Communications - Science teaching

Description of classes given at Campus Pampuri (Bogotá, Colombia) Oct. 2016.

Here I outline the class structure in some more detail, including some improvements and thoughts on the classes for next time.

Making craters - 6 hours in total.

Class I. In this first session we began by talking about the moon. We covered the phases of the moon, formation, craters and seas, rotation around the earth.

Class II. We began by talking about the formation of the solar system, starting from small grains and building up slowly to asteroids and then planets. Asteroids can tell us a lot about how the solar system was at a very early age. The surface of the earth has undergone a lot of changes that have not occurred in these asteroids. We can find some of these meteorites on the surface of the earth, but can we also learn something about these asteroids from the craters on the moon. How can we test this? For the rest of this class we split the children into research teams making the point that scientists never work alone.

Class III. During this class we went over what we completed in the previous class, why we did it and what we found. We then began to plot the data on the board as they drew their own graphs. This took time as the younger classes had not done a lot of this. However we were successful. We called volunteers up to the board to mark the data points, asking the rest of the class to make sure the data point was in the correct position. We then discussed what we could learn from the graph i.e. bigger asteroids make bigger craters, or bigger craters come from bigger asteroids. After completing the graph, we began filling in the scientific report. For this we made up a four page outline for the class which included, introduction, method, results with table and graph, images of craters compared to lunar craters and conclusions. Talking our way through the different sections, and filling them out together took some time, but I think this was very useful to cement the ideas for the children and to get them to think about the concepts again.

Image of front page of class report.
Image of front page of the class report.

Finding planets

The pace of the older classes was a little faster, and so we had some time to cover planet hunting with them. The Kepler website has some good resources and example light curves which I used in this class. They can be found here, with a detailed (and long) class plan here.

Class I. The first part of the session we spent talking about our solar system. We went through the planets talking about their sizes, orbits, moons, surface conditions, making comparisons to earth. We introduced the concept of the astronomical unit. We recorded all the measurements for each planet, size, orbit, radius, moons in a table while discussing the topic.

We then discussed solar eclipses, what happens when the moon travels between the sun and the earth. What would this look like if we made a graph of the light coming from the sun? What would this graph look like if the moon was smaller? What if it was further away? In this way we began to introduce transits and light curves.

Class II. We talked shortly about transits again this time bringing in the idea of viewing angle. We then used cleaned Kepler light curves to look for planets around these stars. We identified where the transits occurred in the light curve, found the period of the planet. We began with light curves of star with only one planet and moved on to look at transit light curves of stars with multiple orbiting planets. We did the first couple in class together, and then allowed them free time to fill in the table with the periods of the planets themselves while moving around the room to help.

Solar system drawings
Drawings from the youngest class (age 5-6) on the solar system.

Introduction to Coding

These activities were lead my colleague. We began by emphasising the need for coding in many different aspects of science and life. The resources available at 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. This was all done using graph paper and such commands as up,down,left,right,paint. At the end of this class we were able to introduce the concept of loops.

The second class was held in the computer room, where we worked on such exercises as these. The exercises involve giving a sequence of commands to small characters to get to the end of a maze or draw a certain step. The logic and functions are slowly built up, from exercise to exercise. The children really enjoyed the 'game' aspect of these exercises. We had them working in pairs, and they did very well in getting through many exercises. There was the added benefit that they could continue with these exercises at home.