Astronomy Roadshow in Haiti Schools

astronomy roadshow in Haiti schools

Source: U Mass Lowell

A team from the UMass Lowell spent a week teaching more than a hundred schoolchildren in Haiti about astronomy, rocket science, space exploration and the lives of famous scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Called the “Astronomy Roadshow,” the annual trip is part of the educational outreach program organized by the university’s Haiti Development Studies Center (HDSC), which is based in the port city of Les Cayes, about 200 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

The team was led by physics Asst. Prof. Silas Laycock, who made his third visit to the country since 2015. Joining Laycock were Cecil Joseph, an adjunct physics faculty and staff scientist at UMass Lowell’s Biomedical Terahertz Technology Center, and Thomas Heywosz, a math senior who went on the trip for his Honors College project. Assisting them in translating Creole and in classroom instruction were Dayana Alabré and Ralph Douyon, two Haitian freshmen English majors enrolled in the university’s online degree program. They live outside Les Cayes and are working in the HDSC as research interns.

The HDSC team brought a variety of materials for experiments and activities for the fifth-, sixth- and 10th-graders at Sainte-Marie des Anges elementary school, including books, posters and game cards. During the lessons, schoolchildren learned about the solar system and how the sun’s gravity keeps the planets in order. In one activity, Laycock taught them how a black hole could warp the fabric of space-time as predicted by Einstein using a large, stretched-out Lycra sheet, a ball and some weights. In other activities, they learned how to design, build and test rockets using straws and empty plastic soda bottles as well as Mars landers made from balloons, strings, cups and tape. The team also hosted a family star party on the school grounds, where students and parents could ask questions and look through the team’s portable telescope.

The team also discussed the lives and achievements of influential women and minority astronauts, rocket scientists, physicists, astronomers and mathematicians. By showing the diverse backgrounds of these people, the team hoped to help youngsters gain self-confidence and inspire them to pursue their interests in the STEM fields.