Upcoming Professional Development

A brief post to let you know about upcoming professional development and conferences;

STAVCon 2013 – Nov 28-29 at La Trobe University, Melbourne with a range of great presenters, including;

  • Rob Hollow from CSIRO will be holding a number of workshops on BFS in the context of Astronomy and using the Zooniverse in the classroom.
  • The Quantum Victoria team will be covering F1 in Schools, 3D Printing and Quantum Forensic Investigation.
  • The FAR Labs project is up and running, see how you can use amazing research equipment remotely. There is also a free 1 day conference at La Trobe University of 27th Nov regarding the FAR Labs.
  • Simon Keily and Trish Christies from Scienceworks explain the Seasons workshop
  • And so many more…

TeachMeet Melbourne – Nov 30 at The Huddle, North Melbourne Football Club. I will be speaking for a short while, but many other inspirational speakers are also on the bill.

VSSEC Teacher Earth Science Education Program – Dec 5 10am-4pm at VSSEC, Strathmore, Melbourne. Workshop on “Our Place in Space”

STAV VCE Physics Conference – Feb 14 at Monash University, Clayton, calling for presenters now. I will update you shortly with presenters to look out for.

NACAA ( National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers)– April 18-21 (Easter Weekend) hosted by the ASV, held at Rydges on Bell in Melbourne. Learn about the amazing things Australian amateur astronomers are doing.

AFGU (Astronomy from the Ground Up) – May 2-4 at Parkes Radio Telescope, Parkes, NSW. 3 day workshop on all things astronomy. See my previous post on how much fun I had!

Phil Hart’s workshops

  • Nov 22nd at Michael’s Camera House in Melbourne. Crash course in Night Sky Photography with an observing session the week after.
  • Feb 28 – Mar 3, long weekend workshop hat Lake Eppalock,  Central Victoria

On Saturday 23 Nov the Melbourne Observatory in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens will be open to the public from 3-8pm.

We also have four! comets in the dawn sky at the moment, with ISON getting close to visible by eye.


Professional Development Part II

On the 22nd June, I went to my first TeachMeet Melbourne. This one was held at Scienceworks and hosted by Simon Keily (@aus_teach). I stumbled across this fantastic program on Twitter, investigated further on the wiki site and signed myself up. Since then I have been involved in some fantastic collaborations and connections. For the full details Roland Gesthuizen (@rgesthuizen) put together this Storify on the afternoon complete with links and photos. But here are my impressions;

A TeachMeet is a PD program for teachers run and hosted by teachers. It originally started in Scotland in 2006 and has now spread worldwide. They are free, everyone can contribute and the number of attendees is steadily growing. The presentations are 2 or 7 minutes long, so it’s like speed PD. As a result you are treated to a dynamic snapshot of things teachers are using in the classroom and potential programs schools can get involved in with further investigation to be done if you are interested. Personally, I was particularly interested in Infographics for displaying student work, examples on visual.ly, the free NASA app, Spacecraft 3D, which allows you to project an image of any NASA spacecraft on your desk with a complete 3D view using Augmented Reality and QR Codes such as this one I made for the TiS website.

TiS Home Page QR

TiS Home Page QR

As this TeachMeet was held at ScienceWorks we were also treated to a viewing of the new show, Ticket to the Universe, in the upgraded Melbourne Planetarium. The new show takes you through the Solar System and into the observed Universe. Spectacular and wonderful to see the new and bright Planetarium up and running.

The next TeachMeet is on the 30th November at The Huddle, North Melbourne Football Club and I highly recommend attending and maybe even share an exciting activity you do in your classroom. I will be there talking about Telescopes in Schools and am looking forward to hearing the response from other teachers. It is a great way to quickly pick up some fantacstic ideas to use in the classroom and connect with enthusiastic educators from all areas of education. If you can’t make it, follow #tmmelb on Twitter.

Professional Development Part I

The next few posts include a review of some Professional Development programs I have been involved in this year and a (not exhaustive) list of PD coming up. If you have any you would like to add, please leave a comment or send me a message through the Contacts page.

The first program I will talk about is the wonderful Astronomy from the Ground Up 3-day workshop run by Rob Hollow of CSIRO at Parkes. It is run in May every year and is just a smorgasbord of great talks, resources and experiences and includes everything you would ever need to teach Astronomy, from hands-on classroom activities to holding observing sessions. You also get a tour of the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Here is a report from last year’s workshop, Rob’s post about the workshop for next year and the application form. Places are limited and fill up fast.

You can read below for my take on the workshop from last year with some great resource links thrown in;

Parkes is a country town in central New South Wales and is reknowned for at least two things. The annual Elvis festival and the Parkes radio telescope. Given that this is an astronomy based website, I will be talking about the latter, but for all those Elvis fans out there, the festival is held in January each year and the entire town is taken over by bling infested, jumpsuit wearing Elvis impersonators and apparently it is a sight to see. We also stayed at the Gracelands Motel, needless to say the town embraces this festival as much as the Elvis’ (Elvisi?) do.

So, why was I in Parkes? I was attending the 3 day Astronomy workshop held by Rob Hollow of CSIRO called Astronomy from the Ground Up which is also a certified Galileo Teacher Training Program. The workshop was held at the Parkes radio telescope facility and was attended by just over 30 astronomy educators and enthusiasts.

I drove up with Dale Barry from Gisborne Secondary College, one of our TiS host schools. We arrived on the Thursday evening, met up with some more enthusiastic Science teachers from Sacred Heart College, Kyneton and settled into the town of Parkes.

The full details of the workshop are on the Universe@CSIRO blog and you can certainly see there was a wide range of activities, speakers and participants. I wont repeat all of that here, but just wanted to tell you about some highlights and my thoughts on the workshop.

Biggest highlight and seed of all jealousy from many astro friends, was the first activity of the workshop. But first a little background…

The Parkes radio telescope is quite famous for many reasons, first radio telescope in Australia, relayed the communication to the USA during the first Moon walk and because of this, featured in a movie, The Dish, produced by the Australian Working Dog Productions company. Of course, the Parkes radio Telescope has been responsible for lots of research over the years, particularly in Pulsars and now students can study these strange stars with the Pusle@Parkes program also run by Rob.

Getting back to the movie, there is a classic Aussie scene where the technicians and scientists are playing cricket on the dish (that would be the telescope). So when I told everyone I was heading to Parkes, the biggest response was, ‘Do you have your bat and ball?’ I didn’t take my bat and ball but I did get to go up on the dish and do the ‘hayride’. This meant the telescope was lowered until the side of the dish was almost on the ground, we hopped on and then the dish rose until it was in its parked position (pointing straight up). Yes it was as cool as it sounds and no, not everyone who goes to Parkes gets to do this!!! We then got a tour through the base of the telescope looking at how it moves and the data processing and recording rooms and computers.

Ready to do the Hayride, credit - John Sarkissian

Ready to do the Hayride, credit – John Sarkissian

Looking at the ground through the Dish - it's a long way down.

Looking at the ground through the Dish – it’s a long way down.

Morning Moon above the Dish.

Morning Moon above the Dish.

A view of the Testbed Facility from under The Dish.

A view of the Testbed Facility from under The Dish.

With a start like that to a workshop, the rest was sure to be a disappointment right? Not at all, we were then treated to three days (including evenings) of interesting talks and activities all on Astronomy and Astrophysics. New programs, research conducted at the telescope, ideas for the classroom, ideas on how to teach and present science to school students.

Some links to some of the great activities follow;

Mars Rover at Powerhouse Museum

SPICE program with UWA including a remote telescope

CSIRO Parkes Visitors center

CSIRO ATNF Visitors Centre


This workshop was a fantastic opportunity to meet like minded educators who share a passion for Astronomy, to learn about the science, to do some science and see what other Astronomy education activities were available. And the food was great too!

Picture the Night Sky

On the weekend I headed up to Mt Buller which is close to the township of Mansfield in Central Victoria. Mt Buller is well known for it’s ski resorts during the winter and mountain biking in the summer. I was hoping to get some dark, clear skies to do some night sky photography. So armed with my camera and new tripod and a carload of warm clothes and food, I headed up to the Victorian Alps with my family to see what we could find.

For those Northern hemisphere readers, Australia is heading towards the summer months, although you wouldn’t have thought so. An unseasonably cold October, meant it actually snowed while we were up there, so the snowball fights were on, but not the best conditions so far for taking pictures of the night sky. The last night, though, was crystal clear and still, while cold (2 deg Celcius and dropping) the conditions were perfect for photography. Given the mountain is generally empty at this time of the year, it wasn’t hard to find a dark spot, a quick walk around the back of the lodge was plenty.

I was using the Canon 700D EOS DSLR camera with a 18-55mm IS STM lens which is just a standard kit lens. I had already manually focussed the camera on Venus at 18mm focal length, set the White Balance to Daylight and the trigger was set to remote. Choosing the largest file size and RAW, we were good to go.

First up the sunset with Venus, Antares just above the tree and Alpha Centauri on the left. This image was taken at 8:40pm looking towards the west. The camera was set to a 1 sec exposure, and an ISO speed of 1600.

Sunset from Mt Buller with Venus top right.

Sunset from Mt Buller with Venus top right.

This one is a longer exposure, and we can now see the stars coming out. At this point we were unable to see most of these stars with the naked eye and it is quite amazing to see these stars appear on the camera screen. I used a 4 sec exposure with ISO speed of 3200. This image was taken just three minutes later, but you can see how much more light comes in with a longer exposure and double the ISO speed.

Longer exposure of sunset.

Longer exposure of sunset.

Almost 10 mins later this one was taken looking to the South. You can see the Southern Cross between the wires of the chairlift. Same settings as the previous image, but 10 minutes more past sunset, the sky is looking much darker and more stars are emerging.

Southern Cross and emerging Milky Way

Southern Cross and emerging Milky Way

Another 15 mins passed and the Milky Way is really starting to emerge behind Venus. Now we are using a 1 min exposure time and 3200 ISO speed. At this point the sky and surroundings are pretty much pitch black, but in the image we are still seeing quite a bit of light from the setting Sun.

Milky Way emerging as the Sun sets.

Milky Way emerging as the Sun sets.

By this point, the Magellanic Clouds were clearly visible to the eye, so we swung around to the South and took this image of the Large Magellanic Cloud. As my husband commented, ‘it looks like you have done a really bad Photoshop job of putting a picture of houses over the sky’. Granted it does look a little odd, but I haven’t processed this image at all yet and the chateaux in the foreground were completely dark. Again the exposure was 1 minute and ISO speed 3200.

Large Magellanic Cloud above Mt Buller Chateaux

Large Magellanic Cloud above Mt Buller Chateaux

So while we were waiting for the camera to record the previous image, my friend who had already spotted a meteor, saw the ISS zooming across the sky and we managed to capture this as it went across the Northern sky from left to right before it entered the Earth’s shadow. Again we used a 1 minute exposure and ISO speed of 3200.

The International Space Station across the sky.

The International Space Station across the sky.

We then headed back to Venus and the Milky Way and took this final shot. Again the same settings, but this one I have altered the brightness and contrast in Digital Photo Professional the standard Canon software. Of all the images posted, this is the only one I have altered. More about that later.

Venus and the Milky Way after Sunset.

Venus and the Milky Way after Sunset.

So time for reflection. I need to work on the composition, how the images are put together with respect to the foreground. I would like to explore the exposure times, perhaps 30 sec and stacking. Unfortunately our fingers were frozen as were our jeans, so until next time I am in the hunt for some touchscreen gloves.

Astrophotography PD

So you saw the winners of our Astrophotography Competition in my last post and the Astrophotography Competition 2013 Gallery and you ask – how did they do that?

That is an excellent question and requires a huge answer that I will do my best to accommodate in bite sized pieces. But this post is dedicated to the Professional Development session we had at the beginning of this term. The session was entirely on Astrophotography and held at the wonderful Quantum Victoria facilities in McLeod. Generally when a Professional Development program is put together only staff (in this case, teachers) are usually invited. TiS is a different school based program though as there is so much collaborative involvement between teachers, students, parents and University academics. So we decided to upturn tradition and invite students and parents along to the PD session as well. The students and parents integrated into this learning space seamlessly and again demonstrated to what extent everyone works together in this program as an equal.

So the agenda for the evening was pretty tight with a few guest speakers to inspire us, three schools sharing a brief report on their school’s program and then three workshops run concurrently in the second half of the evening.

We had a very special guest first up. Phil Hart crammed a life’s worth of amazing astrophotography, night sky photography and time-lapse movies into 20mins. Amongst many ohhhs and ahhhs we were taken on a journey through the night sky; eclipses, travels, auroras, planets and stars just to let us know how far you can go with Astrophotography and why everyone is fascinated by this merge of art and science. Probably the biggest take home message I got from Phil’s talk is that to get good results, you don’t need huge, expensive equipment. Good results are possible to achieve with just a little patience and practice, explore your camera and the night sky, learn the limitations of the equipment and your surroundings and you will be creating amazing images in no time. Inspiring stuff for sure. Thank you Phil for taking time out to talk to us and sharing your story. If you missed out or want to revisit Phil’s images again, check out his website and blog, he also runs workshops so you can learn how to take images like he does. And don’t forget his e-Book which will have you taking amazing images in no time!

Simon Keily from ScienceWorks, had been working with me on organising the competition because of his interest in Astrophotography, so I asked Simon to talk to us about his experiences of taking images of the night sky and we got so much more. While Simon showed us some of the images he had taken while camping with his teenage daughters, he talked about how ‘doing’ science and creating a momento of that science is such a valuable experience in so many ways. Astronomy is a fantastic example as we start to observe and value what is around us, think about everything beyond our world and what that means and then to take images after learning how to use a telescope gives us ownership and and opportunity to say ‘I made that.’ Simon gave us a lot to think about and for me personally, managed to succinctly put in words exactly what the program is hoping to achieve. Thank you Simon for sharing your images and wisdom with us.

The last speaker was me trying to get the message across that often we take an image that most of the time doesn’t look that great, but just a little post image processing can bring out a lot of the detail in your image you hadn’t realised was there. The thing to watch, though, is not to overdo things and the processing will also depend on what you want to highlight. Much of this can be very personal as to how you wish your final image to look and what you wish to portray in your image.

Next teachers from Pascoe Vale Girls College, Gisborne Secondary College and Taylors Lakes Secondary College gave a brief outline of how the program has been running at their school. Each school offered plenty of ideas, cautionary tales and success stories for us to consider. Thanks Louise, Zeita, Dale and Rob for taking time out and taking to us about your experiences.

Zeita Hare (left) and Louise Ankers form Pascoe Vale Girls College.

Zeita Hare (left) and Louise Ankers form Pascoe Vale Girls College.

Dale Barry from Gisborne SC

Dale Barry from Gisborne SC

Rob Davie from Taylors Lakes SC.

Rob Davie from Taylors Lakes SC.

After the more formal part of the evening was over, we split up into three groups. There was a demonstration and Q&A session with Phil about Night Sky photography which as you can imagine, was very well attended.

Phil Hart's captivated audience as he run's through the basics.

Phil Hart’s captivated audience as he run’s through the basics.

Upstairs in the lab was a hands on session looking at processing data with various types of software including Austostitch, Registax and Fits Liberator with David Feillafe from Quantum Victoria and myself.

Autostitch Panorama of Image Processing workshop

Autostitch Panorama of Image Processing workshop

Lastly, a small group of teachers had a discussion with Soula Bennett, director of Quantum Victoria, and Prof Rachel Webster, Head of Astrophysics, about how the program is going in their school.

Discussion group lead by Soula Bennett.

Discussion group lead by Soula Bennett.

Response from the participants has been fantastic, they have all learnt so much and very keen to learn more. Probably the biggest response has been from the parents, though, ‘life changing experience’ and ‘we’ll be back next year’. It just goes to show how much parents enjoy working with their children and how little opportunity they get once they hit the teenage years.

A huge thanks to all the staff at Quantum Victoria for once again supporting the program and hosting our PD session.