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Summer camp will teach high school students Chinese and astronomy

Dr. Donna Governor, assistant professor of teacher education; Dr. Yunjuan He, associate professor of Chinese; and Dr. Gregory Feiden, assistant professor of astronomy, are teaming up for the UNG STARTALK Chinese and Astronomy Summer Academy set for July 7-20 on UNG's Dahlonega Campus.

Faculty members in three colleges at the University of North Georgia (UNG) are collaborating on a two-week residential summer camp, set for July 7-20 on UNG's Dahlonega Campus, to teach 24 high school students astronomy and the Chinese language.

An $80,538 STARTALK grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) administered by the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) at the University of Maryland is making the rare combination of instruction possible. Faculty members in the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Science and Mathematics, and the College of Education are putting together the event.

The application deadline has been extended to May 1.

Dr. Yunjuan He, associate professor of Chinese at UNG, is the principal investigator on the grant for the UNG STARTALK Chinese and Astronomy Summer Academy. She said Stanford University and the University of Washington are the only two other STARTALK academies pairing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics with languages.

"This is a very innovative approach to have the STEM theme embedded with language teaching," He said. "It's an interesting idea to have students learning both concepts."

The associate professor hopes to hire four UNG students who are studying Chinese as camp counselors.

The residential camp targets students who will be ninth- through 12th-graders in fall 2019 who have no prior knowledge of the Chinese language. Students from Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and White counties, which have limited resources for Chinese language learning, can attend the camp.  The recruitment efforts will focus on minority and/or low-income high school youth in rural areas.

The content will focus on teaching literacy of Chinese myths about the night sky and the Chinese language to introduce basic knowledge of astronomy. It will be integrated with topics of astronomy selected from the Georgia Performance Standards.

Dr. D. Brian Mann, head of UNG's Department of Modern and Classical Languages, said the camp will open students' eyes to the value of learning a critical language. Critical languages are non-Western-European languages viewed by the U.S. government as critical to national security.

"It shows them that there is a way to use this language to do anything they want," Mann said. "They see the utility of learning the language and learning it to a very high level."

STARTALK's mission is to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching critical languages, with programs for teachers and students from kindergarten through college, according to its website.

"We have such a shortage of speakers of those critical languages," Mann said.

Heading into the camp, He expects students to reach a novice mid or high level on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' Oral Proficiency Interview scale.

Dr. Donna Governor, assistant professor of teacher education, will develop a curriculum of astronomy classes and activities for the summer camp, with He translating it into Chinese. Governor previously asked He to translate her remarks for a STEM demonstration Governor was making on a trip to Shanghai, China. When He was applying for the STARTALK grant, she reached back out to Governor, who jumped at the chance to collaborate.

"This is so up my alley," Governor said. "I love cultural astronomy and mythology. Those are the stories of science."

In a world where different subjects usually stay in their separate areas, Dr. Gregory Feiden, assistant professor of astronomy, said UNG's STARTALK camp is refreshing.

"It's something that I feel like we need to do more of is start to find the links between these different subject areas to provide students a more authentic experience in terms of what the real world is like," Feiden said.

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