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VIEWING THE SKY, A MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE Lara Albanese Osservatorio di Arcetri (Firenze)

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VIEWING THE SKY, A MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE Lara Albanese Osservatorio di Arcetri (Firenze). This year Arcetri Observatory is presenting the exhibition “ Skies of the World” at the Festival della scienza di Genova (25 October – 6 November 2007). The sky over China

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Lara Albanese Osservatorio di Arcetri (Firenze)

Thisyear Arcetri Observatoryispresenting the exhibition “Skiesof the World” at the Festival della scienza di Genova (25 October – 6 November 2007).

The sky over China

Discovering the sky using Chinese myths and legends

Lara Albanese (coordinator), Francesca Brunetti, Antonella Gasperini, Daniele Galli, Filippo Mannucci, Guia Pastorini, Franco Pacini, Eleonora Sani (INAF Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri )

This work has been supported by:

Consiglio Regionale della Toscana, Comune di Firenze, Assessorato alla Pubblica Istruzione, Istituto Comprensivo Statale Gandhi- Florence,Comune di Firenze ,Centro di Alfabetizzazione Gandhi

in the framework of the Universe Awareness- UNESCO program of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

 We thank also Duccio Ricciarelli e HZ Movie for the DVD., Mariano Dolci- puppeteer

“We are all citizens of the sky”

Camille Flammarion

The exhibitionhas 3 parts:
  • The Sky over China
  • DiscoveringChinesemyths and legends in the travellingplanetarium. (This part hasbeenused in a Florenceschool, butMy Africa and Stories in the Sky are new)
  • 2. My Africa
  • Illustrated talk forchildrengivenbyThebeMedupe, anastronomerwhohasworkedextensively in research and outreachprojects. Healsomade the film Cosmic Africa. The talk showschildren the skyover Africa and showshowanAfricanchildlikeMedupehimself can becomeanastronomer.
  • 3. Stories in the Sky
  • Interactive atelier wherechildren can make up theirownstoriesthat take place in the sky.
This project introduced nursery and primary school children to myths and legends from Greek- Roman and Chinese tradition. These were then acted out.

The project was based on the fact that children can ask questions about, and reason about, the world around them, especially when they are stimulated and emotionally involved.

Children all over the world, from every culture and social class, will always look up at the sky and see the moon and the stars.

The sky over China

Discovering the sky using Chinese myths and legends

The Gandhi school is in the Brozzi area of Florence, a culturally rich part of the city. The children come from different parts of the world. Cultural differences are an important resource which made it possible for us to use myths and legends from different countries.

About a quarter of the children come from Chinese families; Brozzi is full of Chinese shops and businesses. Most of the children did not know the Chinese myths and legends, and only a few of them knew the Western ones. So myths and legends were an important part of the discovery process.

The wonder of the starry sky and the desire to understand how the world works are stimuli for all children. They may not all become scientists, but it helps them to make their own independent decisions and judgements.

In this project, children were treated as having the ability to make up and tell new stories and myths to describe and explain the sky, the stars, constellations and the moon.

Most informal educational activities for children used in science education are “hands on,” but you can’t touch the sky and the stars. This is a basic problem, and it meant that rather than children’s love of touching and feeling objects, we had to involve their emotions and desire to see.

the gandhi multicultural literacy centre
The Gandhi Multicultural Literacy Centre

Collaboration with this centre was fundamental. It mainly works with children and youngsters who have recently arrived in Italy and who need to learn Italian as quickly as possible in order to take part in school activities with their peers.

The length and intensity of the learning process depend on first language, school background and personalfactors, but in general courses are designed to take up as little time as possible so as not to disrupt attendance in normal classes. Children follow as many activities where language skills are not indispensable as possible (Physical education, art, music,English.)

phases of the project
Phases of the project

There were three main phases in the project, which lasted for one year.

lesson on Chinese legends about the sky given by astronomers from the Arcetri Observatory.

classroom acting out of Chinese myths and legends using different techniques of expression and dramatisation. Guided by teachers, cultural mediators and astronomers from Arcetri.

realisation of a new play in the Starlab travelling planetarium using children’s own stories and plays.

Phase one was the lesson given by Arcetri astronomers to nursery and primary school children.

It was given in the Starlab travelling planetarium at their own school. Astronomers showed them how to recognise different constellations as recognised in the West and in China and described the related myths and legends .

The first aim of this phase is to narrate myths and legends of ancient and modern China, and the second is to bring children, youngsters and their teachers into contact with the planetarium, so that in the next phases they can plan a show or performance themselves.
Phase 2

This phase exploited the fascination that the night sky holds for children all over the world. It also used the unifying effect of the idea that it is the same stars that shine down on everyone, everwhere. The children in Brozzi, from different cultural backgrounds, used both their imagination and their scientific knowledge to describe the sky over their heads as they saw it. Using different techniques of expression meant that each child was able to find for him/her self the best way of expressing, telling and re-telling the stories.

Techniques included narration, drawing, and drawing using overhead projector. The most successful technique was Chinese shadows.

Help from the Arcetri library was fundamental to this phase. The library carried out the necessary research and supplied information for the project. They selected the myths and legends and stories published for children and young people in both Italian and the original language. They also prepared a file of material on Chinese myths and legends and astronomy and distributed it to the teachers. The library also filed and stored the children’s work ready for the last phase of the project.
There are many Chinese myths and legends about the moon and seasons, but we chose to use another very well-known story, ‘The Princess Weaver’ because it involves different constellations. Vega is near the northern vertex of the small parallelogram of stars known as the Lyra, invented in Greek mythology by the god Hermes (Mercury.)

In ancient China, Vega was known as the “Weaver’s star.” The period that Vega shines high in the sky coincided with the period that Chinese women worked very hard at weaving. It was the time of year when many weddings took place, and every bride needed a wedding dress. So the legend tells of Chi – Niu , the princess weaver, and her bridegroom, the keeper of the oxen in the heavens.

Chi - Niu, the daughter of the Emperor of Heaven, was a very expert weaver, and she sat every day by the heavenly loom, the small parallelogram next to Vega.The princess was expert at weaving the colours of the dawn and the sunset.

Thanks to the assistance of cultural mediator Lao San, we were able to link the potential of Chinese shadows with the potential of the planetarium. The planetarium can project over 360 degrees rather than simply onto a flat surface. This is a very positive characteristic and is potentially interesting for narration of any type using shadows, not just astronomers. It makes children and spectators in general feel extremely involved in the story.

Chinese shadows

In ancient China the shadow theatre was originally used for the veneration of gods and also to chase away ghosts and monsters. It subsequently became a form of entertainment, as it still is today.
The children in Brozzi produced the shapes for the shadows in many ways. Some used black card. Some used cut out photographs of themselves to give a profile. Some used the overhead projector to make the shadows move on amazing coloured backgrounds.

Of course, with children from other cultures, other types of performance or show may be preferable. This method is particularly good for recounting myths and legends from different parts of the world.

We believe that telling stories from different cultures helps to make the sky even more fascinating. It is also a way of drawing attention to the differences between cultures and appreciating those from far away. We hope that children will be motivated to look up at the sky with interested eyes, ready to make new and exciting discoveries
Thank you

Info: [email protected]