Discovering the world through the lens of a telescope
The paradisiac island of Camiguin faced threats from the impacts of climate change, and had borne the brunt of an increasing number of natural disasters. It became imperative to raise awareness among students on the rich and unique biological diversity in the island, and the concomitant need for environmental protection and ecosystem preservation. Students likewise needed to understand crucial concepts like climate change, disasters, and ecology, and how they were inextricably linked to one another. To begin appreciating such concepts, students first had to deeply appreciate the beauty of their island, encompassing its landscapes and nightscapes. Only then could they understand their role in the universe.
On a more pragmatic level, students had been faring poorly in the National Achievement Test for secondary schools. Figure 4 indicates that among the different subjects, the division’s secondary schools students performed dismally in science with a mean grade of 47.99 over a five-year period. Students needed an intervention that could help them pull up their science grades, yes, but more importantly, one that could make them deeply interested in the subject. Within science, students had not proven enough competence in astronomy.
Taking these into consideration, the Camiguin School-to-School Nightscape Project was an eco-educational project conceived to address the challenge of making science and nature “real” and understandable for the students. Its twin goals were to improve academic performance, and to promote ecotourism in the island. The setting was Camiguin Nightscapes Park, located on top of Mt. Hibok-Hibok, an active volcano, in Itum, Baylao. Its conditions were conducive to observation of the nightscape – light pollution was scarce and the skies were often clear.
The Camiguin Nightscapes Park threw open its doors to the public in July 2015, a month after construction and landscaping began. It was envisioned as a nightscape observation park were visitors could enjoy its facilities, such as the botanical garden, camping area, session center, toilets, snack bar and barbecue, butterfly garden, dining area, and most importantly, the observation area, complete with hammocks and mats.
The Nightscape Project
The School-to-School Nightscape Project was a joint venture between Kilaha Foundation, and the government, through the Department of Education (DepEd) Schools Division of Camiguin, the Provincial Office of Tourism, and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Kilaha was a non-profit organization that operated only within Camiguin, created by people passionate about the island. Its portfolio of activities focused on education, livelihood, research, and advocacy.
The first phase was launched in August 2015, initially prioritizing schools that had low learning competency scores in science. Mambajao Central School in the provincial capital was among the first schools involved.
Participation eventually expanded to include other schools. The second phase began in March 2017. Students from six elementary schools visited the astronomy park. By June 2017, a total of 52 schools in the division had participated in the project. Some 4,500 pupils, students, teachers, parents, and the community had experienced stargazing activities.
Given the intended scope of the Nightscapes Project – all schools in Camiguin province –a cadre of trainers to roll it out across the division and serve as tour guides was necessary. Several efforts to train teachers were made.
Thirty teachers comprised the team behind the Nightscapes Project. For this, they had to undergo International Training on Astronomy and Earth Sciences, which was implemented by foreign professionals. Moreover, Kaliha’s main role in the project was to support the teachers’ capacity building, by bringing in Dr. David Pino, astronomer from the University of Barcelona. Dr. Pino provided training to ten science teachers during the International Seminar Workshop on Astronomy and Climate Change at Kuguita Integrated School in Mambajao in February and March 2017. Newly hired science teachers were required to complete a weeklong seminar, as did tourist guides. While students learned about their island’s ecology, local stakeholders – not only teachers –strengthened their capacities in delivering eco-cultural activities for tourists.
Learning in the outdoors
Students throughout the province experienced a class without being confined to the four walls of the classroom. During the two-hour evening sessions, the volcano was the classroom, while the was the night sky was the blackboard upon which students’ gazes were fixed. Two astronomy experts were on board to give lectures and demonstrations on basic astronomy concepts and introduce students to the night skies, aided by projectors, screens, and the three donated professional telescopes. Students had the opportunity to manipulate the telescopes and peep at celestial bodies. In addition to astronomy, topics included climate change and natural disasters.
This novel approach to teaching astronomy and environmental studies allowed students to explore the outdoors, with Mt. Itom as a vantage point. It fostered authentic learning among students. While stargazing destinations existed elsewhere, they were not typically part of the class curriculum. The draw of the nightscapes project was its unusual setting atop a volcano in a protected area. The choice of classroom venue helped make the lessons come alive, kindling learners’ love for celestial bodies. Furthermore, the project capitalized on the students’ interest to discussing the world on different scales. Beginning with their island Camiguin, with its unique geography, they moved on to seeing where they were in the country, the world, and even the universe.
The Camiguin Schools Division described high levels of satisfaction within the division, and among students and the community. They likewise reported that students were able to increase their NAT scores in science. Buoyed by the positive response to the project, the division planned to pursue the following projects: Astronomy and Climate Change Academy; the procurement of mobile planetarium and high-powered telescope and astronomy equipment.