Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Project Astro Kick-off at Donaldson Elementary School

Like last year, I and many other astronomers around the US are participating in Project Astro. Project Astro partners a teacher with an astronomer. We introduced Project Astro in this previous blog post and told you about the workshop that is held at the beginning of each new school year at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. In short: The goal is for the astronomer to help the teacher to bring astronomy and science closer to the children in the classroom. Various activities support this goal.

This year, I am partnered up with Donaldson Elementary School's 4th grade classes. Donaldson Elementary is a public school in the North West of Tucson, Arizona. Each of its 4th grade classes consists of about 30 children. Last week, I visited the 2 classes for the first time. When I entered the class room, the children looked at me with big, excited eyes. As a welcome present they had prepared a book for me with drawings of what they think a female astronomer/scientist looks like. It was really touching and their art work was great. Their female astronomers came in all shapes and sizes and forms and colours. I particularly liked the one that put me on the moon!

What does a female scientist/astronomer look like? Here are a few example images of what the children thought before meeting me. Image credit: Janine Pforr, drawings from Donaldson Elementary 4th grade pupils.

We started off with just a general question and answer session, so the children could get to know me a little better and ask anything they wanted to know. One hand after another shot up. And boy, did they ask tough questions! For example: "What's left after a Supernova?" or "How did the Universe start?" or "How long can a person live in space?" or "What is the biggest star?" (You can check for a list of the largest known stars here, they are nearly 2000 times larger than our Sun). It was great and I was really impressed with their sheer endless curiosity.

Phases of the moon. Try to find the right order!
One solution is below, but no early peeking!!
Image Credit: "The Universe at your Fingertips"
and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
After that, we started our first activity, the phases of the moon. At the outset I had every child draw how they see the moon. Some drew full moons, some half-moons, some crescent moons. All had craters on them. Some added aliens and the American flag and the moon lander module. We discussed how everyone's drawing looked different and then I distributed little cards that have different moon phases on them, which the kids had to order. Naturally, most of them ordered the pictures from smallest crescent moon to full moon, thus creating half a cycle. The pictures however showed a full cycle. By drawing their attention to the details in the pictures, i.e. craters and mares, I had them rethink their choice and order. With a little help all of them managed to get the order properly and we talked about how often the moon cycles through its phases in a year and how long one cycle roughly is. Next time, I think we'll talk about what causes the moon phases and the seasons.

That day, the kids were very sad to see me leave, but I am sure we will have a great next visit.

With all the curiosity and interest of the children during my first visit, I have to say that I had one special highlight of the day. During recess, one of the little girls came up to me and asked if I was a scientist, which I confirmed. And then she said she wanted to become a scientist, too, when she was grown up. I thought that was very sweet and also exactly what many of us want to achieve with outreach events like this. We want to interest more children in astronomy in particular and science in general and encourage young girls especially that math and engineering and science is for them, too. 

One possible solution for the right order of the moon phases. Image Credit: "The Universe at your Fingertips" and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

No comments:

Post a Comment