EU-UNAWE Italy travelled to South Africa this summer to help the country celebrate its National Science Week. The Italian team held activities at five different schools, reaching almost 600 students and 20 educators.
The exchange visit provided opportunities for pupils and teachers to develop and improve their knowledge of science, in particular Astronomy. Educators improved their teaching methods, while students learnt in an interactive and fun-filled manner that stayed in line with the National Curriculum.
Activities kicked off on 30 July with a question and answer session held by Shazrene Mohamed, an astronomer from the South African Observatory. Students had the opportunity to clear up any astronomical myths they might have heard or read. As a female astronomer, Shazrene helped to dispel the wide-spread idea that astronomers are all male, hopefully inspiring some of the almost 300 girls in attendance to follow a career in astronomy.
Pupils were then invited to a planetarium show, this was the first time inside a planetarium for all of the children. During the show they observed the southern sky and some of the most famous constellations (Crux, Orion and Scorpio). Using Italian puppet theatre techniques and myths collected by the UNAWE South Africa team the children were were taught about the sky in a very immersive way.
They learned how to find the constellations, when is the best time to see them and the differences between the sky in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Before the show most of the children could not answer simple astronomy questions such as “what is a star?” or “what is a constellation?”, but by the end the vast majority could describe a star and name at least the Orion constellation.
The 20 South African educators took part in a live video link with the Italian Zafferana Etnea school in Sicily. Two teachers and the principle of the school joined the South Africans for a lively debate and formed a bond that will continue during the school year, with collaborative projects already being planned.
The exchange visit between Italy and South Africa was a massive success. In just a week the project helped to renew the country's interest in teaching and learning about astronomy and space science. This led to EU-UNAWE projects being proposed as part of the programmes in the Western Cape area for the next academic year.