CARA Outreach - Starlab

This document is heavily based on the NASA IDEA grant application submitted by Harper, Brass, Lawkins, and Sweitzer in 1993 for the 1994-95 year.



Introduction
How it works
Effects of this program
Lessons Learned
Evaluation
The Actual Starlab program

Pictures of Starlab in action


Introduction

The Starlab is an inflatable, portable planetarium owned by Adler Planetarium. With the help of an Adler astronomy educator, the Space Explorers are trained in the set up and use of the Starlab. The high-school students then take the Starlab and the excitement of astronomy into Chicago grammar schools. This program reaches over two thousand grammar school students on the South Side of Chicago each year.

The Space Explorers have taken the Starlab to inner-city Chicago grammar schools for three years now. The results are promising and encouraging. Having the programs conducted by students from the high schools (which the grammar school students will eventually attend) has been a highly motivating experience. The younger children pay very careful attention, more so than if the programs were conducted by adults. The benefits go the other way as well. The high school Space Explorers profit from having to make formal presentations. This mentoring and coaching dynamic is a vital aspect of the Space Explorers project.

CARA is now examining ways to replicate and translate this program and thus is targeting two additional audiences. The first new audience is the teachers in the schools we already service. The second group is to strengthen our support of an experiment in replicating this program in a school district in Wisconsin near Yerkes Observatory.

How it works

Adler Planetarium's Starlab is transported to approximately 20 grammar schools in Chicago. In past visits, individual school attendance has reached over 100 per visit. The project is expected to reach at least 2,000 elementary students and teachers per year. For the this part of the budget presented below, the cost to NASA is only $3 per student. A tremendous advantage of the project is that it builds on an existing community of interest, which has already been established between the schools, principals, and teachers of the students that will be served. This is because the University of Chicago's Office of Special Programs has been networking to create similar programs for over twenty years.

In practice, the principals and at least one teacher are recruited from each school by OSP and shown the Starlab program. When they understand the program and agree to participate, the Adler Planetarium schedules a visit. The actual presentation is done by Space Explorers under the supervision of the Adler Planetarium's Outreach Astronomer, Charles Brass. Other planetarium educators help with Starlab training and basic astronomy/Antarctic science classes. The high school students receive credit for these classes from the Chicago School System. Teachers are now becoming more formally involved by the creation of astronomy clubs at the participating schools. These clubs are a direct result of the earlier NASA supported Starlab visits.

The Space Explorers Outreach program is an innovative idea for bringing the excitement of astronomy to minorities who are underrepresented in the technological work force. It is also a program that is unique in its participatory nature both in the nature of the educational activities, and in the broad spectrum of students, educators, parents, and scientists who are involved in the program.

Effects of this program

This program is intrinsically a high multiplication effect in terms of raw numbers - a few scientists and educators reach thousands of elementary students. The interest it has generated has resulted in the spawning of two other programs. Many of the Starlab visits have stimulated the creation of astronomy clubs in the schools. These clubs are then mentored by the Space Explorers and we are just now beginning to work on ways to help the teacher sponsors. Second, the junior high students who have seen the Starlab programs and who are interested in science have now been recruited into a program called Young Astronomers. We currently have about 60 Young Astronomers who take basic astronomy classes at the Office of Special Programs. If it were not for the Starlab, these additional programs would not have come into being.

The program has now been exported once. The Space Explorer activities attracted the attention of educators in the schools near Yerkes Observatory during 1992. Since then, the State of Wisconsin provided start-up funds for teachers in the Big Foot Area District to create their own program modeled on the Space Explorers. CARA educators helped plan this new program and trained the teachers. This program uses the Starlab of George Williams College and relies heavily on the experience gained in the past three years of running the program in Chicago.

CARA has ample evidence of the effectiveness of this approach. The students that it serves speak highly of it in exit interviews. We have found that there is an increase in the numbers of kids who have seen the Starlab and wish to participate in the next level of CARAs outreach -- the Young Astronomer clubs. OSP reports that they have seen that the Young Astronomers as a whole seem to be sticking better with the program and are doing well in math and science. One other measure of the effectiveness of the program is that the demand is very high for visits. We continue to be asked back and have received many other requests. The Chicago Board of Education has re-activated its Starlab since we began this program. They would not claim that we have stimulated the emission of their moribund program, but we know that teachers who saw our program put the pressure on them to take their Starlab out of mothballs. Most of all, we have seen a new atmosphere in the schools we serve that anticipates and has a high interest in astronomy education. A new astronomy education community has been created in Chicago.

Lessons Learned

We have learned several lessons in the past few years. We know that projects like this can happen with the proper alliance and if they have a person who is employed in part to coordinator the efforts of the volunteers and partners. On the social side, we have learned many lessons about the way to build and support a team to implement programs like this, many times in some of the toughest schools in the city. We know how to reach kids that most of the nation has given up on. CARA has also learned that we need to do more to enhance the abilities of the teachers of the students we serve. The teachers have been very supportive, but somewhat passive in the past. They have indicated that they would like more help with the astronomy, to be able to work with our educators to assemble lesson plans, and to have access to astronomical teaching materials. Outside of the city, we have seen that the basic organization and concept can work, but needs to be coordinated better to be adapted and fine-tuned to local alliances. Finally, we have received many other queries about replicating the program in venues as diverse as the National Air and Space Museum, a museum of Egyptology, the Hayden Planetarium in New York and the Los Angeles Parks System.

We plan to enhance and improve the project first by working closer with the teachers we already serve. We will conduct six one-hour training sessions with the 20 teachers we already reach over a period of 11 months. They will be taught hands-on activities and will construct lesson plans at each session. Each of the 20 teachers in this training program will make one staff development presentation at their school. This will turn them into master astronomy teachers in their schools. These teachers will be invited to participate in the other Space Explorer institutes held at Yerkes and on the U. of C. campus. The second enhancement project will support the educators at Yerkes Observatory to actively help the Big Foot Area School District. In the past the Observatory staff, such as John Briggs, have done this on a purely voluntary basis. We want to add teeth to the program by supporting Briggs in his efforts and thereby learn from the creation of a stable and thriving similar program in a rural setting. The program we currently operate draws upon extensive support from the alliance institutions. It is hard to account precisely for all the people involved and the time they invest.

NASAs support has helped us continue to leverage the NSF for additional support for the much larger Space Explorers program. The Office of Special Programs has leveraged federal and state funding for all their math and science programs because of NASAs involvement. The Adler Planetarium has received a van from the Chicago Land Chevy dealers and another private grant to do a similar program at schools that serve the Chicago Housing Authority. Finally, and maybe more importantly, NASAs participation along with the NSF has afforded a legitimacy to these efforts that makes it relatively easy for scientists to participate. In the past involvement like this would be seen as simply charity work by astronomers.

Evaluation

Measuring the success of the Space Explorers Outreach program is straightforward. If it is successful, then the program will recruit new Space Explorers, retain high school students in the already existing program, and enlist teachers to participate. The following sets of numbers, tabulated each year, help quantify this: Most importantly, the number of students that go on to college will be counted. These numbers can be compared with the OSP's track record over the last twenty years. Finally, a good qualitative measure will be the reactions of the students and their parents who have always proven to be the most insightful critics.

The actual Starlab Program

The high school students who help give the Starlab programs are called Space Explorers (SEs) and have been trained both in the proper erection of the Starlab and to help give the educational program. The word student, as used below, refers to the grammar school students for whom the outreach visit is being conducted. After the first NASA supported season, we have made a few changes in the program, but it is essentially the same as proposed the last two years. Here are the details of how the program proceeds under the supervision of the Outreach Astronomer:

1. Pre-Visit
After the reservation is arranged, the Outreach Astronomer contacts the school's coordinator of the event and mails pre-visit materials to the teachers. These pre-visit materials will include both a description of the rules and operational aspects of the upcoming experience, also materials on how to prepare the students for the educational concepts in the program. Other materials currently include constellation pictures, star cap activity sheets, Abrams Sky Calendars, and evaluation forms.

2. Program Preceding Starlab Experience: 8:30 am to Noon

3. Introduction, Operations, and Program: 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
4. Objectives
  1. Introduce the audience to the current night sky
  2. As a group, the audience will be able to locate and identify:
  3. Answer student questions about science and engineering careers or other questions raised by the pre-visit materials
5. Methods 6. Outline of Winter Program 7. Post Program 8. Post-Starlab Activities

Pictures of Starlab in action