Sharing stars in Ecuador II: the Bicentenario Experience

by Raul Puebla

After the activities at the Rafael Larrea School (see our previous post here) we didn’t take a rest! The following days the team headed to the south of the city, to meet our local contact Mónica at the Milenio Bicentenario School. This school is called that way because it was created in 2008, due to the 200th anniversary of the first independence revolution in Ecuador. Upon our arrival, Mónica introduced Nancy to us, another teacher from the school. They both together were leading the group of teachers involved in what they called the Galileo project. In fact, they are creating an astronomy club to motivate their students into liking astronomy, they are already 25 people! During our stay there we reached around 200 students, so we hope the club might increase.

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The second day at this school was also a very busy one. The work started with three simultaneous talks about astronomy given by Raul, Fernanda and Manu, where students asked many interesting questions! Afterwards, we built a scaled solar system with two groups of students, it was so much fun! It turn out to be very challenging to fit our model even within the big courtyard behind the classrooms. We located one student representing each planet at the corresponding (scaled) distance from the Sun. The whole field became small to include the eight planets! We chose a scale in which the distance from the Earth to Mars would be equivalent to 13 meters, and approximated the longitude of one meter as a big step. This meant that to the get the position of Mars in our model, we would have to walk 13 big steps leaving Earth (as well as Venus, Mercury and the Sun) behind. Subsequently, the whole group walked counting steps together from one planet to another, until completing the solar system. It was difficult not to loose track of the counting sometimes, given that, for instance, we needed 108 steps to arrive from Jupiter to Saturn! With this exercise we wanted to make sure that students would understand how huge dimensions are in our cosmic home.

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That afternoon, the team prepared for our second observation camping. Again, Monica, Nancy and the rest of the teachers did an impressive job organizing the tents for the students, setting the campfire and getting hot beverage and biscuits for all. Unfortunately, the weather forgot us again. Many clouds persisted in drift above our incautious eyes, giving us only a few small and fast windows to observe the lonely sky. We did have a great time though, telling stories about the most famous constellations, and, in exchange, the students narrated some local tales (quite scary, by the way)  while the light from the wood-fire shook on our faces.

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At the end, the students were able to give rapid looks to the moon’s craters and found Jupiter traveling solo in the dark. Only around 3 am the weather opened its curtains, but only a few brave students and teachers were there to discover the beauty of a completely open sky. Early in the morning, we started the return home, a bit tired but with many new memories, friends and so many things to think about!

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