Astronomical teaching and learning facility for ACT

A new and unique astronomical teaching and learning facility for year 9-12 students in the ACT is moving closer to completion.

The McNamara-Saunders Astronomical Teaching Telescope (MSATT) will allow high school students to undertake extended student-centred projects in astronomy and astrophysics.  A cooperative project made possible through private donors, the ACT Education Directorate and The Australian National University, the teaching telescope is being built at the Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Work begins at MSATT

Work begins at MSATT

ACT high school science teacher, Geoff McNamara from Melrose High School, has driven the establishment of the facility, doing everything from fundraising to design, to building of the facility and the creation of the educational projects.

Geoff said that the telescope project grew from the activities of the ACE Science Mentors program at Melrose High School, in which students are partnered with experts in different fields of science. Operating for over six years, the students doing the ACE program have covered everything from genetics to rocketry, physics to entomology. “Students undertake six-month projects that are based on data they’ve accumulated through experimentation, and culminates in a formal, refereed report.”

“I was frustrated that such a project was not possible in astronomy other than using second hand data, or at best, data that had been obtained remotely. MSATT will change all of that by allowing students to gather their own astronomical data, analyse it, determine the level of confidence, and draw conclusions.”

The MSATT facility will be available to any ACT public school student in Years 9 to 12. They’ll need to demonstrate that they’re prepared to undertake sufficient observing sessions to gather enough data enabling a thorough investigation.

 The initial funding was from local scientist, Dr Denis Saunders and his wife, Mrs Vee Saunders who contributed $35 000 to establish the facility. Geoff is contributing his own astronomical equipment at around $10 000 value, plus teaching, of course! Geoff said, “Since that initial donation, others have come on board realising that this facility exists for one purpose: teaching. Everything from the data and electrical cabling, the site, new equipment, even the concrete, have all been contributed for free.”

Geoff estimates that the facility’s current value is around $75 000. It should be operational in time for the NYSF 2017 programs.

Geoff McNamara is the 2014 winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Secondary Science Teaching and has also presented to the NYSF’s National Science Teachers Summer School in 2015 and 2016.