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Wow and Cool

Paul Kohlmiller


This school year was my first year with Project ASTRO. I had a lot of reservations about trying to teach Astronomy to grade school kids but it has been a lot of fun. You might have the same reservations so let me set things straight. You are not given strict curriculums to follow. You can construct a class visit any way that you and the classroom teacher want. In my class, the teacher gives me nearly carte blanche.

In South Bay schools, grade school science shows up mostly in 5th and 8th grades. I was assigned a 5th grade class in East San Jose. I thought maybe that was too young and I would lose their attention early. This did not happen. They have been very interested. Every class there is some astro factoid or picture that gets a "wow."

Another problem I thought I would have is preparing enough stuff for the classroom visit. My teacher generously gave me from 8:30 to 10:15. For my first class I thought I would tackle just three things: lunar phases; the seasons and naming the planets. During the Project ASTRO workshop, we were warned that we might not have enough planned for our first Project ASTRO visits. I didn't leave the classroom until 11:30. And I had a couple of cheesy magic tricks planned if I ran out of astronomy material. I didn't get to use any of them until visit #5!

The support of the Project ASTRO community is also something to keep in mind. There is a forum on the ASP website and the lending library includes slides, materials and scopes. I borrowed some solar scopes and a "solar science kit". I can't tell you how many times I thought the kids would think an activity was lame and instead they said "cool." As long as you don't say certain code words like "test" and "homework", it's all cool.

Project ASTRO also gives the astronomer more freedom than the teacher has in some surprising ways. For one thing, you may have heard that teachers have a strict limit on how much they can buy for the classroom and call it a donation. Project ASTRO astronomers have no such limitation because you are actually donating to Project ASTRO (and the ASP) and they will send you a letter (or e-mail) thanking you for your donation.

My teacher partner passed along a statement from a student who said "I don't like science except when the astronomer comes". Statements like that will be your salary in Project ASTRO.


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