By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
Is there anything kids love more than a sleepover? How about a sleepover with astronomy?
On Friday, the International School of Beijing (ISB) brought fresh excitement to the science grade 8 students study in the classroom by hosting 72 of them for an overnight stargazing session. Star Night is an annual event that has been in place for a decade now, hooking students on astronomy with a guided tour of the constellations using the school's telescopes.
As usual, Middle School math/science teacher Wayne Winkelman ran the event, offering themed activities and a movie. The students viewed the stars outdoors on several occasions, comparing how their arrangement changed throughout the night. They were blessed with good weather (as well as China's remarkable record in limiting light pollution).
Max P loved his science-y sleepover. "I think Star Night was a great idea from ISB," he said. "It encourages students to go more in depth with their learning and also makes sure they can use the things they learned in class outside of the classroom. Personally, Star Night was a blast. It was a cool thing to do because of the way we had to step out of our comfort zone to participate, for example waking up at 6:00 am to go outside on a Saturday. Astronomy is an intriguing subject. It informs us about the world around us and how people used to think back in the ages."
Mr. Winkelman has been involved with Star Night since the start. While his early groups' best option for identifying what they were looking at was a star wheel map, they now use computer software called Stellarium with interactive imaging of the stars. Mr. Winkelman's astronomy program has also included trips to use the advanced telescopes at a major observatory outside of Beijing, and hosting special events such as a viewing of the unusual "blood moon" eclipse on campus last summer.
According to Mr. Winkelman, Star Night and these other events reliably impress students. He said parents have told him of their children comparing how the stars appear in other parts of the world on summer holidays. "And I've had students tell me years later that they're still using Stellarium. To me, astronomy is a lifelong thing. It's always cool to look to the skies and know a little bit about what's up there. I want to generate some interest and excitement."
Speaking to older student stargazers at ISB bears this out. Now in grade 12, Andrew Y has fond memories of going on Star Night four years ago. As well as being a valuable bonding experience with fellow grade 8s, "it definitely gave me more interest in the stars," he said. "Now, when I look at the sky, I imagine it as a dome, endless."
For Miguel A in grade 9, Star Night helped consolidate astronomy as his passion. He explained, "I was already into astronomy, with my interest skyrocketing after a visit to the Kennedy Space Center the year before, but Star Night gave me the opportunity to explain my biggest hobby to my friends. Speaking about things helps you really make sense of the concepts in your own brain."