Victoria Thomson

East Lyme High School, East Lyme CT

Participate in a summer teacher training course sponsored by the Galileo Teacher Training Program in the Canary Islands, home to some of the most technologically-advanced telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere, to gain knowledge about teaching astronomy and show students how data from telescopes can provide information about the composition of space and the origin of the universe.

Where I've Been

  • Tenerife, Spain
  • Tenerife, Spain

My Fellowship in Images

This is an image of the Large Sized Telescope (LST). It is one of four prototypes in the world and will be used to indirectly detect gamma rays. It is a collaboration of approximately 10 countries.
This is a picture of me in front of one of the many telescopes at the Mt. Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife, which is one of the Canary Islands. This observatory houses the largest solar telescopes in the world.
This is a picture of me at sunset on Mt. Teide in Tenerife, Canary Islands. After the sun set, we were able to see the Milky Way so clearly with the naked eye. We also set up telescopes and observed the moons of Jupiter! It was amazing!
This is a picture of me in front of the Gran Telescope of the Canary Islands. It is the largest optical telescope in the world and we got to tour inside it!
This is a picture of me with several classmates. I was the only American in my class and I wanted to spend time with my peers to experience their culture. We visited the town of Garachico in Tenerfie, Canary Islands.
I visited the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands. It was founded by the King of Spain in 1796, with hopes that tropical plants from all over the world could be grown on mainland Spain.

Igniting Personal and Professional Growth

What changed as a result of your fellowship? Why was it vital for you to pursue this particular opportunity/experience? What learning gaps (yours and/or your students’) were/will be filled as a result of your fellowship?

I was able to see and explore some of the greatest telescopes in the world through my fellowship experience. In addition, I've been trained on several software programs that will allow my students to take images of astronomical objects. As a result of taking the course, I have access to 30 hours of observation time for imaging astronomical objects. In addition, I've made great contacts that can help support me in the evolution of my high school's astronomy curriculum.

How do you see your teaching evolving after your fellowship? Your students’ learning?

I see myself being able to take more risks and try new things with my astronomy class. So far, I've purchased an app (Night Cap) for astrophotography that can be done on my smartphone. I also purchased a few tripods for my students to be able to try to take images on their phones at home. With unspent funds, I've purchased binoculars (recommended by a fellow peer in the course) so that my students can try to identify and locate astronomical objects.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship?

I rented a car for the trip because it was a long commute from the hotel to the university. I didn't realize that the driving would be so difficult. There are traffic circles all over the island! Driving turned out to be more stressful than planned. I was surprised when discussing our lives as teachers in various countries. All of the other teachers asked me if I was afraid to teach in the United States because we have so many school shootings. I was unaware of that global perspective.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your students learn differently because of your new knowledge or skills?

My students will be able to learn differently by utilizing the educational observation time available from my participation in the course. In addition, I will be able to discuss future careers as astrophysicists with students and the possibility that they could study at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands.

What specific events, projects or deliverables will your students experience related to your fellowship?

My students will be able to use the binoculars that I purchased with unspent funds to view the night sky at home. In addition, I am planning monthly star parties for my students to be able to view the night sky with telescopes. Finally, I am hoping that my students will be able to analyze their own astronomical images via the robotic telescope access. I was trained on 2 different software platforms and the IT department is in the process of approving them for installation on computers.

How, specifically, will your fellowship extend beyond your classroom? (e.g. families, school-at-large, afterschool groups, surrounding community, colleagues, etc.)

By participating in this course, I've gained confidence in my knowledge in the field of astronomy and its application in our every day lives. I have recently joined a nonprofit organization (Stars to STEM) in my community that is trying to restore the planetarium at our high school since the project was removed due to its heavy metal content. In addition, I have become a co-advisor for our high school astronomy club and I believe that I am able to really contribute to these groups.

Inspiring the Future

Why was this opportunity transformative for your teaching on a macro-level?

On a macro-level, this opportunity was transformative because it has a beautiful ripple effect. I can appreciate what it is like to be a student, with questions and curiosity about topics. I know what it is like to feel unsure of myself and can respect my students learning new material with me. In addition, I can inspire my colleagues to dream up a learning adventure and watch it come to life.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

Students benefit from this type of learning because it's a first hand experience for their teachers. When I first surveyed my students this year on what they like to have in a teacher, they said enthusiasm about their subject. By traveling and seeing the vastness of the telescopes and the collaboration by so many scientistists from so many countries, I was so inspired to talk about the universe and objects within it. I can tell my students that careful writing can award them opportunities.

How would you describe to a friend or grant funder the fundamental ways in which your fellowship changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

The fellowship has changed my personal perspective because I've come to realize how large the field of astrophysics is and that so many countries collaborate on these projects that involve observing the origin of the universe and objects within it. It is interesting to discuss the culture of the people where I visited and relay how humbling it is to be the only American in a class.