Thanks to the support of the US Embassy, PASCAP Trust has been running four 10-week Big History classes this year at four of our after school centres in Khayelitsha, Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain and Hout Bay. During the school term break, to complement the course’s big ideas and support other related local organisations, the young Big Historians who took part in the programme went on three science-themed excursions around the Cape. After visiting the Iziko Museum’s new Digital Dome, our learners watched a groundbreaking science-inspired film and visited a National Heritage Site to learn more about some of South Africa’s oldest fossils…
2) Gravity at the Bertha Cinema House at the Isivivana Centre
The Big History Project presents a modern scientific origin story, an epic tale some 13.8 billion years in the making—still making, in fact! For our second Big History excursion, we wanted to show our learners a space-inspired film that helped to visualise some of the big ideas contained with the course (or at least their effects). Given our everyday sense of the world, gravity, as one of the fundamental forces of nature, is often seen as a quasi-magical force, something almost ethereal. Throughout the course, we’ve been encouraging our learners to explore the wonderful space where science and art meet, something that Alfonso Cuarón’s did beautifully when he weaved our understanding of this fundamental force with a compelling narrative in the award-winning film Gravity.
Cuarón’s Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone who gets stranded in orbit around Earth after her mission gets spectacularly interrupted. After a Russian satellite explodes and destroys Dr. Stone and her fellow astronaut’s shuttle, our heroine is forced to find a way to survive floating in space while also searching for a reason to live herself. The film won a host of awards, including ten Oscars and six BAFTAs, and contains some of the most advanced visuals around. Here’s how Time’s Richard Corliss described the film:
“Cuarón shows things that cannot be but, miraculously, are, in the fearful, beautiful reality of the space world above our world. If the film past is dead, Gravity shows us the glory of cinema’s future. It thrills on so many levels. And because Cuarón is a movie visionary of the highest order, you truly can’t beat the view.”
The film was definitely one to watch in cinemas, but since that was no longer possible, the Bertha Movie House at the new Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha kindly opened its doors to allow us a special screening of the film, which we also opened up to the rest of the public. While at the Isivivana Centre, we also gave our Big Historians some time to explore the centre’s beautiful new library.
3) West Coast Fossil Park
The West Coast Fossil Park is a treasured National Heritage Site. Located close to Langebaan, the site contains some of best preserved fossils from around 5 million years ago. The park offers guided tours of the Dig Site, and we rushed at the opportunity to make the trip with our young Big Historians.
Big History encourages learners to think across different scales in space and in time, and the West Coast Fossil Park was the perfect choice to learn firsthand about some of the ancient remains being unearthed right here in South Africa. Before we made the walk to the dig site, Wendy, our tour guide for the afternoon, took us to the park’s new visitors centre where are learners learned some the history of the park, where given a short lesson on fossils, and then they got hands-on with various skulls in an educational exercise designed to measure the differences between apes skulls. At the dig site, Wendy showed our learners some of the fascinating animals they once roamed the areas, animals like the short-necked giraffe, and even an ancient African bear! Once the tour was complete, we all enjoyed a late lunch under the trees before making the long drive back to Khayelitsha.
Before we made the walk to the dig site, Wendy, our tour guide/expert for the afternoon, took us to the park’s new visitors centre where are learners were told about the park’s fascinating history. They were given a short lesson on fossils and then got hands-on and measured the differences between various ape skulls. At the dig site, Wendy pointed out some of the curious animals that once roamed the area, animals like the short-necked giraffe and an ancient African bear! Once the tour was complete, we all enjoyed a late lunch under the trees before making the long drive back to Khayelitsha.
We would like to thank The Isivivana Centre, especially the Bertha Movie House, for hosting our special screening of “Gravity”, and to the West Coast Fossil Park for taking our students on a splendid journey 5 million years back in time.