On the 3rd of May 30 teachers and educators from across Australia gathered at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory for an exciting event. Astronomy From the Ground Up! is an annual three day workshop about astronomy and how to teach astronomy effectively. This was the tenth such workshop held at Parkes.

Some of the teachers form the 2013 workshop on the Dish
Dish tour 2013

Some of the teachers from the 2013 workshop on the Dish

The workshop kicked off in spectacular style with a rare opportunity for the teachers to tour the iconic 64m Parkes radio telescope, the Dish. They also inspected the Parkes Testbed Facility, a 12m antenna used for testing the PAFs (Phased Array Feeds) now being deployed on ASKAP in Western Australia. Sessions included talks on of the latest astronomical research such as pulsars and radio transients and the interstellar medium. They learnt about exciting developments in Australian astronomy and space  facilities including ASKAP, the SKA, the Giant Magellan Telescope plus existing ones including the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

Other sessions focused on practical activities and ideas for use in the classroom. The teachers were introduced to a range of exciting programs and activities including the Zooniverse citizen science projects, CSIRO’s own PULSE@ParkesTelescopes in Schools and remote telescope projects such as SPIRIT and LCOGT. They were also introduced to some great free software such as the sky simulator Stellarium.

The Friday evening session discussed tips for running a viewing night at school before a tasty barbecue dinner prepared by the observatory Staff Club. After dinner we had the opportunity to view the night sky through a range of telescopes before some high cloud rudely interrupted proceedings.

On the Saturday morning we went to Mars! Actually we didn’t go to Mars itself but were introduced to the innovative Pathways to Space education program by Dr Carol Oliver from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW. As part of this one lucky teacher was able to drive a model Mars rover remotely ove the net. The rover is located at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in a wonderfully realistic looking Mars environment, the Mars Yard.

One of the workshop participants remotely driving a rover at the Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum
One of the workshop participants remotely driving a rover at the Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

One of the workshop participants remotely driving a rover at the Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

On Saturday night the teachers had a gourmet Dinner by the Dish at the Dish Cafe, adjacent to the observatory’s Visitor Centre. After dinner we had clear dark skies so used the optical telescopes to observe a variety of objects. This also provided an opportunity for teachers to try out the material for the Globe at Night program by observing Crux, the Southern Cross, with their unaided eyes. Their observations contribute to an international scheme to record dark skies and light pollution.

The workshop concluded at lunch time on Sunday 5 May after some solar viewing and more activities and talks. One of the strengths of the workshop is the chance for teachers to meet professional astronomers and PhD students and network with colleagues away from a school setting. The many discussions have already hatched interesting ideas for collaborations and sharing of resources. Astronomy from the Ground Up! is an accredited Galileo Teacher Training Program (GTTP)event, this means that participants get certified as part of this international scheme for teacher training.

If you want to take part in a future Astronomy from the Ground Up! workshop please contact our Education Officer, Rob Hollow (Robert.Hollow@csiro.au). Workshops are held in May each year but places fill up quickly. As one of the participating teachers responded:

Thanks for this! Probably the best in-service in 27 years of teaching. Great balance achieved in talks and sessions. Citizen science comes to the classroom!

Participants from the 2013 Astronomy from the Ground Up! teacher workshop in front of the Dish at sunset.
Participants from the 2013 Astronomy from the Ground Up! teacher workshop in front of the Dish at sunset.

Participants from the 2013 Astronomy from the Ground Up! teacher workshop in front of the Dish at sunset.