CARA Education and Outreach:
Precollege Education

Precollege education is the heart and soul of CARA's outreach efforts and the cornerstone of our K-12 efforts is the Space Explorers Program. The Space Explorers program is a multi-year commitment that aims to increase interest and abilities in math and science of African American students from disadvantaged inner city school systems. The program strives to broaden the Space Explorers' base of scientific knowledge; to improve their abilities in problem solving, critical thinking, and synthesis; to develop their communications skills, to enrich their awareness of career options in science and technology fields, and to increase their motivation to attend college.

This is achieved through exposure to advanced technology, hands-on activities, and the cultivation of personal relationships with members of CARA's research community. The Space Explorers Program is built upon what are recognized to be four effective strategies of outreach education:
  1. using hands-on (laboratory) activities,
  2. providing multi-year involvement,
  3. conducting residential experiences, and
  4. assuring parental involvement.
The final key components of the program are our partners, particularly the Office of Special Programs at the University of Chicago, which serves as our link to the students' families and the Woodlawn community, near the University of Chicago.

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Parents, students, and CARA educational staff at the Yerkes 40-inch.

Each year there are typically thirty Space Explorers. These are primarily high school students from Hyde Park Career Academy, but occasionally middle school students, and they remain Explorers until they graduate high school. The Explorer program are divided between residential programs at Yerkes Observatory, classes and laboratory exercises in Chicago, and special field trips.

Yerkes Observatory Summer and Winter Institutes

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Students learn how to make a comet at a Yerkes Summer Institute.
The Yerkes Observatory Summer Institute is a one-week program that involves hands-on science activities organized around a central theme such as the Sun. Students are divided into small groups that cycle through 11-12 experiments. A typical laboratory activity would be to measure the brightness of the Sun in terms of 100 watt bulbs, or exploiting Yerkes' isolated location to employ a television set as a tool to measure the speed of light. Older Explorers take a leadership role and help facilitate the institute both as teaching assistants and in guiding small reporting groups on developing bulletin boards and presentations. The institute culminates with presentations by the students for their parents, their peers, and Yerkes researchers based on special topics that each group worked on in depth.
We have a page on Yerkes Summer Institutes, including pictures and schedules.

The winter institute is a similar immersion experience but of shorter duration. We have a page on Yerkes Winter Institutes, including schedules.

During the Academic Year

During the academic year the Space Explorers meet an average of twice weekly in classes or laboratories organized by CARA. In weekly workshops at the Adler Planetarium the students focus on astronomy, using the Project STAR curriculum, develop their math skills, and train in the operation of the StarLab portable planetarium. The laboratory course stresses hands-on activities and utilizes the facilities of the University of Chicago. The labs are typically unified with a theme related to physics or astronomy.
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Students learn about the Dunham
telescope on campus at the University of Chicago.

Field Trips

Some recent field trips have included visits to Argonne National Laboratory's Division of Educational Programs Instructional Laboratories. There the Explorers were immersed in the world of forensics through lectures by experts and hands-on "crime laboratories." Their experiments, which were often motivated by a mystery context, involved research grade instrumentation such as a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer. The forensic theme and its associated contextual problems were designed to both promote higher order thinking and to highlight the interconnection of chemistry, biology, and physics.

StarLab Portable Planetarium

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LaShay Mays teaches in the Starlab Planetarium.
Space Explorers also work with the Adler Planetarium to present programs in elementary schools using a StarLab portable planetarium. This outreach effort greatly amplifies CARA's impact. In the past seven years over 20,000 students have been exposed to astronomy and positive minority role models through this program. In 1998, over twenty schools and 3,000 students participated.

We have a separate page with more information about the Starlab, including pictures of the setup in action.

Related Links

In the CARA web:
Elsewhere in the web: