Classrooms with suns and stars

A CONICET investigator is part of an international team that trains teachers of secondary schools to teach astronomy in classrooms and scientific knowledge communication.

Beatriz García with colleagues in China. Photo: courtesy investigator.

By Beatriz García*

Designers of didactic tools for teaching science often wonder if the transmission of certain contents is possible for any country and language.

From a human point of view, the Earth planet is formed by different peoples who interpret reality in different ways. Culture shapes behaviors and approaches to everyday life. However, the recent NASE (Network for Astronomy School Education) experience in China, where I participated as a CONICET investigator, reinforces the conviction that the language of science is unique and that problems with education are similar in the entire world and despite the differences, we can understand each other and move forward.

Available since 2009, the NASE is a course sponsored by the International Astronomical Union created by Rosa María Ros of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain. The objective is to train secondary school teachers in astronomy didactics. With a theoretical and practical approach, the course emphasizes the development of hands-on workshops where teachers can reinforce their knowledge to apply the resources within the classroom. Therefore, they can grasp the discipline’s concepts, applying the techniques in different areas such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history and philosophy.

Astronomy is a transversal discipline that can be addressed from different subjects and it is vital for introducing students in the study of science and nature. Applying contents and astronomical concepts in the classroom turns out to be positive because students envince interest for the topics the subject comprises.

The contents have been selected considering interesting areas of spherical astronomy and astrophysics for the training of secondary school students. Furthermore, the contents are related to the current situation of the discipline.

NASE is based on the development of four conferences on general topics: History of Astronomy, Solar System, Life of Stars and Cosmology, and ten workshops that explore Spherical Astronomy (Celestial Sphere, Coordinate System, Phases of the Moon, Eclipses, Seasons production, time measurement, dimensions, scales, determination of distances, design and use of instruments for astronomical observation) and Astrophysics (electromagnetic spectrum, the Sun, not visible radiations, the life of stars, expansion of the universe).

The achievement expectations of the astronomy didactic courses are related to the capacity to make the student develop notions of space and time, generate critical thinking of scientific topics and show the interdisciplinary nature of modern science.

The expected impact is significant. Considering the experience gained, we could affirm that the teachers apply the contents in the classroom and they show their achievements in Science Fairs, Expositions, Club Scientific, among other places. Besides, the contents are presented not only within the areas of natural sciences but also in other non-traditional areas such as History, Philosophy and even Physical Education.

Furthermore, the course provides training in astronomical instruments, which revitalizes the use of telescopes in schools.

The Astronomy Didactics is an activity based on the application of the scientific method in the teaching of conceptual and practical contents of Astronomy. The course was designed by professional astronomers and teachers considering the education programmes of Astronomy in different countries and institutions. In the case of Argentina, Astronomy is present as a subject or its contents are taught in different levels.

In our country, NASE was established in the provinces of Santa Fe and Mendoza; the institutions that promote the successful development of this course are the CONICET at a national level, the Ministries of Education (or the Directorate-General for Education) and the Science and Technology Secretary Offices of each province.

The experience in China was a litmus test for the programme: the courses were run in English the local teachers translated all to mandarin. All the material was transferred to the teachers in their local language and nowadays the NASE book, 14 steps to the Universe, edited in Spanish and English, is going to have its Chinese edition. For the responsible of the programme, this experience was like reaching another world and establishing “contact”.

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*Beatriz García is an Independent Investigator of the CONICET and Vice-Director of the Institute of Technology in Detection and Astroparticles.

Besides, she is the Vice-President of the 46 Commission of the IAU (Astronomy Education and Development) and the IAU-NASE programme.