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Our True Job as Educators

learning how to use a telescope

learning how to use a telescope

We are swimming in the Information Age. With just a click, we can find the answers to any question we have. We can communicate with other countries without paying a cent in international phone charges. This was not so just 20 years ago. So where does education fit into this capability we now have? How does this new way in which we live influence education?

 

It has been becoming glaringly obvious to me, that our job as educators has changed.  We are no longer the ‘holder’ of that sacred information which we want to relay to others. (This way of thinking about teaching never really felt right to me anyhow.)  When I was in the classroom, the feeling of being the ‘sage on the stage’ felt contrived and false. If we are no longer the sages, then what purpose do we serve as educators? We serve the utmost important purpose of creating close and authentic relationships with our students and providing authentic experiences for them to have while in our presence.  We let them get dirty and messy. We let them experiment. We let them follow their individual interests. We let them explore. This is the new role of the educator.  We are here now to provide them with experiences so they can have the self-confidence to seek their own answers. We are their guide as they navigate this process.  Through this way of learning, they will become the critical thinkers that the school systems are focusing on making these days. The STUDENTS are responsible for their learning. Our job is to make sure they know that, truly believe it, and have the confidence to do something about it.

These heartfelt truths are at the core of the programs that I do. I want my students to get THEIR hands on the telescopes. I want THEM to be INVOLVED in the learning process. There is  time and place for information relay and a bit of the ‘sage’ comes out, but these moments are often prompted by their self-motivated questions. This takes a truly present person who is there to honestly make relationships. It takes practice and experience, and I don’t always come from this place. When I don’t, I leave a program feeling it, knowing it and looking forward to doing it better the next time.

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Aquí en Guatemala

 

2/15   I’m here!  It was a beautiful day! My cousin Abel, his brother-in-law and his daughter Luciana picked me up at the airport and brought me to Antigua. I was greeted by my Aunt and Unlce, Marielena and Jorge.  I grabbed some great typical food at La Cuevita de los Urquizú and got to work on making sure the telescopes are ready for tomorrow!

 

My cousin's daughter Luciana

My cousin’s daughter Luciana

Volcan de Agua

Volcan de Agua

Getting 'scopes ready for tomorrow!

Getting ‘scopes ready for tomorrow!

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A perfectly clear view of Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes

A perfectly clear view of Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes

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Volcán Agua

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2/16  It took Isabella 2 hours in traffic leaving at 7am to get to Antigua by 9! We were supposed to be at the school to begin at 9, but what can you do? Guatemalan traffic es horible!

We arrive in San Martín Jilotepeque

We arrive in San Martín Jilotepeque

 

 

The village of San Martín.

The village of San Martín.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived, settled in, I met Mecky, one of the Ortega sisters who until now, I just corresponded with via email. They were so excited to have me there!

 

My new best friends! The Ortega sisters

My new best friends! The Ortega sisters

The same day, a Norwegian buyer who buys their coffee was visiting too and donating items to the students at the schools. It was going to be a big day for everyone!

 

 

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the Ortega’s house on the farm

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We finally arrived at the two 6th grade classes. They were eager to begin! I took turns with each class taking them on a tour of the solar system called The Thousand Yard Model, always a hit! They really enjoyed it.

6th grade students from the school Buena Esperanza

6th grade students from the school Buena Esperanza

We arrive at a model of Mercury and make our way up the road to Jupiter

We arrive at a model of Mercury and make our way up the road to Jupiter

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7th-11th grade students on their way to the solar system walk

7th-11th grade students on their way to the solar system walk

Walking to Jupiter together

Walking to Jupiter together

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We encouraged them to come back that night to see the Moon and the stars through the telescopes I brought to donate. We hoped at least a handful would show up that night. They have to walk far on trails from their homes to school so we weren’t sure if anyone would really come back and at night! School begins at 7:30am and goes until 12:30 when they go home for lunch. When I made it to the upper grade classes to do the activity, it was 12:30 and they had brought lunch from home to eat at school so they could stay later that day for our activity. They were soo very patient! (Isabella was my right hand that day! I am so thankful for her.)

 

 

The last group I worked with asked me the one question I was certain NO ONE would ask! “Is Pluto still a planet?” Oh my gosh I was mad I didn’t prepare a spanish translation of the answer, so I had Mecky translate for me.  They also asked, “What is the streak in the sky at night? The one that is very bright?” So I explained what meteors are. Their curiosity was so exciting! I wonder if they would have asked those questions if I hadn’t been there? One boy stopped me and wanted to know how he could become an astronomer and how many years of school he needed to become one. I left there feeling like it was all very worth the trip! Then they presented me with a certificate and all thanked me after. It was very special =)

 

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We went back to the house, I took a short nap and we drank their amazing coffee and prepared for that evening. Mecky and Isabella showed me the improvements of another school.

 

 

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The older students had a building insulated by water bottles filled with trash and held together with chicken wire and rebar which they surrounded by cement.

The older students had a building insulated by water bottles filled with trash and held together with chicken wire and rebar which they surrounded by cement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought there was just one, but there are about 6 schools in the entire plantation. There are about 150 people or so living there working at the coffee farm La Merced. The schools are run by smaller communities made up of parents that work at the plantation and the directors of the schools.

 

 

That night, we arrived a little early. There were already kids and parents waiting for us to begin! I set up the ‘scopes and realized at some point between adjusting the ‘scopes to see the Moon and finding my star chart that we had about 125 or so people there! The lines for the telescopes were packed with kids and mothers and fathers! They were so patient. I heard lots of giggles from them as they saw the Moon for the first time.

 

As we were beginning to pack up, I took some time to teach the directors of the lower and upper school how to use the scopes. While I was using one telescope to teach them with and let them practice with before I left it to their care, I turned around and saw a group of about 5 boys using the other ‘scope and finding things on their own. They were so excited and completely absorbed! It was the highlight of that night. When it was time to go, I made sure they also learned how to stow the telescopes properly, how to use the eyepieces and how to use the red dot finder.  I told them they could ask the teachers to email me their questions if they had any. One of them took out his iPhone and asked if I was on Facebook! I was a little speechless to realize that these kids had no running water in their homes, but they had cell phones and were on Facebook.  I’ll let your brain explode pondering that one…

 

 

Making sure they could see the Moon!

Making sure they could see the Moon!

Night time photography is difficult! Each line waiting to see the Moon and other objects had about 50 people in it! We had a total of about 125 people show up!

Night time photography is difficult! Each line waiting to see the Moon and other objects had about 50 people in it! We had a total of about 125 people show up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back and had a late dinner with the Norwegian buyer, his mother and father who came along with him. It was a wonderful night eating together, talking about coffee and astronomy and drinking Ron Zacapa =) I can’t thank the Ortega sister enough for their hospitality, generosity and excitement about bringing astronomy to the students. They put their heart and soul into the schools at the farm and are constantly involved in improvement projects for the benefit of the students and communities.

 

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Each time I think about how many people came to see the Moon and to hear star stories and see the Orion Nebula and the 7 sisters, I get a little choked up.  It was such a beautiful experience truly knowing that we are all united under one sky, todos juntos, here on this planet together.

 

As Mecky said, I came here and left a light on… So I know I will be coming back to take care of that light sometime soon I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guatemala or bust!

IMG_1107   Getting ready to leave for Guatemala on Monday! Here is one of the two scopes that YOUR donations purchased. Thank you to Shellie Rosen, Dave English, The Nieto Family, The McCabe-Cataña Family, David Mathias, President of the Austin Astronomical Society, Beau Wheeler and Family, Jake Stewart, Lori Paredes, Abel Paredes, Dorothy Jackson, Preescolarte Spanish Immersion Preschool, Deborah Cluchey, Terry Phillips from the Austin Astronomical Society who donated  20mm and  9mm wide field eyepieces as well as a barlow lens, an anonymous supporter, and the supporters who donated from the Astronomers Without Borders Big Impact Giving (BIG) campaign.

With your help, I was able to purchase two FunScope Astrodazzle Telescopes, a solar system book in Spanish, a LaserMate II Collimator and make planispheres for their specific latitude.

I can’t wait to get back and share pictures and video!

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Neil deGrasse Tyson never ceases to inspire

My all time favorite science communicator and astrophysicist is Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have a secret crush on him (don’t tell my husband, oh wait… he already knows and surprises me with his videos all the time).

I have shown this video to students in the past and stopped recently. Every time I watch it, I remember why I’m doing what I do. So here it is. Please enjoy and pass it on. Inspire someone to feel ‘Big’ today…

The Most Astounding Fact from Max Schlickenmeyer on Vimeo.

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Astronomy Outreach in Guatemala

Children of La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca Le Merced

Children of La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca Le Merced

My father is from Guatemala and my mother is from Texas. I have fond memories of traveling every summer to Guatemala to visit my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  I hadn’t been back to visit in almost 6 years until this past Thanksgiving. We traveled with our whole immediate family and brought our 3 daughters. It was great to see family again, especially for our 9 and 7 year old to connect with relatives and a culture that is part of their heritage.

It has been a dream of mine for a long time to travel to other countries and share my knowledge of astronomy and my programs with other people.  The week of February 15th this dream will become a reality. I will be traveling to Guatemala to teach some night time astronomy to children at the school on the coffee plantation Finca La Merced in San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala. I am purchasing a telescope to gift the school. Join us in inspiring children and adults that work in the coffee plantation and surrounding community by donating toward the purchase of 2 Orion 4.5″ Astrodazzle Dobsonian  telescopes and supporting items such as astronomy books in Spanish and a laser collimator. I will continue supporting the school in their use of the scope via Skype after I return to the US.

All donations will go strictly to the purchase of the telescope.

I am proud to announce that Astronomers Without Borders has accepted this project to be supported through their BIG (Big Impact Giving) project through which they organize “microfunding” crowdfunding campaigns on the crowdfunding platform, Fiat Physica. Campaigns are limited to 500 US dollars – See more info about them at: Astronomers Without Borders BIG Project .

 

You can donate through through

https://www.fiatphysica.com/campaigns/telescope-to-guatamala

and

https://www.youcaring.com/la-escuela-oficial-rural-mixta-of-san-martin-jilotepeque-503218

Thank you to all past students, family and friends who have donated to support this project so far. I can’t wait to make a post about it with photos!

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Reimers Ranch Observatory

 

Looking through our 25" Dobsonian

Park Supervisor Michael Brewster, the man behind the observatory, looking through the 25″ Dobsonian

This Fall I began working at the Travis County’s Wilton Reimers Ranch new observatory! It has to be by far the best job I’ve had (aside from being the director of Starry Sky Austin, of course!) It is open to small groups of 30 or less unless we have a special event. We have a 25″ and 15″ Dobsonian out there and the skies are nice and dark!  We not only show everyone what is up in the sky that night,  but also educate visitors about how to use a star chart to find constellations, tell star stories, and share our knowledge of astronomy. It is open most weekends on Friday or Saturday  nights except once a month when close to the full moon. (The full moon is beautiful and also very bright and washes out the night sky. The observatory is open when the best viewing is most likely).  For now, the observatory is announced when it is open to the public through signage at the park, but stay posted to learn when the online reservation system is officially open so you can reserve your spot and plan to come visit us.  Can’t wait to see you out there!

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Fall 2015 Semester Astronomy Class

IMG_0038This past fall, I taught a 10 week long semester astronomy class for the first time. We met at Longview Park in South Austin and covered all sorts of new topics such as black holes, astrobiology and the search for exoplanets, life without a supernova, stellar evolution, cosmic timescales and stellar distances and so much more! I got positive feedback from parents and students and really enjoyed getting to know students over a longer period of time. I look forward to offering these new topics in coming classes which I hope to announce soon, so check back for updates soon to come!

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Lunar Eclipse This Sunday, September 27th

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Come to Travis County Milton Reimers Ranch Park Observatory this Sunday for a Total Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. The eclipse will begin at 8:07pm, reach totality at 9:47pm and end at 11:27pm. A supermoon is a new or full moon that happens to coincide with perigee, the closest the moon will be in its monthly orbit around the Earth. Bring a chair or blanket and come ready to learn about how moon phases and eclipses work. $10/car, cash only to enter the park. Admission to the observatory is free this evening. To learn more, visit earthsky.org or for a truly in depth explanation of why we have eclipses watch this video by Matt Parker, a comedian and mathematician who has made a career combining these two professions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieUvzy6rnnw.

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Buying Your First Telescope

It’s an exciting moment when your child expresses interest in the stars above and asks for a telescope. You excitedly start looking for something affordable and seemingly easy for him or her to use.  You settle on something with a tripod and ‘go-to’ system that will find the stars for you. You open it up and set it up only to be disappointed when it is painstakingly frustrating to set up, and you can’t find anything let alone the moon!  I see far too many people buy a first telescope and then get frustrated, and eventually the telescope collects dust or sits in a box in a closet.  I have been through MANY, MANY telescopes to finally settle on the one I know to be BEST for BEGINNERS and they just happen to be the kind of telescope that most seasoned astronomers use too.

The best beginner scope you can buy is called a Dobsonian mount reflector.

10" Dobsonian

10″ Dobsonian

Dobsonian telescopes are named after and invented by John Dobson.  He created easy to use mounts for Newtonian, reflector telescopes that became very popular in the 70’s and now widely used by the masses. What makes these different than other telescopes is that the main tube which holds the mirrors is not attached to a tripod mount.  Instead, it is placed into a mount that sits on the ground. It uses an alt-azimuth mount which supports and rotates the telescope in two planes, the vertical and horizontal.  More simply stated, left to right and up and down.  They use mirrors instead of glass optics to reflect the gathered light from celestial objects. There is very minimal setup for Dobsonians, and they are CHEAP and easy to make on your own. Orion telescopes sell them for a good price and they come with a red dot finder which is necessary to be able to find objects easily.

I use the FunScope for the beginners in my classes. They are awesome at seeing the Moon, planets and larger objects in the sky which is all that you need to absolutely hook the beginner. There is also the Celestron Cosmos Firstscope which is basically the same with an eye nebula wrap  around the tube (inspired by the COSMOS series recently re-made with Neil deGrasse Tyson).      Unknown

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They can magnify objects up to 30 times their size with the given eyepieces.These are table top telescopes and are capable of being mounted on a tripod or one can simply place them on a portable table or flat surface. I use tv trays. They come with a red dot finder which I find is absolutely essential. FunScopes cost $69.99.

 

 

 

 

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The next level up is a SkyScanner. This scope is the same as the FunScope except it can magnify objects up to 40 times their size with the given eyepieces.

 

 

 

 

The best bang for your buck that will truly last through growing interest and is quite bigger (but not too cumbersome) is the SkyQuest series.  I would recommend a SkyQuest 4.5″ Dobsonian and up.  The 4.5″ diameter costs about $268 and is quite impressive and as easy to use at the previous table top ones.  They can magnify objects up to 90 times their size with the given eyepieces. I have a SkyQuest 10″ Dobsonian and love it! It is very heavy, but when I show Jupiter to people and they can actually see the bands of color in it’s atmosphere I know it’s worth it.

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If you get a bigger scope such as these I replace the factory finders with a TelRad. They project a red bullseye on a window which to us looks like a bullseye on the sky.

imagesThis makes finding objects super easy.   I would HIGHLY recommend this as it makes finding what you are looking for EASY, fast and a lot less frustrating. TelRad’s cost about $40 and it has been worth every penny. The man who invented the TelRad is Brent Watson. He made  Finder Charts that go along with it.  I have these charts and have learned a ton using them.  I would highly recommend them for someone who is ready to find other objects such as the Messier catalog objects or lesser known objects.

The next step you can take to be proactive and ensure that you will use your scope it to sign up for one of my classes.  You will walk away with the confidence to go out and really get to know the night sky.

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