What a great first week it has been for Rising Stargirls! We kicked off the workshop “Universe: More Than Meets the Eye” at Irving STEAM Magnet Middle School in Eagle Rock, CA. Many thanks to the enthusiasm and initiative of Irving’s Esther Lee – who saw a need for a Girls STEM club and created one, reaching out to me to help kick it off with a 3-week astronomy workshop. We meet Mondays and Wednesdays for two hours after school, Feb. 18-Mar 9.
On the first day of the workshop the girls received their own “playbooks” – individual journals that they use to record their responses to questions I ask (such as “do you talk to your friends and families about science?” “Do you believe that you can do well in science”), do free writing in (“Write for 5 minutes. The topic is ‘I am thinking of’.”), and draw in (“Draw what you think a typical scientist looks like”). We played theater games to get them on their feet and moving, and also a name game where the girls said their names, a favorite hobby, and a place on Earth or in Space that they would go to if money were no object (all the girls chose places on the Earth. Interesting.). We wrapped up the day talking about constellations, reading constellation myths from different cultures, and having the girls arrange themselves into constellation shapes in small groups.
At the beginning of the next meeting I shared with the girls my own personal story of how I got interested in astronomy and astrobiology. I talked to them about my family background, and where I came from. I thought it was important that they know that I didn’t come from a family of scientists, and in fact, no one ever told me that I should be a scientist. I talked to them a lot about how when I was younger I was afraid to raise my hand for fear of sounding or looking stupid, and how it wasn’t until I started raising my hand and keeping it there until I was called on, and developing strong support structures – mentors, communities of people I could be myself with – that I really started to succeed. I also got to tell them about my grandmother, who was a math major at Tennessee State University in the 1930’s, and how she struggled to feel like she belonged in that field. So powerful!
Then the girls spent the rest of the workshop session creating their own constellations and origin myths. I’m having such fun reading through these. This is an activity from Kelsey Johnson’s organization Dark Skies, Bright Kids, and I’m so happy she shared it with me. The girls are so creative! Then they decorated their playbooks with pictures from old astronomy magazines – images of planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae. The books look fantastic.
Yesterday we spent the day talking about scale. I shrunk the Sun down by 10 billion times (because I am that powerful) until it was the size of a grapefruit, and had one of the girls count 15 large paces away as she walked, to where the Earth would be. Then I asked them how far they thought she would have to walk to get to the nearest star. Many said “the end of the school yard!” or “the end of the block” when I prompted them to go farther. When I told them “New York City”, it blew their minds. Tons of “Wow!”s and “Whoah!”s. It was awesome. We also talked about what a star is and how all the elements we have on Earth come from stars, and we do too. Finally, I had the girls calculate (with my help) the diameter of a solar system planet, or the distance from Earth to the planet, in units of themselves! So the distance from the Earth to Saturn isn’t just 890 million miles, it is “one trillion Amahiranys”, for example. Then the girls got to decorate posters with these statements about the planets. One of my favorite things of the day said by one of the girls when I tried to hand her Pluto to do her calculation: “I don’t want to do Pluto! It isn’t even a planet!”. Priceless.
Look at pictures of the girls with their playbooks and posters here.
Visit the new Rising Stargirls website!