Constellation is a year-long program of astronomy activities, carried out in 20 schools located in 6 countries across South America. The schools are connected through a dedicated online platform and through social media, so that they can exchange their thoughts and experiences. The activity cycle, called “Space Exploration” was planned, written in a handbook form and translated in Spanish and Portuguese by March 2015. At that time the long-distance tutoring could start. Over 40 volunteers in total worked with the teachers to plan the activities and handle the delivery of the telescopes and books, sometimes dedicating more than 14 weekly hours to the project.
Towards the end of the year and with the long-distance tutoring program still ongoing, Constellation went on the road, visiting the schools of the network. Three expeditions took place simultaneously in October and November this year: in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The fourth expedition to Chile and Argentina took place in early December. During these expeditions alone, we estimate to have reached over 2000 students across the continent and strengthened the bond between us and the schools.
During these trips live updates were available through Facebook and Twitter for the general public, inspiring articles were written in our blog from the GalileoMobile traveling team and by the local nodes of Constellation in each participating country, and amazing photos keep being published in our social media. The participating schools have shared their joy at the visits in a dedicated Facebook group, which is more active every day!
Constellation did round up for 2015, but it did not stop. The love for astronomy our schools share continues to inspire new projects and new activities. Our tutors visited the schools in Ecuador in February 2016, and the schools in the region of Rondonia, in Brazil, in the beginning of November 2016. Another visit to Chile is planned for 2017.
The project is focused on (but not limited to) bringing astronomy in regions with little or no access to science outreach. In particular we tried to include in our network preferentially public schools in remote, developing, or economically challenged areas in South America. The project itself is not designed to improve the socio-economic status of any group. However, by motivating young people to engage in science activities and by bringing them in contact with local and international astronomers we are planting the seeds for their future development, possibly inspiring some of them to pursue a career in science. We facilitate that by providing their school with telescopes and other educational material, networking them and their teachers with other students across the continent, and giving them a long-term contact with a tutor, typically holds a PhD in astronomy or other physical science, and is based in a European or US University. The role of this tutor is primarily to guide the teacher and answer science-related questions, but they can also answer questions about pursuing a career in science.
Number of events organized: 20
Number of teachers reached: 100
Number of primary school students reached: 1000
Number of secondary school students reached: 1500
Number of university students reached: NA
Number of public members reached: 600
Challenges and Recommendations
1. The duration of the program was a particular challenge. Since the entirety of the participants are volunteers, there were some cases where collaborators decided to stop their collaboration with the project due to lack of free time. In the future, we should break such projects up into smaller units that can be completed by a team of people in a period smaller than 3 months. To ensure constant contact with the school, any team’s composition should not change by more than 60 percent from one project unit to another.
2. Although the online platform is a very useful tool for exchanging documents and interacting in a fairly direct way, its use in the project has not been as wide as we had hoped for in the beginning. We attribute that to the fact that it is one more social network for people to manage, take the time to log in and check their messages and updates, and it takes some time before they integrate it into their routine.
3. A very important part of the project, the long-distance tutoring, was compromised in some cases due to failures in communication, either due to technical reasons or due to lack of time on the teacher’s side to arrange an online chat. In such cases, physical visits to the schools proved invaluable in maintaining or restoring the connection to the school. It must also be mentioned that, when the tutoring was done almost entirely on-site, the rate of participation was always very high.
A possible remedy for both point 2 and point 3 in future projects would be to plan school visits by tutors or local contacts before the commencement of the longdistance interaction. The visits should specifically include installing and using the online platform and/or other software with the teachers, and implementing their feedback.
4. When creating the Space Explorer’s Guide, we decided to write a complete first version in English and then share it with all GalileoMobile members for comments. The translations into Spanish and English started after all comments had been incorporated. This caused a significant delay with respect to the original timeline of the project (delay by 3 months).
While having a version of the Guide in English made it possible to distribute it among all GM members and also left a very useful reference for future versions of the program, it might have been a better choice to start writing it in either Portuguese or Spanish first and have it translated into English later. In addition, in similar situations in the future it will be advisable to have the team of translators ready before the manuscript is prepared and have the comments and translations done chapter-bychapter
as they are being written.
Guide of the space explorer (PDF)