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Cultural Sky Stories

Tuesday, 06 September 2016

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Staff within the School of Education recently attended a Professional Learning (PL) day at the Mount Lawley Campus for the 2016 iteration of Cultural Sky Stories. The Higher Education Participation Partnership Program, funded by the Federal Government, addressed the Australian Science Curriculum outcomes for students in Years 5 to 8.

The PL day discussed the issue of how to teach students using an investigative approach through challenging the ideas that they have about various celestial phenomena such as the phases of the Moon and of things like the Earth’s seasons. It may surprise readers to learn that students think that the shapes of the Moon over a month are caused by the Earth’s shadow or that the seasons are caused by our distance from the Sun. We describe these as Alternative Conceptions and they a make a great starting point for in-class investigations.

As part of the day's activities, Dr Noel Nannup enthralled the audience with his extended recount of the Noongar Creation Story and of which he has made a DVD for distribution. In addition to this story telling, staff also made contact with a remote telescope in Laramie, Wyoming in the USA with teachers learning how to control it and its digital cameras to acquire images of the night sky “up over” there. One young lady, aged 10, here in Perth was first to acquire an image of the Ring Nebula visible in the constellation of Lyra in the northern sky while it was broad daylight here in Perth.

The approach of the program uses different cultural stories about objects in the sky as the starting point for learning about the Moon, the planets and our Sun. Participation in the program currently involves 12 schools who have a high enrolment of students from non-English Speaking Backgrounds. Each participating school is given an 8-inch reflecting telescope together with a Solar filter for safely observing the Sun during our daytime, an iPad mini and Stellarium, an App that shows what the sky looks like at any instant of the day. Working in pairs, students use the App and the telescope to find objects to observe through the telescope.

Our team (David McKinnon, Geoff Lummis, Julia Morris, Richard Cohen and Nadia Chubko) ably supported by our Engagement team (Kristian Guagliardo and Caroline Bishop) also go out to the schools to support night-time observing sessions. Early in September, the team will head to Balga Primary School, who have also invited Balga North Primary School to the event, at a time when the first Quarter Moon will be visible as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Students learn how to use their smartphones to take pictures of the brighter objects with their telescope. Later in the year the team will head to Butler SHS.

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