Observing the created heavens with our Filipino friends is being done from the US through a combination of astro-video tools and streaming video from www.nightskiesnetwork.ca. It is a story worth telling because our friends are only equipped with small f/5 refractor kits that we sent a few years ago. Part of our ministry to the founding school for the Institute of Foundational Learning involved setting up training with this equipment so the staff and teachers could teach other teachers in other schools, teach students at their own school, and introduce their community (about an hour and a half SE of Manila) to the heavens. While I am not sure of this, I believe it is perhaps one of the only high-school-level schools in Asia with this capability.
We developed a course that is used to train our Filipino friends with the astronomy kits, and they use it to train others. Astronomical Observing from a Biblical View, which is downloadable for free from the www.cwm4him.org site under DOWNLOADABLE COURSES, is part of each of the 10 kits. After they had gained a couple years experience, we sent them a classic C8 telescope and taught them to use this as well. While it is a nice instrument, the little refractors get the most use and are easiest to employ. In addition to training, we conduct many outreach sessions with the public and school classes during our visits. One of our public observing periods from Feb 2016 is shown in the picture. Our latest trip early this year involved about 4 of these sessions, not including several sessions for staff and teachers that were getting refresher training.
Since we only visit about once a year and sometimes less, we wanted them to be able to join us observing to enhance their skills and give them exposure to instruments and sky objects they would normally not see. Since we use astro-video tools, it became a logical step to join the membership of Night Skies Network a few years ago. Then our Filipino friends could sometimes (not all the time) get a good enough internet connection to watch our observing and participate in our online instruction. We flip back and forth from the object to our observing sheets using the NSN streamed video so they can see the object, study it with us, but also watch us develop our observing sheet as a model. We incorporate the same skills and procedures that we had taught them in person, so the instruction period follows the training they have already received.
There are some limitations on their end because their internet connection is not very good. They usually can see the video but the audio tends to drop out, so our broadcast includes typing in the steps using the screen chat box on NSN while we are conduct the lesson. We hope that one day their internet connection will improve, because it will help them quite a bit to hear us as we describe the steps to record the object as an observing sketch. In the meantime, lessons keep us very busy since we we observe, develop an observing sheet, talk through the lesson, and type in the chat box at the same time.
The scanned observing sheet of the Needle Galaxy is an example from the last session on April 3. I announce the session on Facebook, where over half of my “FB friends” are the very Filipinos that we visit. Since our night observing is their day time, staff members can (if they are available) sign up as guests on the NSN site and find our broadcast. Coordination is rather difficult, but when things work well it gives them opportunity to watch and participate. We never really know how many watch. It might be the principle or a teacher brushing up, or it might be a teacher with a class while the laptop screen is projected. The April 3rd session lasted about two hours but it had its share of technical issues, which sometimes happens. Many guests visited who had seen our FB announcement.
I always end the broadcast with an audio and a type-written (in the chat box) message, “It’s a good evening to give thanks.” Indeed, it was a good night to give thanks on April 3, 2016. Even with the technical difficulties, it is a privilege to observe the created heavens from our backyard when we can extend that opportunity to others. Memories of our friends are fresh since we only returned from visiting them about a month ago.
There are not many NSN users that sketch, but as I repeat on nearly every broadcast, we teach the skill because it causes a person to go back to the object many times. The process of self-discovery that takes place as an observing sheet is developed is quite amazing. People find they see much more and appreciate what they are seeing when they go through the process of a disciplined observing. A participant does not have to have any artistic or astronomy experience to develop the observing skills that we teach.
While not all our watchers subscribe to the fact that God made the heavens, some do, and others may think about it. In any case, all our welcome to join the sessions. The director of the Philippine school wants the Biblical context that we provide, which we are happy to do.
Every 1-2 hour NSN session takes us 4-5 hours in Virginia, but the effort is worth it. And, if our friends could see any of the several thousand Filipinos that have looked through optics since we first gave them the equipment and training, you would understand why we make the extra effort to provide these sessions. The observing sheet below shows our observing sheet that we developed during the April 3 broadcast.