August 23, 2007

EPSC07/14: ‘Hands on Universe’ goes global

The astronomy teaching project, Hands-On Universe (HOU), will increase its worldwide presence following a decision taken last month at the Annual Conference in Tokyo. The Portuguese astronomer Rosa Doran, who will be presenting plans at the second European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam on Thursday 23rd August, will be responsible for restructuring a scheme that is already in use in 20 countries and for making Hands-On Universe a global reality.

Hands-On Universe provides a new approach to the teaching and learning of astronomy by bringing frontline interactive technology to the classroom for use by both teachers and students. Its goals are to promote the use of these technologies and also to reawaken students’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and maths related issues.

At this moment, HOU is divided into four regional centres that coordinate the activities of neighbouring countries: North America (Berkeley, California), Europe (Paris), Pacific (Beijing), Africa (Kenya), soon to be joined by a fifth in South America, based in Brazil.

The decision to restructure and expand the entire organisation of this project to develop the Global Hands on Universe (GHOU) comes from the need to keep pace with the growth and expansion to new countries. Within seven years, GHOU could have a presence in about 100 countries, reaching millions of students. This new format will allow the development of common projects and improvements in the sharing of resources.

This process will take place during next year, in time to prepare the activities for the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

The project is based on real observations, acquired by the teachers or pupils themselves using networks of robotic telescopes operated via the Internet, a web cam system developed by HOU, or using a remotely operated radio telescope. These observations can be manipulated in classrooms with specific software designed to be pupil-friendly. Activities are supported by teaching resources developed through collaborations between researchers and teachers.

According to Rosa Doran, training teachers through pilot projects is the key to the success of the scheme. About 1000 teachers have already received the training and are now instructing others themselves, in a snowball effect.

The latest challenge for GHOU is Universe Quest, an online game in which students will have to form international teams to carry out research, such as searching for asteroids. Rosa Doran said “The Universe Quest game is an exciting and innovation teaching tool. It also has a serious aspect, as the goal of the game is to make real scientific discoveries. The next asteroid could be discovered by schoolchildren!”

FURTHER INFORMATION AND IMAGES: www.handsonuniverse.org