Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The "Man on The Moon" series

Hands-on Universe Africa was at it again! This time, with a bold, new concept that has never been done locally before. We were bringing astronomy to the mall. As astronomers in this age, we're still inspired by Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon during the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. That single moment changed history, It was man's first landing on another world, the realization of centuries of dreams, the fulfilment of a decade of striving, a triumph of modern technology and personal courage, the most dramatic demonstration of what man can do if he applies his mind and resources with single-minded determination.
The moon, long the symbol of the impossible and the inaccessible, was now within man's reach, the first port of call in this new age of space-faring.

It was with that in mind that we dubbed our pilot event at Galleria Shopping Mall "Man on The Moon" in an effort to capture the boldness of that moment & the inspiration behind it. 
This time we were going to spend all day working on our curiosity trail at the shopping mall, Different.
The aim of the "MOTM" project is to publicize astronomy  at a popular level, choosing a place that best matches the meaning  of the word “popular”: The Galleria Shopping Mall. With this project we want to arouse consumer interest in astronomy, Making use of the shopping mall; A place people are familiar with & where they find  common consumer goods. Today we can assert that these new peripheral spaces are becoming a sort of favoured “meeting point” for all kinds of people: Shopping malls are drastically changing their social roles & assuming a high enrolment, communication and experience value.
For our debut, the mall management (and us) thought it would be wise to have a series of test runs at the mall in order to test the reception in anticipation for the main event in a few day's time.
As always we got at the mall early, on Friday 11th October to set up the planetarium equipment & astronomy exhibit (YES, we even brought our telescopes out!!) 
The Galleria Shopping mall staff were instrumental in the success of this pilot project & they were on hand to offer technical & logistical support every step of the way. As soon as the planetarium dome went up you could tell there was something great about to happen. The few shoppers milling around buying breakfast snacks before rushing to their places of work stepped up to inquire what was going on & we wasted no time in bringing them up to speed.
Finally we were set up, the Galleria floor manager walked up to us & asked us to immediately report at the management offices...
Was there something wrong? Were they having second thoughts about the entire project? Our minds were running wild in an effort to figure out what had cut.

Salma, the Galleria Mall administrator who had summoned us was waiting, & she wasted no time to inform us that she was expecting a group of students from Nawiri Jnr School! GAME ON!
The students checked in, we carefully ushered them into the dome and just like that we were doing what we do best-inspiring young minds.
As the day progressed we got more & more curious minds looking through the telescopes, sampling the amazing science videos we were screening and best of all, going into the planetarium for the sessions.

The response from the mall shoppers was extremely positive and encouraging! The genius behind this concept is that it really enables us to reach everybody, even people who do not care about astronomy in general & we're able to change public perceptions on Astronomy outside the Classroom!
I am starting to think the planetarium might be a time travel machine of sorts because before long, it was dusk. Time to pack up and go home.
Sunday's sessions were even better. Traffic in the mall was busting & at this point we would like to give credit to our volunteers Nick, Sheila, Peter, & Mary. We would not have achieved the same level of competence & excellence were it not for their selfless assistance during both days. They helped us handle the big crowds that were shuffling around the dome throughout the day.

Another moment of note on Sunday was when the Mall security gave us a heads up that they were expecting some V VIPs, we were obviously excited about this but we had a job to do that day & we went on with our program. Later we learnt that the high ranking visitors were the President & Deputy President of our republic! Sadly, they did not visit our exhibition but i can imagine how awesome it would have been, maybe next time. 
What we at H.O.U are glad to be a part of is the spirit of Kenyan resilience that reigns supreme in every Kenyan heart, we recently had the worst terror attacks at West-gate Shopping mall in which many innocent Kenyans lost their lives & scores others got injured. The attacks did little to dampen the Kenyan spirit to venture out & be free; here we were smack in the middle of the atrium of yet another shopping mall with the president & his deputy a few yards away each one of us going about their lives because that is what being Kenyan is all about-Being able to pick up the pieces & make the best of life's fleeting moments.
We had such a splendid time at the mall that day doing cool astronomy it was sad when the last session was done & it was once again time to pack up.
The good news is that we'll be back at Galleria Shopping Mall as part of the Halloween "Man On The Moon" experience of 2013, a prelude to the total solar eclipse in Turkana on the 3rd of November 2013.
The intrigues of all that will be documented and shared as they unfold. 
We want to drive people’s interests toward unfamiliar concepts using familiar ambience. The approach is innovative; We intend to deliver information & arouse curiosity.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Our little stars in the planetarium at Kilimani Junior Academy

Hands on Universe Africa is back to business after a hiatus! During the break we underwent a structural overhaul & now we are back better than ever. We recently acquired a portable mobile planetarium which we will use as a supplement in our programmes with various schools locally. It includes interactive astronomy software which is key in teaching astronomy to children in this age.

Our first field activity was hosted by Kilimani Junior Academy in Karen & we were very excited to be back to doing science with kids! We intended to spend the entire day at the school & as expected got there quite early in the morning amped to get started with the day's activities. 
We got there at around 10 a.m on Monday 16th and we were immediately ushered into one of the school's hall where we would set up the planetarium dome.

As soon as we got round to unpacking the equipment the lights went out. On inquiry we learnt that the utility provider (Kenya Power) were conducting scheduled maintenance in the area & that it would take a while until they were done.

We had not anticipated this setback and everyone around slumped in their seats in the school's dining hall. The faces of the children in classes nearby who were peering at this developing story painted a grim picture. We decided to make the best of the situation & set about going through the intended program while fine tuning a few details of our presentation silently hoping that the power would  be restored. 

Finally, the fluorescent tubes crackled to life at around 1:30 pm right after lunch & we immediately sprung to action. We quickly set up the dome and got the teachers to coordinate the students into groups since we were going to do everything it would take to see as many kids as possible given the small window of opportunity we had.

The students lined up outside & just from their chatter you could tell that the height of their curiosity was reaching fever pitch. Slowly, steadily, they shuffled (sometimes stumbled) into the dome & boy didn't we blow their minds away! The "ooohs" & "aahhhs" were any educator's dream response. The students' age was a sample of eight to thirteen year old boys and girls, at some point even teachers & other administrative staff joined us in the dome to have a look, there was never a dull moment, not once.

That is the impact (in my opinion) Astronomy has on the human mind. It sparks the imagination and sends it reeling to worlds beyond our borders & when you finally look back, you realise how beautiful our rocky outpost is.

Soon it was time to go home, the kids loved it so much they begged their headteacher to have us back as soon as possible. She agreed! We will be going back to their school on their Family fun day. We shall post the details on subsequent blogs.