Outreach from Wisconsin to Tanzania

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Tanzanian girl uses a Galileoscope as part of the Telescopes to Tanzania program, which will soon enter its third year of helping teach scientific and technical skills in the country. // all photos by Chuck Ruehle
There must be something about the fall weather that inspires astronomical outreach. Not only is it time again for Astronomy’s 2012 Out-of-this-world Award to begin accepting applications, but I’ve also just heard about another program that will soon start up again: the Telescopes to Tanzania project. The founders and managers are Chuck and Susan Ruehle, two amateur astronomers who conduct education programs in southeastern Wisconsin. I’ll let Chuck, also a Galileo Teacher Training Program Ambassador and a NASA Galileo Educator Fellow, elaborate on the efforts of this fantastic project:

Recently, more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms) of astronomy materials traveled from a garage in Racine, Wisconsin, to a mountain in east Africa. In all, some 12 telescopes, numerous mounts, eyepieces, and other teaching tools are part of the Telescopes to Tanzania (TTT) program, now in its third year and a project of Astronomers Without Borders. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, and a lack of basic educational resources like textbooks and lab equipment limits the teaching capacity there. In many schools, astronomy classes have no telescopes, chemistry teachers no labs, and geography rooms no maps.

Like programs dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields) here in the United States, TTT aims to build instructor and student capacity in many of these disciplines. The focus on telescopes and astronomy provides an exciting hands-on way to study the universe, one that instills the academic skills students need to become future teachers, scientists, and leaders.

The Telescopes to Tanzania program brought solar observing to Mulala Elementary and will transport almost $5,000 of equipment to schools this fall.
Last year, I traveled alone for a month, sharing my love of the skies with five secondary and two elementary schools in remote mountain villages. This year, TTT efforts include working with 80 secondary and elementary teachers at the Mwangaza Partnership for Education Center in Arusha, Tanzania, for two weeks. Ultimately, 500 pounds (225kg) of resources, valued at almost $5,000, will go to teachers from more than 25 schools.

This November, my wife, Sue, and I will be part of a four-person team of amateur astronomers who will work in English and Swahili to provide instruction on a variety of topics. Joining us will be Susan Murabana with the African Astronomical Society and Africa Hands-on Universe, and Mponda Malozo, a national coordinator for Universe Awareness programs in Tanzania. We’ll teach:

  • Astronomy planetarium software (Cellestia and Stellarium)
  • Astronomy image manipulation and data analysis software
  • Telescope setup and operation
  • Geography (latitude, longitude, and its impact on viewing)
  • Observing the night sky (constellations, sky maps and wheels, Moon phases, tides, and eclipses)
  • Observing the Sun (solar dynamics, sunspots, solar filters, safety-first practices)
  • Optics and light (focal length, lenses, visible light spectrum, prisms, and spectra scopes)
  • The electromagnetic spectrum (sharing examples of radio, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray radiation)
  • The solar system (distance, size, orbits, and composition of the planets)
  • Dark-sky activities (light pollution and the Worldwide Star Count)

Chuck and Sue Ruehle will travel to the east African country in November, where they’ll teach a variety of astronomical topics and practice observing objects such as “Birika,” the Swahili word for the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius.
Following our workshops, Sue and I will stay an additional two weeks to visit some of the schools and villages where the workshop participants work and live. Traveling most of the time by Land Rover, we’ll often live off the grid at elevations between 4,500 feet (1,400 meters) and 8,000 feet (2,400m) on Mount Meru.

TTT also receives support from the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development, Canadian Telescopes, Celestron, Yerkes Observatory, Racine Rotary and Optimist clubs, the Astronomical League, various local astronomy societies, religious groups, and countless individuals. To learn more about the program or make a contribution to support the work, visit our website at www.AstronomersWithoutBorders.org/projects/telescopes-to-tanzania.html.

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