Students from Toconao teach science and English to their parents

Students from Toconao teach science and English to their parents

2 December, 2014 / Read time: 4 minutes

Determining the DNA of a banana, learning how metal reacts to fire, demonstrating the evolution of life and understanding why earthquakes occur were just some of the experiments that parents of students at Toconao’s school carried out under the supervision of their own children. This was part of the traditional Master Class, in which students from the town nearest to ALMA show what they have learned during the year in programs supported by ALMA: English and science.

"This time was unlike previous years, because the students had to take on the role of their teachers, designing and implementing a series of scientific experiments and teaching their parents for the first time," said teacher Felisa Cortés. She added, "The parents thought it was an innovative idea and they had many questions they tried to answer even after going home."


Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), V. Foncea

The purpose of the event is to show how children have internalized the inquiry-based science education methodology promoted by ALMA and implemented with the assistance of the University of Chile. Amid experiments using blenders, fire, plastic animals and rubber bands, parents and their children were enthusiastic about their experiences in the Master Science Class: "I like that they learn what we learn, to be able to give that knowledge to them and see how amazed they are," said student Juan Gavia. For parent Cecilia Cruz, the experience was "interesting, because there’s a lot to learn and it's great to share with the kids this way."

Other parents enjoyed the performances and songs in English presented by their children as part of the English Master Class, which included a colorful display of costumes. Among those in costume was English teacher Evelyn Aguayo, who spent time in England this year as part of a practicum to improve her English skills. The school's director, Eduardo Navarrete, was pleased with the show and highlighted the academic results for the year in the subjects that received support from ALMA. "Our students were outstanding in regional English competitions, earning third place in public speaking and second place in the spelling bee. In terms of science, we have distinguished ourselves by internalizing the inquiry-based science education methodology and our challenge is to expand it to the high school next year."



Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), V. Foncea

More information 

The agreement between ALMA and the Toconao School has been in place since 2008. In science, teachers are trained by University of Chile experts under contract with ALMA; these experts help plan classes and materials used in the experiments. Under the agreement with ALMA, students from Toconao also receive extra support in English, which consists of an hour of class each day to ensure learning continuity and a computer laboratory for English-language learning.

ALMA is currently in talks with the Municipality of San Pedro de Atacama to replicate the successful experience in Toconao to other schools in the area.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


Valeria Foncea 
Education and Public Outreach Officer
Joint ALMA Observatory
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +56 2 467 6258
Cell: +56 9 75871963
Email: [email protected] 

Richard Hook 
Public Information Officer, ESO
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: [email protected]

Charles E. Blue
Public Information Officer
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Tel: +1 434 296 0314
Cell: +1 434.242.9559
E-mail: [email protected] 

Masaaki Hiramatsu 
Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
Observatory Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 422 34 3630
E-mail: [email protected]