Dr. Stephen Pompea with the Galileoscope in Paris during the IYA2009 opening ceremonies.
Dr. Steve’s Ten Favorite Ways to Teach about Astronomy
Dr. Stephen Pompea is the Manger of Science Education at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and editor of Great Ideas for Teaching Astronomy, 3rd edition, and half a dozen other books on teaching about astronomy. From his 40 years of teaching astronomy at all grade levels, here are some of his favorite ways to help kids learn about astronomy.
1. It’s about the pretty pictures!
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory has an image gallery of over 1000 images
Teach about what is out there, how big it is, and how it has changed using lovely pictures from the “From Earth to the Universe” Project. Download classroom-ready images with English or Spanish captions
The most beautiful Hubble images are seen in the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Heritage collection
2. Make your own observations of the Moon and planets.
Science is a contact sport. Build your own telescope using the Galileoscope telescope kit, developed by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and its collaborators: leading optics experts and science educators.
- Information about the Galileoscope
- The Galileoscope observing guide highlights the best objects to see this year.
- Make your own observations using a remote telescope with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics MicroObservatory.
- You can observe artificial satellites as well. Predictions for where and to look can be found at Heavens Above.
- To help you identify features on the Moon, you can use the free Virtual Moon Atlas.
3. How do telescopes work?
The Hands-On Optics program developed under NSF funding has over 25 hours of activities suitable for 6th grade classrooms.
The module on building and using small telescopes (including the Galileoscope) can be found here:
4. Teach about light pollution and dark skies.
Not only do outdoor lights aimed up instead of down rob us of views of our galaxy of stars, the “Milky Way”, but they waste a lot of energy lighting up the bottom of birds and clouds. Through the Dark Skies Rangers Program, students learn about the importance of dark skies and experience activities that illustrate proper lighting, light pollution’s effects on wildlife and how to measure the darkness of your skies. These activities, developed at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), are for a wide age-range of students to learn about the effects of light pollution. NOAO is a leader in dark skies education and hosts the International Year of Astronomy’s Dark Skies Cornerstone Project. (See www.darkskiesawareness.org for more information.)
There are 3 global star-counting campaigns students can participate in:
- From October 9-23, 2009: The Great World Wide Star Count
- From March 3-16, 2010: GLOBE at Night
- All Year Round: How Many Stars.
5. For Spanish-language learners, find activities and resource books here:
6. Team with an astronomer.
Project ASTRO has a network of teacher professional development sites across the country. Even if there is not an ASTRO site in your area, each site has a collection of educational resources
Want to have a star party at your school?
The NASA Night Sky Network is a collection of astronomy clubs that love to work with educators. Find one near you to work with.
7. Find Hands-On Activities by holding hands with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). They have the best astronomy teaching resources for all grade levels in the world. I count my membership as one of the best investments I have ever made.
Teach about the Size and Scale of the Solar System. It is a big universe, but did you know that the solar system is much larger than you probably imagine.
- The Earth as a Peppercorn, a classic exercise for visualizing just how BIG our Solar System really is
Andy Fraknoi (Foothill College and ASP) has found some great web-based activities.
8. Keep current with the latest discoveries.
The ASP’s electronic newsletter for teachers will help you keep up on the latest news in astronomy
Several big telescopes are being planned. Have your class try to select the next site for the world’s largest optical telescope at GSMT site selection.
9. Use this high quality free software that puts a planetarium in your computer.
- Explore vast sets of astronomical data with tools such as the World Wide Telescope or Google Sky.
10. For Young Kids and Media-savvy Kids
The internet is providing new ways to learn about astronomy. For younger students and for family-oriented activities use the great, well-tested activities from Family ASTRO
For older, internet-savvy students, podcasts are a great way to learn about astronomy.
One of the best astronomy podcasts is Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain’s Astronomy Cast, a weekly facts based journey through the cosmos.
Get your daily dose of astronomy with the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.
You can explore the possibility of life on other worlds with the SETI Institute’s Are We Alone? podcast.