On Sunday, November 22nd, the All Girls STEM Society held an Astronomy workshop for girls from grades 6-8. Lindsay, Kaela and Grace led the workshop for more than 30 enthusiastic girls who showed up to learn about planets, stars and galaxies. Before the workshop, girls were split up into teams for a friendly competition to see who could win the most points throughout the workshop from challenges and participating in discussions. The teams were named Shuri, Gamora, Captain Marvel and Black Widow after strong female superheroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The workshop started off with a discussion about gravity. Many of the participants were surprised to learn that gravity doesn’t just exist between the earth and other objects, but there is also a force of gravity between every object. However, through examining the equation that determines the force of gravity, the participants were able to determine why they don’t feel the effects of gravity from things like their computers or pets — the masses are too small. Next, Lindsay introduced the concepts of orbits to the participants by demonstrating an object swinging around a string which explained how satellites cannot be too fast or too slow and why orbits are elliptical.
After that came the Women in STEM segment, led by Grace. She spoke about three inspirational women, Kathrine Johnson, Dorthy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who were portrayed in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures which depicted their struggles at NASA trying to launch a human into orbit while dealing with racism and sexism. Next, Grace taught the girls about satellites, galaxies, stars, nebulae and black holes. Then, it was time for the first interactive activity of the day. The girls were split up into breakout rooms based on their teams to collaborate and solve a math problem about how long it takes for light to reach the earth. After that, Kaela resumed teaching the girls about different celestial objects like planets and moons and explained the difference between asteroids, comets and meteors.
After a short break, the girls were quizzed on their knowledge with a game of “Name that Celestial Object” where they had to provide the name of a celestial object off of a set of clues. They went back into their breakout rooms again with another math problem, this time using the diameter and number of rotations of the wheels of a rover to find out how far it had travelled. The girls went into their breakout rooms one final time to calculate an estimate of the circumference of the earth just like the Ancient Greeks did.
Throughout the entire workshop, the girls were able to respond to and ask questions in the chat while volunteers were responding to them, giving them encouragement and dropping fun facts into the chat. In breakout rooms, two or three volunteers led five or six girls through the challenges by facilitating their collaboration and providing them with hints when they were stuck. Team Shuri won the challenges, finishing with 188 points while Team Black Widow had 115 points, Team Captain Marvel had 89 points and Team Gamora had 48. All the participants gave the challenges their best shot and learnt so much about our universe.