Planets, Gravity, Spacetime, and a lot of questioning kids.

We arrived at the School to be greeted by two classes of 5th graders, apparently pleased to see us and eager to dive into some astronomy. Familiar faces amongst the children, many of whom we met on previous visits,  (this particular class we saw 2 years ago when they were much younger!).  Some changes for the better could be seen in the school, which now sports a science lab (equipped with microscopes, and scientific looking beakers, test tubes etc), and library (compete with a books ranging from elementary school staples, all the way up to  to calculus and beyond). This is one ambitious and future-looking school, led by Fr. Leslie and his devoted staff, who are always an inspiration to work alongside.

The schedule calls for 2 parallel teams to visit 6 classes in total during the day; visiting the same 5th, 6th ,and 10th grade classes each day.

Today’s lesson began with an ‘extreme astronomy’ style recap of the solar system, with the children pacing out the distances, comparing temperatures, sizes, and gaseous vs rocky. These kids are smart, knowledgeable, and curious;  keen to show off their expertise, and get answers to their own questions.  Being able to build on our existing relationship was huge, as we didn’t have to break the ice! We were happily astounded that the kids mostly had retained a lesson they received in second grade, and came armed with high-level questions for this follow-on workshop. (for the record we believe the grades are a number below the US equivalent). Lots of “why?” questions, questions about origins, and also many about the conditions needed for life elsewhere in the universe.

From the Solar system we moved to Gravity. Tom’s poster highlighting influential scientists from minority backgrounds and their signal contributions provoked lively and far ranging discussions:  Why did we need Emmy Noether to “do the math” so we could trust Einstein’s work to describe the real universe?  (and by the way, what did Albert E. actually do?);   what weighty discovery did Vera Rubin make- and what does it mean to say that dark matter is invisible, if we see it bending the path that light takes?  How on earth did a young Indian student nicknamed Chandra manage to discover the conditions inside the stars (and people actually listened to him)?

We also learned the Neil deGrasse Tyson needs a better agent in Haiti! Not one kid had heard of him, but they are now hoping to see his TV show and visit his planetarium in New York City.

I had been totally skeptical that showing a more diverse cast of characters would spur interest but it sure did.

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The Fabric Of Spacetime – that’s what all the lycra was for…..

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