In October 2016, I got a wonderful opportunity with a colleague ( Adria Perez ) to spend three weeks teaching in a primary school, Campus Pampuri, in Bogotá, Colombia. The school management were very accommodating, and enthusiastic, and rearranged the entire school schedule so that we would have time to work with every class from 6 years to 12 years old.
Considering both our backgrounds in science we decided to make a programme based around astronomy, programming and computer science. Instead of trying to do a better job at teaching than the professional teachers we decided to use these subjects to teach the children how to do science.
It was an intense number of weeks for the two of us and a steep learning curve as neither of us had had the chance to give such long courses with school groups before. I found it very challenging but incredibly rewarding. It was very interesting for to me to see different children in the same class working through the problems at different rates. One big difficulty was trying to keep the attention of all the children in the class for an hour and a half at a time, especially in the younger cases. By presenting the children with activities based around the topic, we could ensure children of all levels would gain something from the session and keep them engaged with the material.
The most successful classes of the programme were making and measuring lunar craters and programming classes. Below I have included a brief summary of these classes, full class plan can be found here .
We began this project with an introductory class on the moon, talking about the phases, formation, craters and seas. The second class we talked about how we can use the moon to look back in time to the early stages in our solar system using the craters on the surface. We also discussed the formation of the solar system and asteroids and made a selection of asteroids with plasticine. Using a box of flour with a thin layer of cocoa powder to simulate the surface of the moon we then launched the asteroids to create craters. In teams we measured and recorded the asteroids and their corresponding craters.
The third class we then graphed the measurements in order to draw conclusions as to what size asteroids make the craters. We then filled out a scientific report on our findings which included table, graph, images as well as a methods, results and conclusions. In each of these steps we talked the kids through them, got them to think about why we are doing this experiment.
In designing and planning these activities I found the educational resource of 'Universe in a box ' to be a very useful. They have many activities laid out in their guide which can be found here.
With the older classes we had some time to spend an extra 3 hours on planet hunting. We began by talking about the solar system, discussing each of the planets in turn, their size, orbit, moons, what life would be like on the surface. We also recorded their size, orbit and radius. We then moved to solar eclipses, why these occur and this lead us to planetary transits. We then used some cleaned stellar light curves from the Kepler mission to identify transits and periods of these planets.
These activities were lead my colleague. We emphasised the need for coding in many different aspects of science and life. The resources available at code.org were invaluable for these classes. We began with a class on how computers think, and using pen and paper and working in pairs, the children had to write programs for each other to draw specific images. We then worked through some exercises such as these. The children really enjoyed these classes, and they made impressive strides in such a short time. These classes had the added benefit that they could continue working on these exercises afterwards at home.