The teacher training event took place virtually in six all-day sessions in April and May 2021. Fifty teachers were selected among 97 applicants, from three geographically diverse rural regions highlighted in Fig. 1: the coastal region of Moquegua, the Andean region of Junin and the rainforest Amazonian region of Loreto. In particular, the regions of Moquegua and Junin were chosen owing to their relevance as hosts of two of the main astronomical facilities in the country: a 1-m telescope at the Moquegua Astronomical Observatory (CONIDA) and a 0.51-m telescope (OAUNI) at the Huancayo Observatory (IGP). The six sessions of the teacher training event were divided into different topics across all cosmic scales, including: the Earth–Sun–Moon system, Solar System, stars, exoplanets, galaxies and cosmology. Each session (six hours) was divided into two main parts. The first half consisted of hands-on enquiry-based learning activities (Fig. 2) in which the teachers explored the topic in small groups with the support of an instructor, approaching one specific question, hypothesizing the answer, testing these hypotheses through experimentation and finally presenting their conclusions. These activities included the measurement of the Earth’s diameter, the comparison of Solar System scales using rice grains, the exploration of stellar parameters using a home-made spectrograph, the simulated search for exoplanets from real data, the measurement of our Galaxy’s rotation using GAIA data, and the reconstruction of cosmic history using the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image. The second half of the day consisted of interactive lectures on astrophysics, science education and pedagogy, gender balance, local ancestral astronomy and climate change.
Two aspects were essential in defining the CosmoAmautas educational strategy: multiplicity and self-sustainability. Our teacher training programme is multiplicative as it reaches a larger number of students through their teachers than student-only events could have done, with more than 3,000 students from rural high schools involved through 50 science and mathematics teachers that participated in the workshop. It is also self-sustainable, as the skills learnt by the teachers are also applicable for the next generations of students, and some of the most motivated teachers from our programme are training their local colleagues on their own initiative.
The COVID-19 pandemic required adapting our programme to a virtual format. This requirement had a few advantages as it enabled the targeting of three regions spanning a distance of 1,500 km across the country, as well as allowing the participation of teachers who would have been limited by their household responsibilities. Indeed, a few of the teachers (mostly female) attended the lectures accompanied by their children. The imposed virtual education system also revealed new necessities from the teachers in terms of virtual teaching strategies, which prompted us to redesign our hands-on enquiry-learning methodology for achieving the same impact in a virtual context. This change motivated the introduction of smaller groups of teachers using breakout rooms, and we developed inexpensive and innovative digital educational tools, such as astronomy-focused educational video games tailored to complement our activities (available in Spanish on our webpage www.cosmoamautas.org).
To ensure the equitable participation and engagement of teachers, we designed and shipped educational boxes across the country with all required materials to be used for the enquiry-based learning activities. The materials included a text and activity book, which our team wrote to respond to a lack of accessible yet up-to-date astronomy content in Spanish at an advanced high-school level. The CosmoAmautas book7 is a unique open-access resource for teachers who want to integrate astrophysics in their classes, combining the theoretical framework with our enquiry-based learning activities.