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SPIE Professional: Bonus Web Content

Turning Eyes to the Big Sky

By Deb Redburn

Fifteen public school teachers and one pre-service teacher attended a hands-on learning workshop at Montana State University on Saturday, 16 October 2010, as a part of the "Turning Eyes to the Big Sky Project."

photo of Ryan Hannahoe, at center

SPIE Member Ryan Hannahoe (pictured above, at center), an elementary education student at MSU, with the support of Mary Leonard, assistant professor of education, and Joe Shaw, professor of electrical engineering, led participants through a variety of activities on light and optics, refracting telescopes, and magnification -- lessons that they will incorporate in their classrooms over this school year.

"Turning Eyes to the Big Sky" was an outgrowth of an astronomy, light and optics unit Hannahoe and Shaw conducted with Bozeman's Irving Elementary School third and fourth graders last spring. "An enriching, meaningful, and dynamic public education should include a hands-on science curriculum," Hannahoe said. "All children deserve access to quality science experiences within their classrooms."

When Hannahoe decided he wanted to expand the project to include teachers, he began writing grant proposals to help fund a workshop where teachers would receive not only hands-on instruction, but also plenty of free materials for their classroom.

photo of student with telescopeHannahoe's proposals to the SPIE Education Outreach Program, several programs at MSU, NASA (Hannahoe is one of 50 NASA Space Science Student Ambassadors), and the Montana Space Grant Consortium netted more than $18,000 worth of funds and materials. From these various funding sources, each attendee received a kit with activities and materials that included a Terrific Telescopes tool-kit and curriculum (part of the Hands-On Optics program described at www.hands-on-optics.org).

Each teacher also received enough simple refracting telescope kits and materials for up to 25 of their students, a set of five Eldeman Galileoscopes for their classroom, and a SunSpotter solar telescope.

Hannahoe, Shaw, and Leonard conducted several lectures and demonstrations on rays, waves, and photons, as well as guided participants through numerous activities that they would use with students in their own classroom. Teachers completed several activities with refraction of light through acrylic blocks and convex lenses and also spent the afternoon building a refracting telescope.

"Kids will love this," said Austin Peaslee, a first-year middle school teacher from Butte, MT. "They will like the hands-on activities and will get excited about working with something visual."

Becky Atkins, a teacher from Monforton School in Gallatin County, agreed. "While it's fun and exciting, these activities also have real world application," she said. 

photo of astronomy outreach participantsAs an additional component to the project, Hannahoe will travel to each participant's classroom this year to work directly with students. He will administer a pre-assessment and will teach an "Eye on the Big Sky" lesson.

Each teacher will teach the "Terrific Telescopes" curriculum for 45 minutes a day for two weeks and will administer a post-assessment. "Extending opportunities to children while helping them feel comfortable in the science world is my ultimate goal," Hannahoe said. "Some of these children may even become world-changing scientists."

As a culmination to the project, all teachers and their students are invited to attend an evening star party in April at the Museum of the Rockies' Astronomy Day.

SPIE Education and Outreach Grants

As part of its education outreach mission, SPIE provides support for optics and photonics related education outreach projects. The Montana Space Grant Consortium was one of 32 organizations that received SPIE Education Outreach grants in 2010.

The award process is competitive; applications are judged on their potential to impact students and increase optics awareness. Deadlines for 2011 grants are 31 January and 31 May.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201010.53

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