Aim: To harness pupils’ enthusiasm for astronomy and improve literacy through the creation of an astronomy club.
Background: Students were able to demonstrate understanding when prompted however they struggled to convey their understanding when answering longer exam questions.
Year 1: A weekly astronomy club (MBAstronomers) was set up which several Year 7 students attended. Activities included discussions and making models, e.g. of black holes, constellations and telescopes. The National Space Academy came in to give a Physics Masterclass for Year 10 students. Dr Brian Sheen from the Roseland Observatory gave a riveting presentation to Year 9 students on astronomical imaging techniques and meteorites. Resources from the Solar Centre at Stamford University were used to make hand-held spectroscopes.
Year 2: A member of the Landsend Astronomers came in to school once a month to share his vision of ‘backyard astronomy’, including solar flares and sunspots. Summer lunchtime sessions were held outside of the lab using a telescope with a solar filter to look at sunspots. The MBAstronomers demonstrated the telescope to their peers and explained how telescopes worked and their observations. This was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their verbal skills. The GoSkyWatch app and the Stellarium app were used to look at constellations and the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere.
Year 3: MBAstronomers helped to plan the Tim Peake Launch event held at school. During the Year 6 Open Evening, three telescopes were set up outside with help from Landsend Astronomers and parents and potential students had the opportunity of looking at the moon. Year 7 students led this activity and enjoyed being ‘experts’ for the night. Lesson planning included many opportunities for literacy focus. For example, when teaching the life cycle of stars with Year 11, they initially sequenced images of the various stages of ‘medium’ and ‘massive’ stars, using keywords to identify the stages. After peer discussion they then planned the answer as a series of bullet points, finally writing out a final draft with connectives.
Evidence: Markbooks, student videos.
Impact: The pupils who attended the club were of a wide ability range although most of them tended to be less able or have statements of special educational needs. Feedback indicated that the writing frames and scripts helped, but students still lacked confidence in writing. The Year 11 lesson on the life cycle of stars proved that approaching an exam question by breaking it down through discussion and identifying keywords definitely helped students to improve their longer exam answers. MBAstronomers have raised the profile of astronomy at Mounts Bay and as a result, students will be offered the opportunity to study for GCSE Astronomy after school. However, the level of literacy needed for the Edexcel Astronomy GCSE is high and most of the students who have attended the club in these last few years would find it very challenging.
Reflections: On reflection, choosing the Astronomy Club as the basis for collecting data and evidence was not the most rigorous choice to make. It would have been more useful to base the project on either ‘Inspiring students through astronomy’ or ‘Strategies to improve literacy in Science’ – this would have generated quantifiable data across the department.
Contact: Michelle Weightman, Head of Physics, email@example.com