German Astronomer Joins Middle Division Students for Virtual Learning Experience
This school year, COVID-19 has forced many changes in the classroom including creating a speaker series to bring community experts into the classroom safely. Students at Milton Hershey School are wearing masks and following proper physical distancing protocols, but the changes also are offering unique learning opportunities.
Recently, German Astronomer, Antonio D’Isanto, a postdoctoral researcher at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Heidelberg, Germany joined the entire MHS eight-grade class as a guest speaker for an out of this world lesson. “A trip across the Galaxy: The search for exoplanets” took our students on a journey into space to study stars and planets. They learned about how we can find exoplanets, what’s needed on a planet to sustain life, and even used gaming technology to simulate walking on an exoplanet.
“I love studying exoplanets,” he said. “It’s challenging, it’s complicated, but you meet so many interesting people from around the world. You have the feeling of a community that is alive! We are all trying to gain knowledge from the unknown to discover, from the universe, things that no one has seen before. That is exciting!”
MHS eighth-grade science teacher, Tyler Goehringer, invited Dr. D’Isanto to share his expertise. It is just one over about a dozen virtual learning experiences the eight-grade teachers have set up this school year to help the students learn from experts around the world. The teachers try to do one every Friday. They’ve met virtually with a barber, a geneticist, and several authors. One author even explained the depth it takes to not only write a book, but how to edit a book.
“We talk about relevant topics with our students,” said Tyler Goehringer. “There’s no way our students would ever have met these experts outside of a textbook. We as teachers can give them articles to read, but the experts do such a better job—they are engaging and fun—and they talk about how they got to the positions they are in now and what they enjoy about their careers. It also opens our students’ eyes to possible future professions that they didn’t know existed.”
At the end of the discussion, students approached Dr. D’Isanto to ask questions to gain a better understanding of his work, his favorite part of being an astronomer, and the coolest thing he’s discovered.
“I chose this career because I want to understand what’s out there. It’s mostly curiosity but I also want to understand how the universe came to be and why things work the way they work. I want to know the answers to questions I don’t know,” Dr. D’Isanto said.
Dr. D’Isanto earned his undergrad in physics, his masters in astrophysics and space science, and his Ph.D. in astronomy and computer science. He told the students when he’s not studying the universe, he’s a normal person with normal hobbies.
“I read a lot—mainly sci-fi—play video games, spend time with my wife, family, and friends, play with my cats, and do martial arts. If I wasn’t studying the universe, I would be a teacher or work in the field of computer science, developing artificial intelligence.”