools space. The solar system is a feature of almost every formal school curriculum in the world, and the subject of enduring fascination for teachers and students alike. Add in a resource designed by Oliver Jeffers – known, recognised, and loved by children and parents across the world for his illustrated books, and authored by Professor Smartt – and we were convinced that the learning element of Our Place in Space must be a key attraction and legacy piece for the project for years to come.

Key stages star mapped

With this in mind, we produced a range of curriculum-mapped resources at key stage 2 and 4 which are available as free downloads and supported by a blended programme of online (across the UK) and in-school (in NI) teacher professional learning sessions to support delivery.

This was the bedrock of the schools offer; world-class resources that will have a medium-term shelf life of five to seven years and are freely available across the UK and beyond.

This core offering was augmented by a series of online Creative Challenges to platform engagement with the science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) principles that underpin Unboxed. There was input from key figures including astronauts Chris Hadfield and Nicole Stott, author Neil Gaiman and McLaren engineer Ella Podmore. There were filmed conversations with Oliver. And there were set challenges related to key themes of Our Place in Space. All of these helped encourage learners to get hands-on and creative in designing and making.

In addition to this, an Our Place in Space Minecraft World has been created, drawing upon Oliver’s project design and exploring more deeply the themes of identity and belonging in the world. And there is a series of mass online learning sessions using coding and digital creativity to engage learners around space and the solar system.

The infrastructure around the Our Place in Space trail which toured across Northern Ireland, Cambridge and Liverpool, and the profile generated by the range of high-profile figures engaged in the learning programme, has seen more than 30,000 school students reached through direct sessions with almost 1,000 schools.

This is just the start. The Minecraft World has only just launched and the real legacy in schools will be truly felt in the coming years as the resources can be used by teachers at their convenience, rather than under the time pressures of the festival year.

Unboxed as a launchpad

Unboxed has given us the resources and the platforms to develop and deliver a world-class learning experience that can inspire generations around space, humanity and the future of our planet. We believe that we have made a very solid start in that process and look forward to delivering on the full legacy potential in the months and years to come.

Visit the Our Place in Space learning page to access resources, the Minecraft world and creative challenges.

Related Unboxed content

  • Super-nature: shaping how cities feel


    Tamsin Hanke Sash Scott

    Super-nature was one of 10 commissions to feature in the 2022 global exploration research project, Collective Futures. Learn about the work and its outputs in this field note.

  • About us: our language has saved us once before


    Natasha Ryan

    Our partnership with Unboxed featured 10 major commissions across science, tech, engineering, arts and maths About Us was one of those commissions. Learn more.

  • Collective Futures: insights from the journey so far


    Hannah Webster Ella Firebrace

    Collective Futures may allow us to transition towards a more rebalanced and regenerative future. We’ve been exploring how the practice might do this.