CARA Outreach -
Yerkes Summer Institutes
A Sample Week
Specific Examples Pictures,
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.
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 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
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
- 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.
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