Four-hundred years ago, the legendary Galileo created a device called the telescope to gaze into space from a distance. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first use of the telescope in astronomy, schools in the southeast region of Australia united for a star-gazing project, where students used modern-day distance learning devices to interact remotely.
In New South Wales, Australia, students attend schools in various locations, from the coastal capital of Sydney to the in-land rural, mining city Broken Hill. Organized by Western NSW Region, the "Learn Astronomy From Our School" project brought more than 2,000 K-12 students together in 63 virtual classrooms last Spring.
For the astronomy-themed project, each school group produced a video conference presentation. They had to come up with an engaging title and a summary of the information. They also advertised their projects to participants for two weeks in advance. At the end of the school term, students spent 25 minutes presenting content in each session with up to seven other classes dialing in to watch their peers and pose questions.
Video conferencing tools allowed participants to not only learn about the final frontier, but also share their knowledge with other classes. For example, five students at Willyama High School presented "Journey to the Moon and Back.” Students say they learned a lot about Apollo Missions 11 and 13. In the Sydney Region, at Coogee Public School, students gathered information for "the Mars Rovers." Students used Notebook 10 and Garage Band for the presentation. They also interacted with the audience by creating a play, song and a quiz show. The collaboration, officials say, created a sense for students of being part of a learning community.
But the project wasn't just aimed at students. It also allowed administrators to get more hands-on experience with the learning tool.
"The project’s purpose was to enhance the video conferencing skills of teachers and students," said Ann-Marie Furney, School Education Director and Senior User in the Interactive Classrooms Project, "as well as further develop the students learning in IT and science syllabus outcomes."