The Universe in the Classroom

New Spanish Language Astronomy Resources

Spanish Language Astronomy Resources Inspire Innovation around the Planet

by Erica Fortescue, Stanford University School of Education

New resources
International use
Available on line

New resources

Weeks before the book went to print last May, Peggy Motes of the Muncie Community Schools' Planetarium in Indiana, called the Astronomical Society to request an advance copy of El Universo a sus pies. She had been using the hands-on astronomy activities in The Universe at Your Fingertips and More Universe at Your Fingertips, for years. Having heard that a Spanish version was due to be released, she was especially eager to have a build-your own starfinder to use in her planetarium's Spanish-language programs.

working on planet bottlesWith the recent release of El Universo a sus pies, along with a Spanish version of NASA's Space Place website, the astronomy education community has a lot to be excited about. These Spanish-language astronomy resources are being put to innovative use around the world. Although they were created primarily for use in bilingual U.S. classrooms, some of the most exciting uses of these resources are in parental involvement programs and international partnerships.

The release of these resources in the U.S. is especially timely. The most recent census data shows that the Spanish-speaking population of the U.S. has increased 58% in the last decade, to reach 35 million. Although many U.S. Spanish speakers are also fluent in English, a substantial portion of school-age children and their parents prefer Spanish language science resources.

It is not surprising to hear that the most excitement about these Spanish-language astronomy resources comes from states with high numbers of Spanish-speakers such as New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona and Florida. For example, in New Mexico, where 28% of the population report speaking Spanish at home, El Universo a sus pies has been a hit. Kenn Hitchcock, Education Director of the New Mexico Museum of Space History, says: "The book is a great resource for our family events. Having materials translated into Spanish is important for including all of the parents and teachers, not only in New Mexico, but also for our audience in Texas."

family doing activitiesDr. Connie Walker, a Senior Science Education Specialist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, also hails the new resource. She coordinates a Project ASTRO program, partnering astronomers and schoolteachers for on-going partnerships in the local schools. Located in close proximity to Mexico, the Tucson Unified School district has a large population of Spanish-speakers. Connie Walker explains, "El Universo a sus pies has been an effective resource for the teachers in Tucson's Project ASTRO program. We see it in the smiles of bilingual children, when light bulbs glow above their heads."

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific chose to translate The Universe at Your Fingertips to help increase the number of high quality, hands-on science resources available to bilingual classrooms. The 490-page translation was edited by Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Schatz. It includes 55 ready-to-use classroom activities that are drawn from the Society's own programs and from projects and curricula from around the U.S. and Canada. A number derive from NASA missions and workshops. They include such favorites as "The Reasons for the Seasons", "The Venus Topography Box", "The Toilet Paper Solar System Model", "Inventing an Alien", "Galaxy Sorting", and "Creating Your Own Constellations."

The project was made possible through funding from The National Science Foundation, and through the volunteer efforts of 23 advisors, including Spanish-speaking astronomers and educators from the U.S., Chile, Mexico, Spain and Puerto Rico. With the help of this bilingual and bicultural advisory committee, a number of changes were made to help make this resource useful outside of North America. Smaller changes include listing target ages instead of U.S. grade levels, on each activity. One significant change was the alteration of the title to one that would make sense culturally in Spanish. Literally translated, the new title, El Universo a sus pies would be "The Universe at Your Feet" in English. Another significant change is the addition of Southern Hemisphere activities on stars and constellations, so that the book can be used in South America.

International use

It appears that efforts to "internationalize" the book have paid off. El Universo a sus pies is finding an audience in astronomy communities abroad. One example is a new project in Chile at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). One research fellow, explains: "Here in Chile we greatly need these kinds of hands-on activity texts and finding them in Spanish is difficult." A number of copies of the book were sent to CTIO from their partner observatory in Tucson. The books were received with exuberant enthusiasm and have subsequently been used extensively. Barring some minor cultural differences, the Chilean teachers found the activities well written, exciting for the students and easy to use.

toilet paper activityIn fact, the high interest instigated a video workshop on spectrometers (Activity 10.1 in El Universo a Sus Pies) between the Chilean teachers, the CTIO and NOAO-Tucson staff and three bilingual teachers from the Tucson who facilitated the entire workshop in Spanish. The teachers exchanged methods and ideas about how to explain and demonstrate the nature of light and color to students of various ages. One of the participants notes with enthusiasm, "Even half a world apart and across people of different languages and cultures, the most effective ways to teach concepts in astronomy can be a lively topic for discussion." The workshop is envisioned as the beginning of an even larger collaboration, currently dubbed ASTRO-Chile. This effort is meant to take advantage of successful efforts in the United States such as Project ASTRO, and efforts in Chile, by merging the strategies and techniques from each into a cross-cultural exchange.

Spanish-speaking astronomy enthusiasts can expect more Spanish language resources in the near future. To further support parental involvement in science, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is translating some of its Family ASTRO activity kits into Spanish, and supporting Spanish language family events in Boston, Arizona, and California. NOAO is creating an online Spanish Language Materials Educational Center that will include a web-based catalog of generally available Spanish-language materials for all grade levels in astronomy and space science. NASA expects more mission-related websites to include bilingual components. The translations discussed in this article, and those expected soon, are a fantastic contribution to the Spanish-speaking astronomy world.

Available on line

These popular resource books from the ASP, edited by Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Shatz are a collection of activities from a wide range of sources from Fresno Unified School District, Nederland Elementary School in Boulder, CO to universities like Furman University, Harvard, Montana State University, University of Toronto, University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University. Sources also include science centers like the Lawrence Hall of Science, Pacific Science Center and St. Louis Science Center. Other contributing organizations include SETI Institute, The Planetary Society, Newton's Apple and the Vatican Observatory Foundation. The two English language volumes contain 114 activities and many other resources. Over half are now available in Spanish in El Universo a sus pies.

The Universe at Your FingertipsThe Universe at Your Fingertips An Astronomy and Activity Resource Notebook edited by Andrew Fraknoi, et al.
The essential astronomy notebook for anyone involved with science education at any level! This collection features 90 of the very best ready-to-use, hands-on activities for teaching many basic aspects of astronomy. Includes dozens of resource guides, helpful articles on student learning, and tips for creating an astronomy curriculum for any age group. Everyone who works with students or teachers in science should have this notebook on their shelf. 400 sheets, 3-hole punched, fits into 3" binder. For all grades. (BO122) $34.95
More Universe at Your FingertipsMore Universe at Your Fingertips edited by Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Schatz
The best-selling astronomy education resource available just got better! The thousands of educators and astronomers who own the original Universe at Your Fingertips have asked us for more! Here are 25 new classroom-tested activities, a host of resource listings and teaching suggestions, plus a guide to reliable astronomy information and activities on the web. Activities include Measuring the Hubble Deep Field, Organizing the Galaxies, Sorting Saturn's Moons, Making a Mapping a Volcano, and many more! An indispensible supplement to the first notebook and a stand-alone guide to the most up-to-date astronomy education resources. 180 sheets, 3-hole punched. For all grades. (BO123) $24.95
El Universo a sus piesEl Universo a sus pies
The Universe at Your Fingertips in Spanish! This new collection of over 60 exemplary hands-on activities features the "greatest hits" from Universe at Your Fingertips and More Universe at Your Fingertips, the most popular resource notebook and activity manuals published by Project Astro. The activities have been reviewed by a multi-national group of Spanish-speaking educators and astronomers and updated and appended for use in the northern or southern hemisphere. Perfect for the bi-lingual or Spanish classroom or youth group. 490 pp. 3-hole punch. For all grades. (BO322) $29.95

<< previous page | 1 | 2 |

back to Teachers' Newsletter Main Page