Final report – WAISSYA 2015

The West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers (WAISSYA) 2015 is the second organized school after the one held in October 2013. The school was organized and taught by a collaboration of astronomers from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics / University of British Columbia, the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, the NASRDA Centre for Basic Space Science (CBSS) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the European Southern Observatory, and the University of Cape Town. The school was held between July 1317, 2015 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

West Africa has huge potential to develop a strong astronomy community; thanks especially to its large number of talented students interested in science. Nigeria is especially interested in building up a critical mass of West African astronomers and establishing collaborations with universities/astronomy institutes outside the region. This brought about the idea for WAISSYA through conversations at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly held in Beijing in 2012. Major goals for the school include the following: encouraging West African science students to further their interest in astronomy, exchanging ideas on education between West Africa and North America, and developing critical thinking skills in students.

The school consists of a compact lecture series and activities covering the basics of astronomy and space science as well as some advanced astronomy. Findings from science education research were used in designing teaching plans to be as effective as possible. In particular, lessons included teaching scientific thinking along with scientific content, and incorporating rigorous assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The teaching activities we designed included the following: (1) communitybuilding group discussions on topics like why one might study astronomy; (2) lectures and problem sets using “peer instruction” techniques (e.g., questions where students vote alone, discuss in groups, then vote again) on the topics of stars, extrasolar planets, galaxies, and cosmology; (3) solar observing with Sun spotter telescopes; (4) an advanced session on Python and data analysis; and (5) the educational focal point, a twoday inquirybased lab on the Cosmic Distance Ladder designed by the Canadian team in collaboration with the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Project report (PDF)