Observational Astronomy GCSE / A-level field trips
One of the most satisfying aspects of my time working at John Mason was running the school’s outdoor centre, a farmhouse and outbuildings in mid Wales called Troedrhiwgellifawr (universally referred to as the Welsh Farm). During my time in charge I outfitted the farm with thirteen telescopes, ranging from 2.5” refractors up to a huge 10” reflector. These are used for extremely successful and very popular observational cosmology field trips, targeted at GCSE pupils studying module P7 of the 21st Century physics course and Y13 pupils studying the A2 SHAP course, both of which feature astronomy. I’ve retained the right to book the Welsh Farm, and am now able to offer these field trips to your school.
The farm is near Llandovery, and takes around four hours to drive to from Oxfordshire. The remoteness makes for incredibly clear skies; on good nights even the smallest telescopes can easily resolve the gap between Saturn and its rings and show the Galilean moons, for example, and the large reflector can resolve detail in Jupiter’s weather systems and the spiral structure of nearby galaxies.
I found that the best timing for these trips (in term time, at least, though I’m happy to run trips in holidays too) is from Friday lunch through till Sunday afternoon. A suggested schedule is:
- Friday midday: minibus journey up to the farm
- Friday afternoon: familiarisation with telescopes
- Friday night: observation work with telescopes in the back field (weather permitting).
- Sat morning: lessons in centre (I suggest you ask Y13 pupils to prepare revision sessions on the Y11 syllabus: this gives a great learning experience all round and allows the staff a little free time).
- Sat afternoon: a physics-based orienteering course in surrounding area.
- Sat night: further observational work with telescopes.
- Sun am: cleaning, pack up and return home.
Depending on how many pupils you have, costs work out to around £55 per head - this includes my fee, all transport and food costs, and OCC travel insurance. All I need from the school are one or two willing staff to accompany the group (one of whom must be female, unless your pupils are all boys). No experience is necessary on your part, though familiarity with telescopes or with outdoor education would be helpful. Having been an Oxfordshire EVC for seven years I’m able to help with all the paperwork; note that this is only a Category B visit as no activity requires a specific NGB qualification. I will deal with all risk assessments and supply parental consent letters - in short, I’ll do all I can to make organising the trip as easy as possible for you!
This is a great opportunity for your pupils to gain real hands-on experience of astronomical observation in a way that could never be offered in the classroom. For more information or to book a trip, contact me.