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An unlearning activity Part 2

This is part 2 of an unlearning activity.

(see Part 1 which was about writing a comment about an image of the night sky)

What was seen?

The night sky image got us thinking about what we could see and brought out some beautiful expression about what we felt about what we could see, making connections with people, places and thoughts. In the jumble of a word cloud, look how the poetry is lost – just words:

word cloud night sky

So here it is, tangled up in beautiful human-ness, the night-sky conjurs:


“holding my wife’s hand” (paul )


“long ago I lived in a place where the sky could be seen clearly” (Scott)


“unimaginable scale” (Christopher)


“pasing of time and the joy of life”. (Liz)


near infinity of complex structures (Jim)

Looking for understanding…

i want to connect the dots (Terry)

All of this in the stars.

How on earth do stars help us to understand learning?

We feel lost when we don’t see patterns

This beautiful expression of vulnerability under the sky – of not-knowing from Rachel  who wrote:

“I admit that I never really learned the constellations. People have shown them to me, but I’ve never been able to have that sense of anchoring in the night sky, to know where to start looking.”

Me too. I really try to learn and see the constellations but I find this very hard and always wondered if I was alone with this difficulty.  How many of us also try and feel failure in this “lack of knowledge” and then, perhaps never try again? Or do we look and feel disorientated by the enormity of it.  Or even see everything from a different way up (in the southern hemisphere the constellations are upside down!).

Do so many of us feel so unfamiliar under the night sky that we just prefer to leave it to a domain of astronomers? Or amateur astronomers? What is an amateur astronomer? Is this like a non-scientist? What’s that anyway?

And then, the array of technologies, the tools,  to view the night sky in more detail are daunting and confusing, expensive and seem only in reach of the lucky and learned.

Moving from patterns to details

One of the advantages of taking a photograph of the night-sky is there is more detail than you can see with the naked eye. So, after I took one of my first long exposure night sky photographs,  I tried joining the dots next to see if it would help find my way, next time I went out into the dark. Here are my wandering smudges:


And beautifully, in asking people to also look at my unmarked image, Terry Elliott, who had never seen my marked image – also felt drawn to naturally drawn to join the dots too. He added an image to the google doc, going beyond my tracings and even making his own constellations. Drawing his own maps. Making his own patterns and pathways.

And if we draw our own constellations,  name them and make up own stories, is this learning? Is this knowledge?

What are constellations?

“The constellations are totally imaginary things that poets, farmers and astronomers have made up over the past 6,000 years (and probably even more!). The real purpose for the constellations is to help us tell which stars are which, nothing more. On a really dark night, you can see about 1000 to 1500 stars. Trying to tell which is which is hard. The constellations help by breaking up the sky into more managable bits. They are used as mnemonics, or memory aids” (The Constellations and Their Stars UW Madison Astronomy)

The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 constellations covering the entire northern and southern sky. (StarDate)

Nothing more?

There is always more.

Unlearn. Go back earlier. Before our tools of paper and pen and map and papyrus and parchment and scholarship.

Hidden in the world cloud, small, seemingly insignificant, is the word between. See it?

word cloud night sky

When we look with two eyes, what we see up there in the sky, is shrouded by what we feel we should see.

There is something more, and far far older…

Looking in between


The Incan View of the night sky

Constellations of the Inca

Incan astronomy

Emu in the Sky

The spaces in-between

How did we forget dark constellations?  How did our modern constellations and paper books so easily erase expert, experienced oral knowledge, cave walls, standing stones and sand-drawn sketches of the stars? Why did we turn from the darkness?

“By the 19th century the night sky had become crowded with overlapping and often contradictory constellation boundaries and names as different schools of astronomy prepared their own versions of star maps. To clear up the confusion, names and boundaries were “officially” assigned to 88 constellations by the International Astronomical Union in 1930, providing complete coverage of the entire sky.” (Stardate)

Globalised constellations. Scholarship of the skies referenced back as far as Rome, Egypt with constellation names, but somehow we went from a time where the everyday person – families, tribes, groups had local accessible versions of understanding and mapping and stories relevant to their experience –  to a global set of official constellations, which for half the world were upside down anyway.

So is this learning?

The scholarly return to the dark

At the fringe edges of quantum science, an area I love delving into because of it’s strangeness, the realisation is that the interesting quantum glue of entanglement, the very fabric of the universe, is probably in those dark spaces, those dark patterns whose stories we forgot about.

Hidden in those dark spaces, there is invisible dark matter, dark energy.  The exciting stuff is all along,  not in the spectacular bright hot fireball energies of birthing and dying stars. It’s in the dark.

It doesn’t shine. It’s invisible. It’s transparent. It doesn’t glow when it gets hot. Unfortunately, those are the ways astronomers usually study the universe; we usually follow the light

The above quote is from James Bullock, Dark Matter may be more complex that physicists thought in Quanta Magazine and no matter how many time I read it, and in how he explains theories of interaction and networks in quantum science, I feel that what I am reading, is also about learning.

Dark energy is called a “chameleon field” because nobody knows what it is, nor can it be reproduced in a lab and yet physics estimates that it is about 80% of the universe’s mass.

So…it’s the “stuff” that connects the stars, the dots, and not the stars themselves that build a universe?

Sounds uncannily like trying to define, measure and evidence learning to me with network visualisation maps, analytics, rubrics.  We might be missing where the learning is – where we aren’t looking – the informality of the in-between – the dark energy.

So, I encourage you to try a practical activity for Part 2.

Practical activity

When it is dark,find a spot to sit and look up at the night sky for at least 10 minutes. Look for the patterns in the dark spaces. Ignore as much as you can, the lure of joining the bright dots.

If you can’t do this in your location, or the clouds or light pollution obscure your view, or it’s dangerous to hang around at night, there is a beautiful piece of open source planetarium software Stellarium which gives you an wonderful  experience of the night sky.

Place another comment if you feel drawn to, on the original night sky image from Part 1.

Image of night sky (on Marqueed) or on Google docs.


I hope the night sky has been useful to explore. Keep exploring it and always think about whether you are seeing with your own eyes.

The sky is not just for scholars, for physicists, for astronomers. Learning is not just for teachers. Science is not just for scientists. Scholarship makes us clever, but it can also make us miss our oldest intelligence.

Use the night sky as a canvas for the art of your human thinking. It will tell you stories and help you tell stories.

You don’t need to know the history of its scholarship, to use it.

It will make you feel. It will make you think.

It is nature. Our nature. The most accessible learning tool in the universe.

#opensky 🙂

An unlearning activity Part 1

(This is an assignment experiment for a Digital Pedagogy Lab course I’m participating in. I would love you to give it a try)

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

― Carl Sagan

The night sky – we all know or can perhaps imagine what it looks like.  Representing the sun, moon and stars begins very in childhood with drawing, and can be a very symbolic and exciting presence in our lives when we are young. As we grow up, intellectualise and learn all that we know about the universe, and theorise about the bits that we don’t, we develop understanding, belief, questions, conundrums. We quest to understand and create our own sense of our world. In short, when we look up, we find ourselves facing big questions.

Title: Atlas Coelestis. Harmonia Macrocosmica seu Atlas Universalis et novus, totius universi creati Cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens Studio et labore Andreae Cellarii,
Title: Atlas Coelestis., Andreae Cellarii, Public domain British Library Flickr collection.

This led me to wondering – is the night sky one of our most complex and sophisticated thinking tools? It’s often visible with the naked eye, and, is free – but sometimes, strangely, overlooked?

So, this is an experiment to see if we can learn something about learning, using the whole cosmos.

A bit ambitious…but an adventure.

What do you know and feel?

The historical relationship that humans have had with the night sky, from navigational aid to storytelling by the stars, means that most of us are at least familiar with some of these:

Your assignment task – What do you see?

Add a comment to this this image of the night sky (on Marqueed) describing what you see in the picture.

(Having problems with the image displaying in Marqueed? – use this Night Sky google doc).

Part 2 of this challenge will be posted once there are a few comments on the image, as what you respond may change the shape of this activity….

Part 2 – it’s always where the adventure really begins…