Guest Bloggers | By Caleb Carlton (Media and Outreach Specialist, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont) and Autumn Rose Pippin (7th Grader from Tennessee)
Last spring, students from Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School in Tennessee traveled to the Tremont Institute, a residential learning center located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for a unique learning opportunity in a national park setting.
Tremont offers multi-day, immersive learning experiences for all ages. School groups from twelve states, and anywhere from 4th grade through graduate school, make annual visits to Tremont for hands-on learning experiences that bridge the gap between outdoor, experiential learning, and the traditional classroom environment.
Night Skies at Tremont Inspire
A dark night sky is an essential part of the learning opportunities, and sensory experiences, that students have while visiting Tremont. For many, during a night walk or astronomy lesson, it is the first chance in life to look up and see uncountable celestial objects, our Milky Way galaxy, and perhaps a meteor or two. Often, these experiences inspire profound notions of infinite space and time, the possibility of life on other planets, and a sudden sense that life is much more remarkable than they previously perceived. For these students, being able to look up at a fairly unpolluted view of the night sky and freely wonder is a key part of building a sense of place in nature, and in the universe.
We chose to create a video about the history of astronomy, specifically constellations and asterisms, because we wanted to give these students an opportunity to share with others their sense that studying the night sky really is a “cool” endeavor, and that it’s been a huge part of the human experience throughout history. And, as is evident in their video, the students felt compelled to make it clear to their audience that you can’t just study the night sky in a classroom or on the internet. You have to get out to someplace dark and take it in for yourself!
Tremont recognizes that as the human population grows, the night sky becomes more polluted with artificial light, and fewer young people have a regular (if any!) opportunity to look out into the cosmos. This is why we must continue to protect places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and work to minimize unnecessary lighting in our communities. As any one of the students that made “Starry” would tell you, we have to ensure that everyone has ample opportunities to look at, wonder about, and directly learn from the celestial sphere. The night sky is just too cool to miss out on.
Autumn’s Experience Making “Starry”
Autumn Rose Pippin is a 7th Grader from Tennessee who was one of the students involved in the production of the video.
I have to say, the trip to Tremont last spring was remarkable, and I would like to thank everyone who helped me with the opportunity to be a part of the video “Starry.” It was really, REALLY fun to make. From filming the scenes, which was really cool, especially when we wrapped my friend in twinkle lights, to recording the music, it was an all-around enjoyable experience.
While making “Starry,” there were many things that I learned. For example, I never knew that even ancient civilizations, such the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, studied the stars. I also learned that the night sky is not only amazing to look at, but has been an essential navigational tool since the beginning of mankind. During the making of the video, not only was I learning, but I was coming up with my own thoughts too – if space is so vast and so large is there anyone else out there? If there is so much space that is constantly growing, why would we be alone? That’s why I liked being a part of the video. It was a thought provoking process.
The steps we took to create “Starry” were actually quite simple, at least from my view of it. After agreeing on a final draft of the lyrics, we spent small blocks of time, over two days while visiting Tremont, recording and perfecting the sound of our vocal performances. You know what it’s like to try and not laugh in class, right? Imagine trying not to laugh at anything silly while your friends are recording themselves singing! It was quite an ordeal for us all. After recording vocals, we filmed all of the scenes for the video in just one afternoon. Again, it really was a simple process, once we had a vision for how the video should look.
What I really like about the videos Tremont Institute makes, is that they use the tunes of songs everyone knows, so kids my age or even adults can relate to and sing along with them. I really believe it’s a great way to make a connection between learning and having fun at the same time. I know I like singing in class, so why not learn something from it? I never would have thought that those uncountable, tiny points of light in our night sky have had so much influence in shaping the way we see the world today, and how we’ll see it into the future.