Proposal to Yukon Education Minister: Astronomical Program

Astronomy is one of the few scientific fields that interacts directly with society. Not only transcending borders, but actively promoting collaborations around the world.

Throughout history, humans have looked to the sky to navigate the vast oceans, to decide when to plant their crops and to answer questions of where we came from and how we got here. It is a discipline that opens our eyes, gives context to our place in the Universe, and reshapes how we see the world.

Astronomy has always had a significant impact on our world view. Early cultures identified celestial objects with the gods and took their movements across the sky as prophecies of what was to come. Now, as our understanding of the world progresses, we find ourselves, and our views, even more entwined with the stars. The discovery that the basic elements, found in stars, and the gas and dust around them, are the same elements that make up our bodies; has further deepened the connection between us and the cosmos. This connection touches our lives, and the awe it inspires is perhaps the reason that the beautiful images Astronomy provides us with are so popular in today’s culture (ex.) Juno’s live mission to Jupiter, Mars Rover Curiosity, and of course the Hubble Space Telescope.

There are still many unanswered questions in Astronomy. Current research is struggling to understand questions like: “How old are we?”, “What is the fate of the Universe?” and possibly the most interesting: “How unique is the Universe, and could a slightly different Universe ever have supported life?” Astronomy is also breaking new records every day, establishing the furthest distances, most massive objects, highest temperatures, and most violent explosions.

Pursuing these questions, and these challenges, is a fundamental part of being human, yet in today’s world it has become increasingly important to be able to justify the pursuit of these answers. The difficulties in describing the importance of Astronomy, and fundamental research in general, are well summarized by the following quote:

“Preserving knowledge is easy. Transferring knowledge is also easy. But making new knowledge is neither easy nor profitable in the short term. Fundamental research proves profitable in the long run, and, as importantly, it is a force that enriches the culture of any society with reason and basic truth.”

– Ahmed Zewali, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1999)

As such, teaching Astronomy to our youth is of great value. It has been proven that pupils who engage in astronomy-related educational activities at a primary or secondary school are more likely to pursue careers in science and technology, and to keep up to date with scientific discoveries (National Research Council, 1991). This does not just benefit the field of Astronomy, but reaches across other scientific disciplines.

Several studies over the last few years have indicated that investing in science education, research and technology provides a great return, not only economically, but culturally and indirectly for the population in general. The scientific and technological development of a country, or region, is closely linked to its human development index, a statistic that is a measure of life expectancy, education and income (Truman, 1949).

Dr. Robert Aitken, director of Lick Observatory, shows us that even in 1933 there was a need to justify the science, in his paper entitled The Use of Astronomy (Aitken, 1933). His last sentence summarized his sentiment: “To give man ever more knowledge of the universe and to help him ‘to learn humility and to know exaltation’, that is the mission of Astronomy.” In defence of Radio Astronomy, Dave Finley in Finley (2013) states, “In sum, Astronomy has been a cornerstone of technological progress throughout history, has much to contribute in the future, and offers all humans a fundamental sense of our place in an unimaginably vast and exciting universe.”

More recently, C. Renée James wrote an article outlining the recent technological advances that we can thank Astronomy for, such as GPS, medical imaging, and wireless internet (Renée James, 2012). Astronomy and its related fields are at the forefront of science and technology; answering fundamental questions and driving innovation. Astronomy is interactive, fun, and dynamic. It gives students the chance to discover their Universe, through their own eyes!

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: Yukon Centre (RASC: Yukon Centre) wishes to assist in promoting Astronomy in Yukon’s K to 12 school curriculum. Our goal is to help teachers and students learn more about Astronomy and also themselves. To enhance an understanding of, and inspire curiosity about, the Universe through education, workshops, activities, and research.

The RASC: Yukon Centre believes that by including astronomical education into the curriculum, it will permit students to better engage in deep learning, and life-long learning. For these reasons, the Alberta school system has included Astronomy in its curriculum since 2003:

  1. Earth and Space Science:

Earth and space science brings global and universal perspectives to student knowledge. Earth, our home planet, exhibits form, structure and patterns of change, as does our surrounding solar system and the physical universe beyond it. Earth and space science includes such fields of study as geology, meteorology and astronomy.

Ref: http://www.learnalberta.ca/ProgramOfStudy.aspx?lang=en&ProgramId=511711#

  1. In early September, Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Calgary will become the first Canadian high school to fly experiments onboard a stratospheric balloon as part of the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA’s) Stratos Program.

Ref: https://twitter.com/Space_Blog/status/771715079201054720

The RASC: Yukon Centre understands that the new curriculum focuses on developing students’ competencies and skills. The content must be flexible enough to meet the needs of Yukon schools, and it must reflect the uniqueness of the community. Curriculum and programs are one of the components of the new vision for education in the Yukon. The RASC: Yukon Centre will ensure, whenever possible, what students learn reflects a Yukon context, and Yukon First Nations’ perspectives.

The Astronomical Program (AP) must always focus on the following core competencies:

  • Communication
  • Thinking
  • Personal and Social

Suggested course topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • History of Astronomy: Then and Now with a Canadian Focus and a First Nations’ perspectives [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • Canadian Astronauts, Astronomers, and Astrophysicists [GRADES K – 9]
  • Our Northern Lights with Yukon First Nations’ perspectives [GRADES K – 12]
  • Understanding Yukon’s Night Sky [GRADES K – 12]
  • Astronomy: a Profession and Other Related Careers [GRADES 7 – 12]
  • Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA’s) Stratos Program [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • Connecting Canadian classrooms with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • Connecting Canadian classrooms with the Gemini Observatory [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • The Connection between Humanity and the Universe (including Yukon First Nations’ perspectives) [GRADES K – 7]
  • Myths, Stories, and World Views: Astronomy (including Yukon First Nations’ perspectives) [GRADES K -7]
  • Binoculars & Telescopes [GRADES 4 – 12]
  • Probes, Spacecraft & Satellites… Oh my! [GRADES K – 12]
  • Rocketry: Understand, Learn & Build Model Rockets (Foam, Water, SRB) [GRADES 6 – 12]
  • GPS and Geocache [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • Radio Telescopes and the GAVRT Program [GRADES 9 – 12]
  • Our Solar System [GRADES 4 – 12]
  • The Sun [GRADES 4 – 12]
  • The Moon [GRADES K – 9]
  • Deep Sky Objects [GRADES 6 – 12]
  • The Seasons [GRADES 5 – 12]
  • Climate and Climate Change [GRADES 6 – 12]
  • Light Pollution, the IDA, and the Yukon: a Joint Effort [GRADES 6 – 12]
  • The ISS, CSA, CITA, NASA, and ESA [GRADES 7 – 12]
  • Guest Speaker Program [GRADES 7 – 12]
  • Tours: [GRADES K – 12]
  • RASC: Yukon Centre Observatory
  • Northern Lights Centre

Most of the teachable content above stems from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Astronomy Handbook for Teachers, written specifically for Canadian educators and it meets the Astronomy learning outcomes outlined in the Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes (the “Pan-Canadian Protocol”). The book contains instructions for hands-on activities on a wide range of topics including Seasons, Stars, and the Solar System. Skyways is also available in French, under the title Explorons l’astronomie – Guide pédagogique.

In collaboration with CASCA, the RASC: Yukon Centre will host in November (exact dates to be confirmed) a FREE weekend Westar workshop and lecture program in Whitehorse. This initiative is targeted to ‘kick-start’ and amplify astronomical literacy in the Territory; thereby facilitating teachers, and other youth leaders, at various levels, to better understand, and become more comfortable with, presenting Astronomy and any of its related topics.

This workshop will also provide access to Discover the Universe, an astronomy training program offered by Canadian astronomers. The goal is to help teachers and educators from across the country share this fascinating science with their groups. All of the activities and resources are offered online, and are completely free! It is also offered in French as well:

Discover the Universe

http://www.discovertheuniverse.ca

http://www.decouvertedelunivers.ca

Discover the Universe is offered by the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Canadian Astronomical Society in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Federation des astronomes amateurs du Québec.

The RASC: Yukon Centre, suggests a gradual approach to Astronomy education into the school curriculums, in both French as well as in English. Time will be required to get teachers comfortable with offering the material, and using the equipment. In addition to what Discover the Universe  offers teachers, the RASC: Yukon Centre will also be able to provide workshops, throughout the year, that will better reflect the learning conditions in the North, so that teachers may achieve success with their students. Annex A, presents Phases 1 to 4 of the Astronomical Program (AP), that we propose, in addition to what will be offered in Discover the Universe. The RASC observatories at the Takhini Hot Springs and later at Canyon (Grey) Mountain, and our portable planetarium, will ensure fun, continuous learning year-round, and will be accessible to every municipality in the Yukon!

The fruits of scientific and technological development in Astronomy, especially in areas such as optics and electronics, have become essential to our day-to-day life, with applications such as personal computers, communication satellites, mobile phones, Global Positioning Systems, solar panels and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners.

Although the study of Astronomy has provided a wealth of tangible, monetary and technological gains, perhaps the most important aspect of Astronomy is not one of economical measure. Astronomy has, and continues to revolutionize, our thinking on a worldwide scale. In the past, Astronomy has been used to measure time, mark the seasons, and navigate the vast oceans. As one of the oldest sciences Astronomy is part of every culture’s history and roots. It inspires us with beautiful images and promises answers to the big questions. It acts as a window into the immense size and complexity of space, putting Earth into perspective and promoting global citizenship and pride in our home planet.

For your consideration,

 

Anthony Gucciardo
President
Yukon Astronomical Society
RASC: Yukon Centre