Project ASTRO, Tucson
NOAO Educational Outreach Programs for Regional, National and International Arenas
Project ASTRO forms the core of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s highly successful regional educational outreach program. Project ASTRO-Tucson is a flexible program with broad content coverage and great utility for a diverse educational audience. Project ASTRO is aligned with the National Science Education Standards, it appeals to different teaching and learning styles, and it can be adapted for constraints on space, staff, and money at individual schools. It also addresses the scientific process, best practices and pedagogy, student misconceptions, and authentic assessment issues. In Tucson, it has been used successfully with elementary, middle and high school students of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as with handicap-challenged and underserved students. ASTRO-Tucson is one of 13 sites nationally that have collectively reached over 100,000 students with more than 1,000 teacher-astronomer partnerships in the last six years.
The Program’s core element is the partnering of volunteer professional and amateur astronomers with K-12 teachers and community educators who want to enrich their astronomy and science teaching. The partnerships are developed through a training workshop, hands-on activities, effective educational materials, follow-up workshops, continued staff support, and connections to community resources. In turn, the interest generated by Project ASTRO has fostered new programs at NOAO such as Family ASTRO-Tucson, which invites families to evening or weekend family events doing fun astronomy activities together; a Project ASTRO-type program in Chile at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory; and an NSF-sponsored Spanish Language Materials Educational Center.
Project ASTRO emerged at a time when the decreasing numbers of students interested in science and low scores on standardized science tests suggested that science education in the United States had reached a crisis point. A primary goal of Project ASTRO is to get students interested in science and maintain that interest through fun, hands-on activities that teach important concepts in astronomy. The program developed from a series of weekend workshops on teaching astronomy sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
In the basic model, Project ASTRO staff organize an initial workshop for the educators and astronomers to meet, exchange information, and learn about Project ASTRO and its goals. The pairing of educators and astronomers is seen as a true partnership, where each professional brings their unique skills to the project. During the nominal two-day workshop, partners are encouraged to get to know one another and the activities included in the text, "Universe at Your Fingertips," through joint demonstra-tions. This introduction to the material not only helps participants to use the text effectively, but also encourages partners to work together to think about ways they might adapt the activities to their students and their specific skills.
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, originators of Project ASTRO, recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to have part of the "Universe at Your Fingertips" text translated into Spanish. The translated text, "El Universo a sus Pies," can be ordered over the Internet.
- NEW! Information for Teachers and Astronomers:
- Family ASTRO Fact Sheet
- Family ASTRO Application form
With support from the NSF, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific has created a new twist on the ASTRO concept designed to bring hands-on astronomy activities and astronomy events to families of all backgrounds. Seven "Family ASTRO" sites have started nationally within the last two years, with NOAO Tucson being the newest addition. The heart of this project is a series of new astronomy kits designed to be both educational and fun for children ages 8 and up (and for the adults who work and play with them).
Families get recruited via invitations to evening or weekend events, where they can have fun doing astronomy activities together. The program helps parents and caregivers get more involved in their children’s science education, and it offers a way for them to spend more time together in active experiments, observations and discussion. At the events, families get to try some activity stations as well as a number of facilitated activities, and then receive a kit to take home. Each event is led by one or more Project ASTRO partners, or by staff from a school, local museum, planetarium, or community group. All event leaders are trained in how to organize Family ASTRO programs and do astronomy activities at regional workshops organized by Project ASTRO sites, such as Project ASTRO-Tucson.
In particular, Family ASTRO-Tucson is reaching a variety of underserved groups in the Tucson area including the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation, the Hispanic community of the Sunnyside School District, and the Girl Scouts of America. The Family ASTRO program as a whole can be adapted to address the needs of a diverse audience, as well as diverse circumstances.
Even half a world apart and across people of different languages and cultures, the most effective ways to teach concepts in astronomy can be a lively topic for discussion. During Fall 2002, NOAO North & South jointly sponsored a "proof-of-concept" videoconference workshop for teachers in Tucson, AZ, and La Serena, Chile. The teachers exchanged methods and ideas about how to explain and demonstrate the nature of light and color to students of various ages. The entire workshop was held in Spanish facilitated by three bilingual teachers from the Tucson area.
The workshop is envisioned as the beginning of an even larger collaboration, currently dubbed ASTRO-Chile. This effort is meant to take advantage of successful efforts in the United States such as Project ASTRO, and local efforts in Chile, by merging the strategies and techniques from each into a cross-cultural exchange.
Complementing the ASTRO-Chile initiative, NOAO Tucson is establishing a Spanish Language Astronomy Materials Educational Center. Astronomy and space science educators cannot easily find instructional materials in Spanish. This holds true for elementary and secondary formal education materials and for informal education materials at all levels. With its strong connections to Spanish-speaking science teachers and science district coordinators, NOAO intends to create a national resource to enable educators to find and apply high-quality materials in Spanish that have already been produced.
This NOAO project will provide a library collection of examined and reviewed materials, and a web-based catalog of generally available Spanish-language materials for all grade levels in astronomy and space science. These web pages will provide a user-friendly means to find grade level-appropriate astronomy education materials. Published in both Spanish and English, the Web pages will include materials appropriate for school guidance counselors and administrators, as well as for teachers.