Observing is fundamental to most learning processes. This ministry teaches observing skills for the heavens but the same skills are applicable to earth (or terrestrial) observing. Our audience is primarily teachers, leaders, and parents. Some of our projects are in developing areas, where science equipment is not obtainable, textbooks are not readily available to students, and learning seems primarily constrained to students memorizing answers. Observing skills typically suffer where there is poverty.
However, the modern world has a new problem with the barrage of instant media that also adversely affects the development of observing disciplines. In contrast, the Bible presumes avid observation of the universe around us, since those observations yield the most important question: how can this world and universe be? When observing skills are lacking and the Biblical view of the universe is not presented, the student is hampered in the pursuit of an answer or is only presented with the standard evolutionary view: it all happened by itself. Observing from a Biblical view will not make a person a Christian, but it will give him an introduction to two of God’s calling cards — the heavens and the earth — along with scriptures that speak of His wondrous works in both.
Our first session is on the heavens. The scriptures in Psalm 19 are emphatic about the heavens declaring God’s glory but the reality of the scriptures is not fully appreciated until the person knows how to observe. Observing the heavens was taught hundreds of years ago to rich young students (typically boys) but it has long since been lost as an educational goal. During this presentation we will talk about observing from a Biblical view, how Christian teachers or leaders or parents can make a difference as they teach children to observe, and then introduce some basic skills. We will address the heavens in particular for night skies, day skies, and atmospheric phenomena. CHRISTWORKS has a downloadable course on the subject that we will discuss. The presentation will end with some examples and helpful resources.
The function of observing is fundamental to learning but also a point of delight. We love to see what is around us. Our senses were designed to appreciate what God has made. Those same senses, observing without a God-centered approach, are easily corrupted. The enemy of our souls has no interest in our making careful observation of God’s creation around us. Yet, observing is central to learning. Most professions and skills require disciplined observing for successful work. However, all observing is heavily affected by the context of our observation and our world view.
Our travels have shown us some disturbing trends and situations. Education in many regions is being reduced to answering questions from textbooks with little practical exercise and observation. This “dumbing down” of education is most noticeable where poverty or conflict are widespread. Children are affected the most, because they are at the age where learning and discovery should be taking place. We have seen these gaps develop over time so the new generations entering work forces are unable to observe in a practical way. It is interesting because the Bible teaches observation is a core function for learning about God and many portions of text presume detailed observation. As Christians we see the need for the marriage of a Biblical context to teaching observing skills in order to fill in the gaps that are developing in regions around the world.
Our definition of observing is the disciplined act of seeing, recording, and interpreting a subject. In contrast, casual seeing is not observing, because it does not have the goal of seriously remembering or interpreting a subject. When you think about, the discipline part is essential. Who wants a doctor casually registering symptoms of a serious disease in a patient? Would you hire a contractor to do something in your home who does not pay avid attention to what you want, which you share with him with words and pictures? Disciplined observing is an underlying assumption in most professional skills yet it is not developed, per se, as a discipline in itself. Most education processes assume good observing but do not necessarily teach it.
And what school subjects are not positively affected by students who avidly observe in a disciplined manner? Consider this question: what brings a subject alive for a student? Whether the sciences or softer subjects are involved, the student’s excitement about learning is made alive when his head and hands are both involved in observing — not just a textbook but real things that are linked to real life. That is why science teachers consider observing exercises, experiments and working examples are essential to learning. That is why the student is so strongly affected by imagery or pictures or real involvement in a piece of history, literature, or a poem.
In a teacher student relationship, which can exist in many places outside a school classroom, there are three keys for the student to learn observing skills from a Biblical view. The first is the worldview of the teacher. The second is the Christian faith of the teacher. The last is knowing how to observe, which is the “nuts and bolts” of making the observation process a discipline. Here are a quick couple stories show this.
I was in the Ugandan countryside in the late afternoon during a downpour from a thunderstorm. The wind was howling and the rain was in torrents. I commented to the pastor who was with me that the evening rise of the full moon was very likely to be beautiful. He looked at the rain and then at me while saying, “how can this be?”. I explained the nature and life of a thunderstorm, its apparent direction of movement, how it would change in the next 2 hours. I also explained the motion of the moon and where we would see it rise. Sure enough, two hours later I took him around the side of the house and we enjoyed the full moon rise among the breaking clouds. It was all because I have learned to observe what God has made–associating some book learning with a lot of real observing.
The second story was in Haiti. Men had hung around after a presentation on the heavens. None of them had work and they were bored. They also had no skills to observe, other than a brief introduction in the presentation that I had given. I gave each one two pencils and a piece of paper if they were willing to draw something. They were. I pointed to a beautiful tree near the horizon that was near the same point where we had seen another full moon rise the night before. I asked, “do you remember the moon and what it looked like? Do you see that beautiful tree? Draw them both — the tree as you see it and the moon as you remember it rising from the same location last night.” 20 minutes later I had 10 proud men showing me what they remembered with simplistic drawings, but it was their first time going through the process of observing. Then we talked about the moon that God had placed in the heavens as the lesser light. Their drawings were poor, but they had never been trained to observe. In their boredom and poverty, they had not considered that they could still enjoy God’s creation and observe it in a disciplined way. No one had ever shown them what to do. They were in their 20s.
The first key for observing is the worldview that is assumed. A Biblical view is our deliberate context but it is not by any means the most prevalent. The worldview that dominates the classrooms and textbooks of the world is an evolutionary world view, which, in a nutshell, explains that the universe all came about by itself. In colloquial terms, it is the atoms to the universe to the goo to you. The effects of world view are profound and far-reaching. The effects are not good. In contrast, the passion for our own observing is obvious from this observing sheet–we believe God created the heavens as He describes in Genesis, and this makes creation a delight and challenge to discover. On one particular evening at our observing site in Virginia I observed two galaxies and had the opportunity to sketch them both. The scripture from Jeremiah seemed most appropriate, so I found a way to mount it in the midst of the sketch. It was a wonderful evening to give thanks to the One who had created it all.
You might ask about the strength of the Biblical view of the heavens. Scriptures on the heavens can be found in over 20 of the 66 books. They are all encompassing as verses state the origins or beginnings of the heavens, their purpose, their general motion, and their Authorship as well as sustainment. They are used in the context of history (as in Genesis), in praise (as in many Psalms), or in relationship to Jesus Christ (like the first verses in Hebrews). In short, God made the heavens (in part) to be discovered and observed because they point to him. The Bible references, which we provide as an addendum in the course we offer, are critically mixed in a variety of contexts so separating them as untrue would essentially demand dismissing the Bible all together.
In a very real sense God is aggressive with his display of the heavens. The statement from Isaiah expresses that sentiment, and it is not the only scripture that makes the same declaration. The array of scriptures are clear and emphatic. The language is deliberate and direct. Psalm 19 verses 1 to 4 echoes this sentiment as the verses explain that the language of the heavens is cross cultural and cross historical. In short, it is challenging, because if God did not make the heavens, how can this be? God questions Job directly in the book of Job, which is a recognized historical book but also has literary beauty and quality. As Job 38:31 states: can you bind the chains or move the Pleiades around the heavens where it is supposed to be? It is not an accident that God would use a most beautiful open cluster that can be seen by most of the world’s population with the naked eye to make the rhetorical question have impact. The answer is obvious: we are unable to comprehend the power of God that is able to place sky objects or to give us the rotation rate on a privileged planet so we can observe the celestial sphere and objects as notable as the Pleiades.
So does this cause a collision with science. Yes and no. The answer is “yes” if science is presumes a non-biblical self-generating universe. The tenants for this evolutionary position are listed on the left, but you must realize that this type of hyper-extrapolation is not in the realm of science, it is in the realm of history. No one was present to observe and experiment and measure at that time. It is the realm of history. In the realm of history, the biblical view is the foundation assumption for the believing scientist or engineer or any other person: that God created all things, and the created universe was meant to be discovered, measured and studied. The believing scientist or student, as a result, can become passionate to discover the created universe because it points to God. Some of its characteristics also point to its broken state due to sin. Stars are inherently unstable. Comets are short-lived and dying. We see evidence, even among the beauty of the heavens, of problems.
For the teacher, there is a fight that is happening. It is better to be aware of it than ignore it. There is increasing denial that God has anything to do with the universe, even in the face of increasing evidence of unique characteristics of planets and other objects. We usually give this presentation to Christians, but many have not studied the scriptures for themselves so they are unfamiliar with origins from a Biblical point of view. You need to examine them if you have not so that you understand the strength of the biblical foundation and the ramifications of an evolutionary self-generating universe that is taught in most classrooms. The good news is that observational or operational science is strengthened with the biblical framework — not weakened. God wants us to discover, as said before. And we want to teach disciplined observing so the process of discovery is exciting for the observer. The Biblical worldview does make a difference.
When the teacher or leader or parent is resolved about the Biblical worldview, his excitement to discover the heavens is affected. The verse from 1 Corinthians expresses the multi-level glory in sky objects in a simple way. It is not hard for a teacher to convey the same sense as he teaches a student to observe the beauty of stars that have different magnitude, position, and color. As you understand and discover the complexity of the heavens, you automatically communicate that understanding to a student. Those words affect children. They remember them. Once day when they are faced with that internal decision about whether to believe in Jesus Christ, it might be your words they remember as you pointed to the created heavens, that, in turn, point to Him.
In this day and age, when the biblical world view of the heavens is disdained in most circles, the unbelieving teacher or parent or leader need not say anything for the student to assume the evolutionary world view. Likewise, if a believing teacher remains silent, the same result occurs. But what if the believing teacher deliberately associates the Biblical worldview with observing, is excited about students discovering the created universe, and is not fearful of the challenge to discover all he can? If he willingly speaks of God’s part in the universe, he will provide impetus for the student to seriously consider the Author of the universe for himself. The student will remember your position, because you were willing to say God’s signature is in his created heavens.
Do you remember our definition of observing at the beginning of the presentation? It is the third key for disciplined observing from a Biblical view. We teach observing as the process of seeing, recording, and interpreting what is seen and recorded. The recording is a simple sketch on an observing sheet. The record becomes proof of learning and a basis for measuring student progress in the discipline of observing. The observing sheet includes a scripture and a comment – even if the student is not a Christian. Being a Christian is a matter of faith and decision. The student may not be there yet. But he can appreciate the worldview, cite a scripture, and stand back long enough to comment on what has been observed.
So we teach the development of an observing sheet. Here is an example that uses the same small simple refractors that we have taken to Uganda and the Philippines. I observed the Swan Nebula for about 20 minutes. To make a sketch and record the star field requires repetitive observation as the sheet is developed. It only takes some simple disciplines coupled to the repeated looks at the object for the sketch to be completed. The other information, which is important for a student, identifies the conditions, the time, the equipment, a scripture, and a comment. This is disciplined observing, which is in stark contrast to a casually looking at an object. When a student does this, the objective and the observing period are rarely forgotten.
Once the basic disciplines of observing are learned, the choices of targets are manifold. A couple of cautions: it is a learned disciplined but it is not meant to be art or fantasy or fiction. There is a place for these, but the function of accurately observing what is seen is truly a disciplined record of what is seen. So the teacher or parent is always pursuing an excellence to record what is accurate and true, so that the complexity and beauty of God’s creation begins to register with the observer. In the process, what is produced, after some practice, can be beautiful. Consider the scene on the right. It is a painting of a picture but adjusted by memory because the photograph was not exposed enough when I took it. The full moon was punching through layers of stratus, and the light was causing the foreground trees to be a silhouette. It may look complicated, but anyone can begin to learn to observe, produce a basic sketch, and develop the discipline so the results are amazing. A teacher or parent will be hard pressed to teach this if they cannot do it themselves, but we have taught this to 5 year olds to grandfathers and grandmothers. It can be done. It is the choice of targets that get complicated because you can choose the moon in its phases, prominent planets in the solar system, or deep sky objects with a simple binocular or a small telescope to help.
Day or night skies can be used. We think of the heavens at night, so a simple instrument can enable us to see and sketch clusters of different types, a few galaxies, nebula, several planets, the moon, and comets. Even the eyes alone enable quite a bit to be seen if one knows what to look for and when. Day skies still offer the moon or dominant planets at sunrise or set. Remote or vicarious observing is also possible, which we will discuss further. Remember, the heavens were created to be seen. One of the points of God calling his creation work “good” at the end of each day was to suggest it is worthy of investigation and observation. The stars and other heavenly bodies, were created and called “good” on the 4th day of creation.
When a student becomes accustomed to observing, a lesson or story often emerges from the context of the observation period. Here are two examples. The left hand observing sheet was developed during the dawn after tornadoes ripped through Alabama–killing more than 150 people. It was a poignant morning that was peaceful and quiet but less than 100 miles away small towns had been destroyed. I captured the dawn light on the clouds that were still breaking up and then captured the crescent moon with a binocular. The observing sketch was coupled to a story that was posted on our ministry site. The picture on the right recalls the change in the moon between two points of my wife’s chemotherapy treatment of a serious cancer. I kept thinking of the scripture about perseverance as we worked through the treatments. I won’t forget the observations. In other words, observations can cover subjects that are often difficult or teach hard lessons or show uncomfortable truths.
In addition to night sky objects, the effects of our protective and sometimes turbulent atmosphere can be captured in observing sheets. The sketch on the left captured the moon just before a thunderstorm. The right scene captured a halo around the moon as a front was approaching from the southwest. The scenes are typical but rarely noticed, unless you have trained a student or son or daughter to observe. God presumed Job made excellent and detailed observations as He questioned Job about the clouds and other weather phenomena. Why shouldn’t we presume the same position — expecting our children to learn to observe the creation around them and to consider them in light of God’s statements? Some astronomers are disappointed in cloudy conditions, but I have often found them beautiful. They frequently affirm the scriptures that talk about aspects of the water cycle, which is a miracle in itself.
As a result of the learning gaps we observed in our travels, we developed AOBV to teach observing the heavens from a Biblical view. It is especially for teachers or leaders or parents, but it can easily be adapted for a variety of situations. Like many courses, it is divided into lessons with practical exercises. By registering for the course at the www.christworksministries site (the green folder on the home page gets you to the first description) you can download the course for your organization or school. It is free. The copyright, as we explain, is to maintain its non-commercial use and protect its integrity. There is some minimum equipment needed for the course. In needy places where we have established a relationship, we provide some of the equipment and training as the Lord provides the resources to do it. For homeschooling parents or small schools or ministries, the equipment can be purchased from a variety of companies at relatively low cost.
Unlike many courses, this one is practical as well as spiritual. The Biblical basis is throughout the lessons. We teach enough astronomy to make sense of the sky. The remainder of the course is practical: teaching observing skills and equipment skills. In the end, we teach disciplined observing. When we provide the training, we have an exam with both a questions/answers with the student and an observing period using the equipment skills that he has developed.
For overseas ministries and schools, we recommend the establishment of kits that have the constituent parts that are listed. We have contacts for retailers to get the equipment. It is not very expensive and can be used for years. Telescopes and binoculars are the single most expensive parts of the kits, but they can last decades if treated correctly. The teaching aids can be constructed. The DVD and reference books are obtainable at reasonable prices. The only thing on the list not currently available are video portions of the course, which are not yet available.
We recommend that the kits be overseen and used by people who have received the training?either by sessions we have done for them or by independent study. If independent study is chosen, some interaction with us is beneficial as we can answer questions, provide some guidance, and check some observing sheets as the teacher or student learns to do them.
We do not recommend kits like be given to someone without training because they may not treat equipment carefully. For developing areas where the equipment is sent, the issue of control and integrity is helped when the organization has trained its people. This also helps maintain the course’s integrity?especially the biblical context and overview. Any ministry that invests in the kit will want this kind of administration to ensure its long term use–remembering that you are teaching observing the heavens from a Biblical view and establishing disciplines in children that can last a life time.
Institute for Foundational Learning in the Philippines, for instance, has established 10 kits that can be rotated among many schools, but the local caretaker of the kit must have received the AOBV training and periodically observe. Their program, after a year of operation, is showing success. For a small ministry, one kit can go a long way to teach many students for a long period of time.
It is possible for a ministry or school to review and study the AOBV training from the CHRISTWORKS MINISTRY site. As long as the exercises are done, we are confident that an organization can self-train. We can be contacted for a list of materials and retailers from which equipment can be maintained. In countries were astronomy equipment is not hard to obtain, this method works. In countries where equipment is not easily obtainable and most people have never looked through optics, it is hard to self train. For this reason, we offer training. As of late 2011, we only have the written course available, but eventually will have video for critical classes that will make remote training more feasible. Some practical observing sheet skills we teach using remote or vicarious observing, which we will discuss later.
We have people frequently tell us that they cannot draw, therefore, this training would not be possible. We can tell you that this perception is not accurate. With very little skill development, the smallest child to the oldest senior can be taught the basic skills necessary to begin disciplined observing. Here are two examples from the Philippines. Neither student had any previous drawing skills, experience with optics, or knew how to observe the heavens. The observing sheets by each student were done near the end of the course. Already, they were recording good detail, knew the basic parts of an observing sheet, and had begun finding things in the sky. Several classes have shown the same results — people can learn to record what they see.
Last, but not least, the course is fun. We have observed several types of groups. Students typically start slow, because it is new terminology and material for which they have very little background knowledge. However, excitement builds quickly as students assemble their first scope and mount. By the middle of the course they are naturally competitive with their work?wanting to do the best and enjoying the process. By the exam period, they can handle the equipment, cite significant scripture references about the heavens, find things in the sky, and make observing sheets?all with smiles and laughter in between the intense observing times when they are seeing something in the skies.
There are couple critical things to remember for this kind of hands-on course that couples spiritual things with equipment and observing disciplines. First, it takes time. About 24 hours of training gets the course completed, which does not include at least 2 observing periods under the stars. Once the disciplines are learned, the second critical factor is to keep observing. Observing once per month is more than sufficient to maintain currency of knowledge and to slowly expand knowledge of the heavens. For our training, attendance of all classes is required, which includes at least two full observing periods under the stars. We do not grant certification without 100% attendance.
Of course, we are glad to conduct demonstrations and outreach with people. There is no requirement for attendance at such events but the teacher or pastor must complete the training to run one of these events effectively.
The outreach potential of the gospel message coupled with observing the heavens is incredible. From the hills of Haiti to the little villages in Western Uganda to locations in the Philippines, the results have been the same. If you do a demonstration of the heavens, you will draw children and adults quickly. For the AOBV graduate, you can easily share about God’s created heavens, speak about the love of God, explain the good news of Jesus Christ, and expose them to some beautiful things in the heavens. The topics and the viewing of the sky go together, which is precisely the point of Romans 1:20 or Psalm 19:1-4 or a host of other scriptures.
For groups with outreach to unreached areas, it is possible to take a small refractor kit, a couple binoculars, a star map, a small star atlas, and a Bible in a small backpack. You will never lack for people who are curious about the heavens and your relating what they see with what God has done.
Here are some links that are helpful. Our site is strictly non-commercial and any downloadable material is free. We maintain it to serve others and be an encouragement. Please use it. In addition to the AOBV course, there is an inspiration page with stories of the heavens and parables of the earth that link what we see with things that are encouraging from the Bible or testimony.
We highly recommend the creation.com site. In our opinion, it is the most accessible and least commercial of the creation-oriented biblically-oriented sites on the web. Their search window is excellent. They have many free materials that are accessible. We support the ministry ourselves because they meet our personal criteria for effectiveness, a timely message, and educational helps.
Helps & Interaction with CWM
While our ministry is small, we want to assist AOBV users as much as we can. One reason we encourage registration for the course is to identify the users if they have questions. We address registrant questions before others. If you send us a question, be sure to use the same email that you used in registering. In many cases, questions can be answered with the contents of our recommended kit, which includes the curriculum, the DVDs, and books. If not, then please send us your question.
For IFL schools in the Philippines, address questions to the Astronomy Department Staff at Cabuyao, Laguna first before contacting us.
If there are equipment questions, ask them via email also. Identify yourself as a conference or training attendee or register your school or organization with AOBV so we know who you are.
New technology via the world wide web and specialized astro-video cameras now permits people to vicariously observe with us. Remote observing works very well for someone wanting to learn how to develop observing sheets as represented in AOBV instruction. If you are interested, send us an email but also register as a member of nightskiesnetwork.com. Site registration and use is free. As long as your laptop or computer is able to watch YouTube or other online video, then you will be able to watch broadcasting of Night Skies Network.
We will be setting times for people around the world to observe with us. The advantage to our friends in the opposite hemisphere is that our night time in the US is day time and class time on the opposite side of the world. So class room students can watch and study a sky object during the day while we are observing at night. There is no cost for this capability and the founder of Night Skies Network is only too happy to have us conduct observing classes of objects for students around the world.
This is what happens during a session with NSN: We set up our equipment in Virginia but substitute an astro video camera in place of an eye piece on a telescope. The composite video of our scene from the telescope is relayed to Night Skies Network, who broadcasts the signal via the WEB.A user can sign in to NSN and find our broadcast name, which is “rolandskyone”.
If we are broadcasting successfully, the name will appear bright red. When you click on our broadcast name, 3 screens come up on your computer. One is a chat box, where you can hear us but also type questions and interact with us. A second is a listing of those who are watching. A third is the view through our telescope. The screens can be moved around and the scene from the telescope can be enlarged.
The sessions last from one to 2 hours. We have done this successfully several times. Occasionally there is an equipment failure, but that can be expected in the electronic world. So far the results have been excellent, and it is a wonderful way to observe through equipment that developing regions might not be able to get. A medium grade WEB connection is all that is required. If you can watch basic video on the computer, then you can see NSN broadcasts.As the session progresses, you get views of the object we are studying but also views of the observing sheet that we are developing. You are able to text questions to us in the chat box but also listen to our instructions and you develop your observing sheet and you watch us develop ours. If you have a projector, you can project the computer screen image for a class to see.
If you are interested in this and observing with us, please send us an email titled, “Remote Observing Request”, and we will send you an email the next time we expect to do this.
At this point in the presentations we do in person, we conduct a demonstration. Here are couple of pictures to show you what happens. The picture on the left is Linda preparing the contents of a kit for the Institute for Foundational learning. If gives you some idea of the contents of the teaching aids and references that we included. The right picture is a typical outdoor class but also a demonstration. This one was in the Philippines.
We regularly conduct demonstrations for groups in Virginia but we also have a mobile astronomy capability, so doing this anywhere in the states or Canada is possible. We try to combine trips to keep expenses down. Training is handled via a separate request. Of course, we will eventually have video of the course we send overseas.
Do not lose sight of the objective, which is to learn to observe God’s created heavens from a Biblical view and in a disciplined manner. Our ministry aim to take this to those who are the neediest or will benefit the most.
If we conduct the training we give out certificates for successful completion. An example certificate is shown on the upper right that is used in the Philippines. The teacher or leader that completes all requirements receives the certificate, which entitles an IFL school to request a kit be used at their location for a month. If they submit a plan for use, the kit can be picked up and used free of charge. The method works well and is likely to be the model for many other ministries that want to teach disciplined observing of the heavens from a Biblical view. Remember: God is the author of those heavens, and is delighted to have us explore them. After all, they have his signature upon them. He wants us to observe his handiwork. It points to Him.
If there are any questions, please contact us. Send us an email if you wish to participate in training or remote observing.