F I R E H O S E D ? Stop it, say ASTRONOMISTS

78107_web_R_by_Mike Frajese_pixelio.de

78107_web_R_by_Mike Frajese_pixelio.de

Pamela Gay’s presentation contains a provoking picture. It shows a little girl in front of a firehose being hit so hard by the water that she almost falls over. “Teachers firehose students”, comments Pamela. “This is our cardinal mistake in education”, adds the astronomer. Teachers have unfortunately the habit to talk at students, in other word: to drum the knowledge into their heads.

Her take-home message: The real challenge is the intrinsic way, to motivate people so they find out for themselves how to satisfy their hunger for education and knowledge. Instead of working top-down educators and other disseminators of knowledge—including science journalists!— have to get accustomed to the bottom-up approach: cater to the natural curiosity, use interactive and cooperative elements, encourage, be more like a coach than an instructor.

Give people the experience that they really matter and have them participate, says Pamela, “and they will value it as the most important reward”.

Her audience are many teachers from Europe, physicists, astronomers, journalists. They met during the summer holidays in Volos, Greece for the “Discover the Cosmos” Conference. It’s an outreach program, sponsored by the European Commission, which is geared towards overcoming scientific illiteracy, right at school level and lay seeds to rearing the next generation of scientists. Only a few years in effect, it already involves hundreds of teachers and thousands of students who have accomplished amazing cosmic research such as discovered asteroids and investigated the atmosphere of planets.

All they need is access to the electronic infrastructure, which can be easily provided and passionate physics teachers. They connect them with robotic telescopes which open most exciting views into the depths of our universe. This serves as an appetizer which eventually leads into the scientific nitty-gritty, natural laws and the mathematics involved.

But there is more to it, as the chairwoman of the event, Rosa Doran, points out in her introductory note in the conference manual. In this project the tomorrow meets the yesterday.

“Is the economic crisis really our bigger concern or are we facing the biggest crisis in the educational system?”, Doran asks and continues: “Are we preparing students for the future using today’s vision or yesterdays’ pedagogy?”

Critical questions about the state of the art of our education and how to overcome the 19th century style which was aimed at making the subjects function, not necessarily think for themselves like independent citizens.

The new approach promotes contests between European highschools and inspire students to highly ambitious research projects. The “Exoplant Team” of the Pelopium Lyceum in Greece for example investigated the colour of plants on other planets due to changing wave lengths of the sun light. An flagship project remains the cooperation with CERN and the challenges of particle physics. That students from all over the world will tie in, one day, to help analyze the huge amounts of data being generated in colliders and elsewhere in science is a realistic perspective.

Remarkable people came to the Volos conference. One of them is Babak A. Tefreshi, Director of World at Night and a renown astrophotographer with an immense portfolio of most impressive pictures from the skies. He attributes a unique social mission to astronomy.

“The similiarity of the night sky above diverse cultural and historic landmarks demonstrates that humanity is one family living on a small planet amidst the vast ocean of the Universe”, reveals Tefreshi.

“Connecting art, science and culture through the gateway of night sky”, he argues could create a better understanding of cultures and civilization. Science without borders as a political force: “In the borderless sky”, Tefreshi closes, political separation fades away, therefore:

“One people, One Sky”


Pamela L. Gay www.astrosphere.org
Babak A. Tafreshi www.twanight.org
Rosa Doran www.galileoteachers.org




Discover the Cosmos Conference
e-Infrastructure for an Engaging Science Classroom
Conference Guide
Published by Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Athens 2013

Learning Astronomy Through Inquiry And By Means Of Self Constructions
Projects, Experimental Activities, Practical Application (Teachers’ Guide)
Published by Astronomy and Space Society & Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Athens 2013

Discover The Cosmic Portal
Guidelines for Developing Technology Enhanced Science Education Activities






About Wolfgang C. Goede

Wolfgang C. Goede is a science journalist based in Munich, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Science Writers TELI.