The EU Universe Awareness International Workshop 2013 concluded today following a five-day programme packed with talks and working groups that covered all aspects of kindergarten and primary-level astronomy education. The workshop, held at the Haus der Astronomie (House of Astronomy) in Heidelberg, Germany, brought together 60 active members of the international Universe Awareness network from 40 countries, and experts in the field of education and childhood development, to share ideas, techniques and resources that have been developed by the programme to over the last three years to educate and inspire young children with the wonders of the cosmos.
The week kicked off with an Educational Resources Fair on Monday afternoon, during which participants were invited to showcase their best astronomy education resources, to gather feedback and spark ideas for new materials. The fair included an exciting array of interactive games, including Messier Bingo created by Edward Gomez of LCOGT and Space Dominoes developed by Angela Pérez UNAWE National Coordinator in Colombia, along with a selection of illustrated children’s stories, magazines, tactile models and more. The fair was also visited by a group of 10 local primary school children who enthusiastically tested the materials.
The most popular resource, as voted for by members of the workshop, was Meet our Neighbours, several tactile images of the Solar System for use by children with visual impairments that was designed by Lina Canas to promote interaction between children with visual impairments and those without. You can access the resource and use it with children in your area by visiting http://nuclio.org/astroneighbours/
The following days were a mixture of morning talks and afternoon working groups, all focussed on three topics specific to UNAWE’s goals: Early-Childhood Development, Evaluation and Curricula Development. These subjects were covered by a range of special guest speakers who presented research, shared insights and addressed misconceptions in these areas.
The working groups also focussed on these core topics, they aimed to evaluate existing UNAWE resources and activities, and develop new prototype materials along with the training tools needed for educators to utilise them. The sessions were heavily outcome-oriented, motivated by a daily feedback session and the final goal of producing products.
The Curricula Development sub-group agreed that designing resources that are easily adaptable to cultural and linguistic needs and can be linked to curricula in schools all over the world was essential. It was considered important to relate to everyday situations to help children to digest the concepts and knowledge, The Early-Childhood Development sub-group considered the implications of children beginning schools at different ages around the world, their varying rates of development and the differing environments they are exposed to, and devoted their time to creating interactive astronomy education materials that addressed these issues.
Given the global scale of the EU-UNAWE programme, and the legacy aspect of working with very young children, evaluating the project can seem like a daunting task. The final sub-group focused on identifying simple, effective methods for evaluating and reporting results of UNAWE’s activities and resources. Methods such as evaluation cards that can be completed by young children before and after activities and the use of free software such as Google Fusion Tables were concluded to be most effective for the task. You can find the UNAWE evaluation booklet on the website at http://unawe.org/about/evaluation/.
All resources will be made available to the public on the UNAWE website (www.unawe.org) in the upcoming weeks.