Monday, June 22, 2009

IHY/SCINDA 2009 Livingstone Zambia

The second IHY/SCINDA workshop was held in Livingstone Zambia on June 7th to 12th. There were many space scientists, undergraduate and graduate students in the workshop, most of whom were Africans. During the IHY opening, the guest of honour was the Minister for Science and Technology Hon. Gabriel Namulambe, other guests included the Vice Chancellor University of Zambia Prof. Stephen simukanga and the dean of University of Zambia, sponsors and other representative organizations.

I was requested to give an oral presentation and this was an opportunity for me to recruit more African countries to the Hands-on Universe and Universe Awareness programs. Other than my presentation I decided to do a little demonstration on one of the astronomy software we use in the classrooms with students.  Of course so many students and professors showed interest in developing the same activities in their countries. I managed to give some of the students the software, which they immediately installed on their laptops. I also had an opportunity to meet Prospery Simpemba, the NPoC for SGAC Zambia

I also set some time aside for training some of the interested students on the readily available software. This team building allowed us to share our thoughts and ideas as African educators interested in promoting Astronomy in schools. We also shared our experiences and decided to create a network where we can always communicate and share different resources and also network our students across Africa.


I was invited by Mr. Mokhtar Mohsen, a physics teachers at Hillcrest Technical high school to give a talk to his students. This was an opportunity for me to visit the school with the trained students and so I decided to visit the school with some of the undergraduate physics students from University of Zambia. Hillcrest Technical High school is a boarding mixed school less than 1 km from the conference venue (Fairmount Hotel Livingstone).  The teacher was eager to have us at the school and he even came to pick us in his saloon car. Since we were a large group some of us decided to take the longer route and walk to the school.  We were a team of 10 students and young professionals, comprising 8 Zambian undergraduate students, 1 Congolese student and myself.

We found the students patiently waiting at the hall. After the introduction, we introduced the basic science concepts and then presented the stellarium software to the students. Emphasis on the need to protect our plant was one of the key topics and there were many ideas that the students came up with on how we could change our home for a better place.  The highlight of the lesson was after a demonstration of stellarium when the students had lots of questions about the blackhole and how stars are formed and how they die. Melody and Nawa undergraduate students at University of Zambia attempted to answer some of the questions. I installed all the software on the teacher’s machine, we hope that the students will have access to the software and we will be able to do more activities with the students. The school has Internet connection so I hope we will be able to keep in touch and share more resources.

After the session, some of the students followed us to ask questions about careers in space science. We each spent some time with small groups of students encouraging them to form an astronomy club and keep in touch with us. The Zambian team were excited that the students looked up to them as role models. One of them remarked that he was not ready to leave the school as he felt he still wanted to discuss more with the students, unfortunately we had to live as it was time for their lunch and they had to return to their afternoon session.

It was not always work but there was a good time for relaxation and team building by visiting some of the great spots in Zambia. Victoria falls (on of the seven wonders) visit at the night and during the day was an inexpressible experience.  We also went for the cruise in the Zambezi river with lots of local alcohol. I have never seen a group of excited people. Some of the evenings were spent in the nightclub dancing to our best African and western tunes. Lastly the young and elderly spent a good time

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

AstroQuiz with Kenyan Astronomy clubs

In Kenyan public schools, we have brother and sister schools. This means that every school has either a brother school if it is an all girls' school or a sister school if it an all boys' school. Kenya High's brother school happens to be Nairobi School. These two schools are only about 15 minutes drive from each other. The idea of such an arrangement is to get the students of both schools engage in exchange programs with an aim of promoting globalization from the community level. 

This week we have planned for an AstroQuiz at Kenya High school amongst the students of the HOU clubs in Kenya High School and Nairobi School. Both schools are excited but none of them is aware that their celestial knowledge will be tested. 

After waiting for the auditorium to be vacant for our group, we start our session at around 5.15 PM bearing in mind that we have exactly one hour to do our exercise. I would like to make sure that the students have a lot of fun but at the same time learn more science. 

I encourage the students to sit in both sides of the auditorium and to mix and make up teams and then we continue with a space weather computerized game with all answers. The students have one minute to listen to the question and answer before the timer goes off and the system generated game gives them the result. If their answer is correct some sound of cheers id made by the system, while if the answer is incorrect there is a sad sound made by the system. 

It was very competitive and every team that came tried to prove that they could win.

At the end of the session, I promise give them printouts on more solar system information. 

The two teachers, on form Kenya High school and the other from Nairobi school finally address the students and thereafter we end the session

I hope we can have more of these sessions soon. 

The trip was sponsored by America HOU and Pulse Health Care Ltd. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kenya High School visit Astronomy and Art

Friday morning has been a very busy day for myself and Jonah. We were at a primary school in Nairobi teaching Astronomy and had to work with more than 100 primary school students. I am very exhausted and I contemplate canceling my meeting but the thought of not seeing the girls for another week kills me so I decide to travel to the school and meet with the students. Well I am late by a few minutes and I have some trouble at the gate. The watch man is reluctant to let me in and after only phoning Mrs. Holi on her cell phone and letting him talk to her that I am allowed inside the school. 

I do not find Mrs. Holi, our contact teacher at the staff room. Most teachers are very busy marking the exams and compiling results as the students have just completed their end of semester exams. I talk to her again on phone and she requests me to go straight to one of the computer labs where the students have already settled in and are waiting for me. As i walk to the lab I meet with another science teacher who is very helpful. Most of the science teachers at the school know me since I have been visiting the school for a very long time. 

I finally get to the lab and find an anxious group of girls, around 50 waiting for me. I intend to instal astronomy software in their machines but I am unsuccessful and therefore I have to think of an activity to do with the students. Since we are setting up an interact club, we discuss more about our club activities with the students with guidance from the club chair. We still have so much time and we decide to recite poems and songs. 

One girl, with a pretty voice sings her version of "We are the world", in her song she encourages the youth to plant trees and save our continent. That was a beautiful song sang with a beautiful voice and I manage to record it. Another student recites a poem and reads quotes on leadership and responsibility. 

Later we have a debate on current issues where the students had very good points. We had a relaxed day, I feel it was helpful for the students to have a relaxed day as they are also tired from reading and sitting their exams for the last week. They tell me that they have also been under a lot of pressure and have not had enough time to think of other extra curricula activities and now that there is less school work they are excited to return to their clubs. 

After the activities we agree that we will have a joint session with Nairobi School and Kenya High school during the week of 100 hours of astronomy. If the skies are clear, we may have a Star Bash and it will really be fun for all of us. 

I return to the staff room to meet Mrs. Holi, and I am impressed to meet a former university student at the school. Mr. Wanjami first visited Kenya High school as a HOU volunteer when he was a university finalist studying education Physics. At first i did not recognize him but after chatting I realize that he was one of my volunteers and accompanied 20 other volunteers, Kevin Govender South Africa HOU and myself to Kenya High last year in March. He was a successful recruit after our first ever star party at Nairobi University. Mrs Holi, Mr. Wanjami and I have a cup of tea and we discuss a lot about HOU. Mr. Wanjami is interested in assisting Mrs. Holi and will be my liaison next week. 

It was such an honor meeting Mr. Wanjami at Kenya High school. I feel that the work we have started is growing and slowly having impact. I always look forward to visiting Kenya  High School and I am very excited about the next visit. 

The trip was sponsored by America HOU and Pulse Health Care Ltd. 

Online Astronomy activity with Astronomy Club of Nairobi School

I travel yet again through the Nairobi traffic to make it to Nairobi School by 4.00 Pm. The teachers will meet me at the staff room and take me to the computer room to work with their students on the astronomy software. I hope that these students will learn the software and during their second semester will adapt a primary school and teach them the software. So far my trips to Nairobi school have been enjoyable. I have had some discussions with the teachers and I have had some activities with the students. 

The astronomy club of Nairobi school is made up of about 25 students aged between 14 and 15 who are already astronomy enthusiasts. They have so far come up with club officials and a patron who will guide them as a club. My contact teachers are Mr. Peter Rugano and Ms. Mutegi. I have to communicate with the teachers in advance to make sure that I am able to use the computer lab, this week we are lucky we will have access to the lab and we have to maximize this fully 

Nairobi School Astronomy club members

At Nairobi school, the club day is every Thursday from 4.00 Pm to 5.30 Pm. I have so far set up an astronomy club at the school and I have to attend all the Thursday meeting with the students. The club officials have set up a program of activities and objectives for the club. This Thursday, at the club we are going to practice the astronomy software using the computers at the lab. The students are somewhat familiar with the software but they have not really been able to use it on their own in the lab. The school has a number of computer labs one of which is connected to the internet. We use one of the labs but do not have access to the internet. There are around 25 computers which means that almost all the students have a computer to work on. 

I start by installing the software on the machines with the help of the students and we proceed with learning some astronomy. The students are comfortable with the software and some even without my instructions and some already start experimenting on the software. 

Students learning an astronomy software

After some astronomy lecture, we decided to a picture in front of the administration block.  Again my experience at Nairobi school was pleasant. I look forward to the next session when I have with me the telescope and I hope to have some "Star Bash"

This trip was sponsored by America HOU and Pulse Health Care 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Movie at Nairobi school

I arrive at Nairobi school and cover the long distance between the parking lot and adminstration block before I am met by Mr. Rugano, our contact and a physics teacher at the school. He invites me for evening coffee at the staff room where I meet with the teachers. We chat about general issues. After mingling with the teachers we proceed to the Chemistry lab.

This week we are watching an astronomy movie, Hubble Space telescope. The students are excited to be exposed to yet another fun way of learning.

The idea is to introduce the students to the different planets as viewed from a satellite. The previous week I was at the school and we ran through stellarium a sky exploration software. Watching the movie was a way to make the students visualize how the planets and other celestial bodies look. One of the students remarked that the movie has made astronomy more tangible. This view was shared by other students too.

After watching the movie for two hours, we have a question and answer session. We ask each other questions and try to respond to them. The topics of the discussion varied and when I asked the students if there was a likelihood of having other earth like planets orbiting other stars, one student had this interesting theory: 'when God created Adam, he commanded him that this was HIS home, he should take care of it. Meaning he had other sons that he allocated other planets to.' This kind of curiosity is what motivates me and makes me look forward to the next school visit.

Next week I am back at the Nairobi school and this time we will go through more exciting softwares that are Astronomy related.

The event was sponsored by Pulse Health care Ltd.

Kenya High School astronomy club

Friday late afternoon is a menace on the roads, there are traffic jams everywhere and it can take 2 hours to get to a place that will only take 15 minutes normally. I'am supposed to be at Kenya high school at exactly 4.00 Pm it is 3.45 taking public transport is out of question.

I ask my friend, Antony Wakoli to drop me at the school and luckily he obliges. We have 15 minutes.I'am very aprehensive, I hope I will not arrive late. The contact teacher Mrs. Holi has been a very good friend of HOU since we started planning for the program in 2006 and I don't want this to be the first time I disappoint her. It is very crucial to be reliable when visiting schools so as to earn the trust of the teachers.

Today, we are screening a scientific film. The movie is two hours long and the school has allocated us a limited amount of time. Therefore if I'm late it will mean that I have to re-adjust todays program. Maybe drop the screening, which, I'm sure the students will not appreciate.

As luck would have it, Antony, knows all the "panya" routes and today, we can need to use all the shortcuts possible. We get to the school at exactly 4.00 and are welcomed by the science teachers. As I wait for the students to get organized in the computer room, i begin to chat with one of teachers who attended the teacher training workshop in 2007.Kenya high has so far participated all HOU activities including the first ever star party at University of Nairobi. I chat with a science teacher who reminds me of the events and requests for another workshop and star party. I promise her that this will be organized soon.

Finally I am invited to the computer room, a new block of 30 or more computers connected to the internet. I am also at the school to help set up an interact club. After briefing the students on the club we set up the projector and start to watch Cosmic Africa with the students.

Its a busy day for the club members as they also belong to the wildlife club and their pictures have to be taken the same day. As we watch the movie, students live and return in groups of 4 to get their pictures taken.

The movie took pretty much of the time allocated, aso I did not get enough time for a question and answer session. I depart the school at 6.30 Pm after a cup of tea and sandwiches with the teachers. Its always a pleasure visiting Kenya High school.

This trip was sponsored by Pulse Health Care Ltd.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Astronomy club in Nairobi school

We leave the office at around 3.30 PM to travel through the busy Waiyaki way to get to Nairobi school. We are determined to make a lasting impact by exciting the students in astronomy so that they can start an astronomy club. I am very nervous because this will be my first time to work with a boy's high school. 

 Nairobi school astronomy club students. 

Nairobi school was founded in 1910 by the British settlers who settled in Nairobi during the construction of the Kenya-ugandan railway. The school is a national secondary and is a high performance school with the best students from all over the country. 

We arrive at the school at exactly 4.00 Pm and have to wait for Mr. Peter Rugano, the Physics head of department teacher to pick us from the administration. We are picked at about 4.20 Pm and immediately rush to the Physics laboratory where we will conduct our introduction and lecture. 

We are welcomed by two physics teachers who help us carry our equipment to the Physics lab. I am informed that there are 30 students who are astronomy enthusiasts and are already in the process of setting up an astronomy club. There is already a chair of the club, Kevin, who already has so many brilliant ideas and activities that he would like to co-ordinate with the club. 

Students learning how to use stellarium, a sky exploration software

I start my presentation by introducing the team i.e. myself and Jonah. We are just two HOU members and therefore as I give the presentation, Jonah has to assume the role of the photographer

I start my presentation by introducing basic astronomy concepts about our earth and its rotation, the solar system, stars and galaxies. I introduce the concept of dark matter and dark energy, black holes, supernova and nebula. The students start to ask lots of questions as we rush through these topics 

Students doing an activity from the computer
Stellarium, a sky exploration software, is my last presentation. It was very exciting to see the students figure out how to navigate the sky using stellarium. They are so excited that one of them requests that I should give them all a copy of the software. I promise to bring back CDs with all the software for the students to practice further. 

The students request that I set up the telescope so that they can try and see how it works. We take the telescope outside the lab and set it up and focus it on the sky. Its around 6.00 Pm and there is nothing to observe but just for the fun of it the students look through the eyepiece. They are so excited and insist that I need to return with the telescope when it is dark. 

After persuading the students to go for their dinner, the crowd of students around me and my telescope finally reduces and we are able to reassemble all our tools and return to the parking lot to wait for our ride. 

I leave the school exited that the session went well and certain that we will be returning there in a week. We now welcome Nairobi school to the HOU team. 

This trip was sponsored by Pulse Health Care Ltd.