FIELD OF VIEW
This month: the literal art of astronomy.
Alifelong interest in astronomy, space and drawing has led me to developing workshops for children. These workshops always have an element of art or creativity involved, as drawing can cut across every perceived issue in a child’s capacity to learn. No matter their ability, a child’s attempt to draw a planet offers learning in the simple act of putting pencil to paper.
There are many branches of astronomy, but choosing topics for the workshops is easier than you might expect. I’ve found that dealing with current, tangible events has the most impact on learning, so I teach about current missions or upcoming astronomical events. Since these also have a high chance of being covered in the media, this has the bonus of bringing the subject directly into the child’s home life, extending their learning experience.
It’s always better to do an activity that’s fun as well as educational, and something that involves a whole group working together is a big hitter in that respect. Years ago I made a model of our Moon from a huge polystyrene ball. The plan was to take a group to a field and teach them about Moon phases using a powerful torch, with the children drawing each phase as we created it. The kids were so excited: equipped with pencils and clip boards, they sketched lovely Moon phase drawings and were on their way to understanding the Moon’s movements. Everything went smoothly until the end, when the kids decided they would help carry the Moon model to my car. And with little hands up in the air trying to hold the Moon – oops – it went falling to the ground, rolling down a hill with the kids running after it. Everyone was laughing!
One workshop, the Action Comet, proves time and time again that you should never underestimate what kids can draw. It’s based on ESA’s Rosetta Mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Hundreds of children have drawn the comet, which is a very complex shape indeed. We also made comets from polystyrene balls with paper attached to mimic the gas and dust tails, sometimes flying our little space rocks in Earth’s wind just for fun.
A big stand-out moment for me took place in Java, Indonesia, where I’d been invited to give a workshop on the Sun as part of the opening of a UNESCO-led education event. The local army donated a 3x3m tarpaulin and everyone at the event, from professors to local orphans, took part in creating an enormous Sun on it. Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory every sunspot, prominence and filament was made from paper with joy. The creation went on display on the floor of Bosscha Observatory under a 12-tonne telescope.
Thousands of drawings have been produced in my workshops over the past 15 years. Showing children the latest images from space, or what the Sun actually looks like, is real, sustainable education: drawing on a page is a simple pathway to enhancing their understanding. And I love every second of it! Sharing drawing techniques gives me endless pleasure, as does extending the learning by encouraging venues to hold exhibitions of the children’s drawings.