Monday, March 18, 2013

SciFest Africa 2013

Last week I tagged along with the SAAO and the OAD to SciFest Africa, South Africa's National Science Festival, in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. The festival hosts thousands and thousands of kids, mostly from the surrounding areas, but also from all over the country. SciFest holds workshops, lectures, exhibits, performances, games and competitions, all related to science, mathematics and technology.

The first thing I can say about SciFest is that it was really fun. Students were ready and excited to engage, and the educators had tons of energy and were incredibly inspiring. Combine this with some really cool science, and the end result was a huge smile on my face all week long.

Here are some of the highlights:

1. The SAAO exhibit. Students would pass by casually or visit in groups, and with the iPads, we explored different planets, constellations, played astronomy games and the kids took the national astronomy quiz to test their knowledge. This was the place where I could engage with kids most and ask questions to understand their ideas about astronomy.
SAAO exhibit
2. Laser show at 9:30am. I actually went twice. It was a great way to get kids (and adults) pumped up for the festival.

3. SAAO workshops on building telescopes and describing the motions of the Solar System. I liked that the students had something to take away with them at the end of the workshop to remind themselves of the things they created and learned.

SAAO telescope-building workshop
4. Trip to Alexandria Primary school ~1hour away. Part of SciFest is not just hosting students in the facilities in Grahamstown, but also doing outreach in the surrounding area. Several of us tagged along to see Steve Sherman from the Living Maths program at the Cape Town Science Centre do his exciting routine to get kids engaged with mathematics.
Steve Sherman from Living Maths doing a brain teaser exercise with students from Alexandria Primary School

OAD director Kevin Govender inspiring young minds at Alexandria Primary School
5. Talk by special guest Prof. James Gates from the University of Maryland. Dr. Gates is known for his work in string theory and now serves on President Barack Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Several years ago, however, when his children attended my alma mater, he spoke several times to my high school physics classes about being a scientist. Several years later, he visited to Haverford to speak about his work in string theory. So this was my fourth or fifth time hearing Dr. Gates, and it was great to hear how his research has progressed over the years. It was also cool to reflect on how my own relationship to science has been extremely different every time I've heard him speak. (I'm kicking myself now because I didn't ask for a picture!)

6. Making friends with other wonderful astronomy educators. It became immediately apparent that SciFest is not just an annual festival, but the meeting of a huge network of science educators that function more as a family than a group of colleagues. I feel so grateful to be welcome into that family for the short time I was there.
With a group of other science educators in front of the local Grahamstown hangout
7. Road trip back to Cape Town with the OAD gang. 10+ hours from Grahamstown to Cape Town with OAD director Kevin Govender and project officer J.C. Mauduit, chatting about astronomy, development, learning and life, with some great stops along the way.
The road trip gang above Storms River
In front of the tallest bungee bridge in the world. Again, no way would I jump, but it was cool seeing others do it!
One of many jumping pictures. Wilderness, Western Cape
Almost home, welcomed by the Western Cape sunset
Now I'm back in Cape Town for a week and then I'm off to Ethiopia! It's going to be tough to say goodbye to this place and the fantastic group of people that have made my experience here so meaningful. 

No comments:

Post a Comment