CARA Outreach -
Yerkes Summer Institutes

A Sample Week
Specific Examples Pictures, schedules, etc.


The Yerkes Summer Insititutes (YSI) are annual events organized by CARA for the Space Explorers Program. The high school students (the Space Explorers) come up from Chicago to Yerkes Observatory (in Williams Bay, Wisconsin) for a week in August. The students sleep and eat near the Observatory at George Williams College, but they spend their days (and a good part of their nights) learning astronomy at the Observatory.

The students generally stay in the program for at least three years as high school students, and now we're starting to get high school students who have been with us even longer through the Young Astronomers program. This has a significant impact on what and how we teach the students.

The themes of the YSIs are on a three-year cycle: The Solar System, The Sun and Stars, and The Galaxy. After three years, there are enough new students in the Space Explorers program that we start again with the Solar System theme.

Astronomy instructors live at the observatory; Office of Special Programs staff from Chicago live with the students at George Williams and take care of all of the details associated with running a youth program for thirty high school students.

A Sample Week

The thirty students are evenly divided into three groups, nicknamed after three summer constellations (e.g. Sagittarius, Virgo, Leo). Each group has several leadership students, and each instructor has at least one leadership student assigned to him or her to aid in the labs. Each instructor has 3-5 students assigned to him or her as a "reporting group" -- these students are responsible for designing a bulletin board (including a paper) and presenting material to parents and visiting Young Astronomers (middle school students) on Friday night; they also must make a 15 minute presentation with visual aids to the rest of the group on Saturday morning.

Not coincidentally, the week in August of the YSI is generally also the week of the Perseid meteor shower. As appropriate, special (late-)night activities are structured around the event. Classes the following day may be restructured slightly to accomodate sleeping a little late.

Students arrive in Wisconsin.
1-3 PM : While most of the students are getting settled at George Williams, the Leadership Students meet with the Staff to review the week's activities and distribute materials.
3:30-4:30 PM : Staff review final logistics.
8-11 PM : Kickoff Star Party, star hunt, and food. Official introductions and welcome. Volunteers from the Milwaukee Astronomical Society and other local amateur astronomy groups bring telescopes; they and the Staff help the students find stars and planets while dodging mosquitoes.
Three lab sessions are held most of the week: 9-11 AM, 2-4 PM, and 9-11 PM. The three groups cycle through eleven labs over the course of the week such that every student attends every lab. (The leadership students float between groups as needed to assist their instructor.)
The regular three lab sessions are held: 9-11 AM, 2-4 PM, and 9-11 PM. In addition, from 4:15-5 PM, the leadership groups meet with their instructor advisors to work on their bulletin boards and presentations for Friday and Saturday.
Students spend the day working on their bulletin boards, papers, and presentations with their advisors. Parents and Young Astronomers arrive at the Observatory from 8-10 PM; they visit all the lab demonstrations and the posters, then we reconvene for food in the rotunda. In 1994, we also had special opportunities to communicate directly with the winter-overs at the South Pole. (Winter-overs spend late February to late October at the Pole with no physical contact with anyone else - no planes land at the Pole during the Austral winter, and there is only one airdrop midway through -- so it was especially exciting for the winter-overs to get to talk to the students and parents and answer their questions.)
From 9AM-noon, the student reporting groups report their results and take questions from the audience.

Specific Examples

These documents were created from what was handed out to the instructors upon arrival at the Institute, so the lab descriptions may not be exactly what was actually done. As we gained experience in 1991-92, the structure evolved. In particular, we have increased the emphasis on student projects and reporting over the years. [The archival material that has been preserved from 1991-2 is somewhat less than helpful, so we haven't included it here.] The current structure has been essentially stable since 1993, and follows what was listed above. Actual labs can be retrieved (when available) via our Resources page.