This month: the lit­eral art of astronomy.

Sky at Night Magazine - - CONTENTS - DEIRDRE KEL­LEGHAN is an am­a­teur astronomer, artist and ed­u­ca­tor based in Wick­low, Ire­land

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.

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