The school is divided into two streams: a stream for general undergraduate students and a postgraduate stream for more advanced students. To promote effective teaching and learning, we use the principle of backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe 1998) and begin by writing learning goals for each stream, which are outlined below.
Overall goals include:
- Build a critical mass of astronomers who will lead and support upcoming astronomy projects in Africa.
- Continue laying groundwork for sustainable Canada-Germany-West Africa astronomy partnership.
- Exchange ideas about teaching and learning science between West Africa and North America, including inquiry-based teaching.
- Help empower students to become scientific leaders and educators.
Content areas for the UG stream include Measuring distances in the Universe via parallax and the inverse-square law (Inquiry Activity), lectures on Stars, Exoplanets, Galaxies, Cosmology, Radio astronomy, Space Science and cultural astronomy.
Overall goals include:
- To give students the know-how to apply the principles of critical thinking and the scientific method to pose their own questions and investigate those questions.
- To make students feel excited to share what they learned at the school with others.
- To get students interested in trying new (e.g., inquiry-based) teaching and learning methods.
- To allow alumni to stay connected and engaged after the school finishes, especially as the community of astronomy-interested people in West Africa continues to grow.
- To support alumni who are interested in attending graduate school, and provide information to navigate that path.
- To offer students and instructors a cross-cultural exchange which would allow each group to learn more about the other; i.e., participants would learn what people from North America and West Africa are like, and feel more perspective about the similarity of people here on our small planet.
- To equip students with enough astronomy knowledge such that they are able to read basic astronomy texts on their own.
- To inspire students to continue learning astronomy.
Post graduate stream
Content areas for the PG stream include Linus fundamentals, Python programming fundamentals, Telescope instrumentation, Astronomy observations and Astronomy data reduction procedures.
Overall goals include:
- Students become familiar with Linux environments
- Students can recognize different components of a typical radio telescope and understand their functions
- Students can perform a radio observation
- Students can use least-square techniques to post-process their data
- Students get experience on writing observation proposal, research proposal and papers.
- Get students’ minds stimulated on research-oriented direction.
Instructor week workshop
Prior to the commencement of the school, the instructors hold a 7-day workshop to enable the team to finalize their teaching plans and help new members become comfortable with facilitating inquiry-based activities. An important feature of our teaching structure was “paired teaching”: For each lecture topic, we form pairs (or 3-person groups) of instructors including at least one instructor from West Africa and one from Canada/Europe. This workshop was also a time to allow each teaching pair to harmonize their teaching plans in preparing their lectures.
This workshop gives instructors the opportunity to experience parts of the Cosmic Distance Ladder inquiry activity as students, and included discussion of how to facilitate inquiry activities. For instructors that had worked with WAISSYA in previous years, going through the inquiry activities served as a refresher of what the students would be going through. For those new to the team, going through the exercise as students served as an invaluable insight into what was planned for the students and allowed for an exchange of knowledge on how best to facilitate the activities.
WAISSYA is also passionate about spreading the love of astronomy in local elementary and high schools around the host city. Outreach involves basic lectures on astronomy topics, demonstrations, games and experience with an amateur telescope.
Teacher Training workshop
Students work in groups of two to design modules that could be used to teach another audience (e.g., local high school or astronomy club) about a concept they had learned at the school. All groups presented their modules by creating posters that were displayed around the classroom. Once they had presented on their own poster, students walked around and commented on their peers’ posters by asking questions and giving feedback.
In 2017, we initiated building a mentorship program. The mentorship program connects astronomers and engineers from different countries to African students interested in furthering a career in astronomy and to provide guidance to students, in terms of knowledge, skills, networks and job/study applications. This was well received by the students. More than 30 students indicated interest.
We propose to have a few people (WAISSYA instructors and beyond) with different backgrounds to develop the program. Ideally, the team consists of: 1) People from different continents (including Africa) 2) People with some understanding of the challenges in pursuing astronomy as a career 3) International Astronomy Union-Office for Astronomy Development representatives
Promoting gender equity in Science
The Women and Men in Science Lunch and Discussion was a joint effort by the whole WAISSYA team. We recognized that a sense of being outnumbered in STEM fields is a common experience for many women scientists throughout the world, and probably even more so for those in West Africa. To help our female students feel that they weren’t alone in their pursuit of a career in science, a lunch was scheduled for only the women students and instructors to attend.