An evaluation of the Universe Awareness (UNAWE) pilot project in Victor Scott Primary School, Hamilton, Bermuda
On the 20th of February 2008, Victor Scott Primary School hosted Bermuda’s first Universe Awareness project. Universe Awareness is an international program which aims to inspire very young children throughout the world with the beauty and grandeur of the Universe, with the hope of broadening young minds, awaken a curiosity in science at a young age and stimulate internationalism and tolerance. The school day was to consist of a series of astronomy based classes, which were tailored to the age group of the children involved. That night, some of the senior students would return to the school to take part in a Universe Awareness Activity Night to mark the lunar eclipse taking place the same night.
Aims of the pilot project:
* Complement the school science curriculum with exciting astronomy classes.
* Inspire the budding scientists present with the beauty and wonder of the Universe.
* Stimulate international awareness by connecting the Victor Scott students with other children around the globe.
Sean McCabe presented the classes. The class length varied dependent on the age of the children involved.
The material covered also varied depending on the class age. The younger children discussed the sky and common atmospheric phenomena. They also explored the cause of day and night, and learned about the sun and moon. This material was covered with the older children but they also went on to learn about the solar system and the greater Universe.
Power Point presentations provided the foundation for the class, of which there were two. The younger children (4-6) worked their way through the colourful “Our Sky” presentation. The older children explored their world and Universe through the telescopic Our Island Home presentation. Educational videos such as Gizmo and The Sun, Some Stars and Planets and Universe Fly By generated great excitement. The older children participated in the Human Solar System, an exciting game in which the children gain an appreciation of the vastness of the solar system. The younger children learned about planet sizes using play dough in the classes.
The UNAWE Activity Night:
On the evening of February 20, 60 children, along with their parents and guardians returned to Victor Scott to take part in the UNAWE activity night and observe the lunar eclipse taking place that night.
After a short introduction, and some pasta from Kennys Kitchen, the children took part in The Great UNAWE Astro-Quiz. The children were posed a question on material covered earlier that day, and were given two possible answers. Those who chose the correct answer won a sweet. This generated great excitement, but as the quiz progressed it was noted that the children became uninterested in the chocolate reward, with their desire to get the question right the strongest motivation.
After this, the hall was turned into the UNAWE hands-on workshop with numerous activities set up for the children. They made their own Discover the Planets solar system wall charts, painted and coloured special UNAWE activity sheets and explored the solar system using the Interactive Planetarium produced by Scientific Toys.
The Telescope Station was set up outside and supervised by Mr. Eddie McGonagle, President of the Bermuda Astronomical Society. Two telescopes, provided by employees of RenaissanceRe, were used at the station: one 5 Meade ETX-125 and one 10 Meade LX-200. With these, the children were able to observe the craters of the moon and the rings of Saturn under Mr. McGonagles guidance.
Perhaps the most exciting event aside from the eclipse itself, was the international UNAWE Skypecast which was hosted by UNAWE from the Netherlands. The Skypecast allowed the children to commutate with students and astronomers around the world who were also watching the eclipse. In particular, the Victor Scott students were able to talk to children from Lynedoch Primary School in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The children’s conversation ranged from everything from the eclipse to sport and music as they explored the similarities and differences between both cultures.
Fortunately, cloud cover, which had been threatening the eclipse itself, cleared shortly before the eclipse was to begin. The sight of the Earth’s shadow crossing the moon exhilarated the group of students, parents, teachers and astronomers alike, and stimulated much curiosity and questions from the group, which were answered by the astronomers present.
Evaluation of the UNAWE Bermudian Pilot Project:
The best gauge of a project like this is the reaction of the children involved. The classes generated great animation. The children's enthusiasm for the subject was evident in their desire to ask and answer questions, and take part in the class activities. The UNAWE Activity night, and eclipse itself was a truly special community event, with everyone present having a memorable evening. Some comments heard from children on the night:
“That is so peaceful, I could look at that all day”
- On viewing the moon through the telescope.
“Is I possible for a girl to become an astronaut?” [Answer: Of course]
The UNAWE skypecast formed friendships across the Atlantic, with the international scope of the project wildly apparent. As the children from Victor Scott spoke with the children in Lynedoch, a South African kid raced in to tell his classmates the moon had gone red. With that both the children in Bermuda and the children in South Africa ran outside to gaze at the same scene, despite being thousands of kilometres apart.