July 18, 2002, Episode Eleven:   

Howl at the Culture:  The Social Context of Science Education

A wonderful resource for education and fun in the greater Victoria area is the Centre of the Universe, located at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.  Home of the Plaskett Telescope since 1918, the observatory sits on a mountain north of Victoria.  We headed up the mountain to learn more about the joys of science education and howling at the moon.  A transcript describing our visit is below.

For a long time in western civilization, science has been regarded as something above Postcolonial scholars, feminists, and people from a variety of non-European ethnicities have begun to question science as a cultural product.  Sandra Harding's Is Science Multicultural?: Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies offers a comprehensive understanding of how science can be seen as socially and culturally situated. We briefly discuss the need for questioning the cultural basis of science in science education and how balancing the universality claims of science with the cultural aspects of teaching and doing science needs to be addressed if science is to remain relevant to a multicultural world.


Don Enright, Program Coordinator, 

Centre of the Universe, Saanich, British Columbia 

Scientific education may seem out of the purview of Sociological study. After all, isn't sociology about human studies and isn't astronomy and physics about the so-called hard sciences? The questioning of western values and male-dominated systems by different ethnic groups, post-colonial scholars and feminists has led to a questioning how science is honoured and taught in our society. Thus, scientific education has become more sensitive to these criticisms and has made attempts to appeal a wider audience, especially among children. While scholars debate the best ways to present science to children of colour and girls, many scientific research centres, parks and museums have begun to emphasize fun activities that can entertain all ages while opening up the world of scientific discovery.

A wonderful example of science being presented in more exciting ways can be found just up the road from Victoria, in Saanich at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory where research is conducted at the Plaskett Telescope and fun is had at the Centre of the Universe. The Centre provides the usual observatory attractions such as stargazing, exhibits about the sun, moon, earth, planets, stars, galaxies and the universe, and presentations designed to teach constellations and fun astronomical facts. However, the activities at the Centre go beyond the exhibits and presentations and include games and singing, including, earlier this summer, a musical about the history of Canadian astronomy.

Don Enright, program coordinator for the Centre of the Universe, seems, on the surface, an unlikely candidate for teaching science. He is a composer, song-writer and performer and his training is in music education, not science. But on any given summer weekend, you can find Don entertaining and educating children of all ages about astronomy, the planets, and most especially the moon. He took time from his busy schedule last Sunday evening to talk with us about science education and how a singer/song writer ended up howling at the moon.


Howl at the Moon

Intro to Howl at the Moon:

Among the programs that are offered on Saturday and Sunday nights throughout the summer is Don's "Howl at the Moon" presentation. He encourages the audience to participate through pretending to be professors spouting out various theories on the origins of the moon, providing a 3-D view of the moon surface, complete with those funny glasses, and showing pictures of the phases of the moon, sometimes getting the audience to shine lights on each other in an effort to see how the moon reflects sunlight. He varies the program depending upon how many people are in attendance on a given night, but each session ends with Don's own composition, "Howl at the Moon," complete with karaoke style lyric sheets flashing on the PowerPoint screen. Come on, now, sing along at the chorus…

[play song, recorded live, July 14, at the Centre of the Universe]

Postscript to Howl at the Moon:

Throughout the summer months and on into October, the Centre of the Universe will be offering programs to the public. Saturdays you can come to the regular star parties. Sundays are special Stargazer programs. If you want to howl at the moon with Don, you might want to make it a point to head up to the observatory this coming Sunday evening, July 21st, because the whole evening will be devoted to the Moon. Other Stargazer Sunday topics yet to come this summer are: · Salute to the Solar System! · Catch a Falling Star! · Black Hole Blackout! · The Search for E.T · Big Bang Bash

You'll get a chance to see the big Plaskett telescope, which has been on the hill in Saanich since 1918. On clear evenings, members of the Royal Astronomical Society bring their telescopes out and give you a chance to see the stars up close and personal.

For more information about the Dominion Astronomical Observatory, the Plaskett Telescope, and the Centre of the Universe, you can call them at 250-363-8262 or visit their website at www.hia.nrc.ca/cu/

For more information about the Royal Astronomical Society, you can call them at 416-924-7973, e-mail them at members@rasc.ca or visit their website at www.rasc.ca

Our thanks to Don Enright and the wonderful people at the Centre of the Universe for showing us a good time.

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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