Observatory Education Program

Students gathered underneath the Hale telescope.

The University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory Education Program is dedicated to using the historic legacy and resources of Yerkes Observatory to provide immersive educational experiences for learners of all ages and to anchor a vibrant intellectual community that makes strong and lasting contributions to national educational priorities.

One goal of this mission is to grow and sustain a community of youth, educators and STEM professionals that will foster life-long curiosity about the natural world and empower, reward, and amplify the efforts of learners of all ages. To that end, Yerkes Education Outreach provides educational opportunities and resources in a collaborative environment that combines the highest quality teaching and science expertise and is inclusive of all learners of any age.

Star Parties

Throughout the year, Yerkes offers star parties for the general public. Amateur astronomers volunteer their time and set up portable telescopes on the South Lawn. These events include indoor and outdoor activities suitable for adults and children which are designed for either clear or cloudy weather. Star Parties are organized by area educators and professionals through the Stars at Yerkes Professional Learning Community and are held each month

Family Nights

Yerkes Observatory offers monthly Family Nights for families with students in grades 3-8. These programs encourage interactive learning and help build understanding of science, technology, and math. Family Nights include hands-on activities, experiences with internet resources, and presentations by professional astronomers. While Family Nights are held, rain or shine, observing with telescopes is also scheduled when skies are clear. This year’s Family Nights are organized by Tammie DeMicco of the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. Participants meet in the early evening at Yerkes Observatory; there is a $20 fee per Family Night. Advance registration is strongly recommended.

Student Activities

Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists (YAAYS)

The 2012 YAAYS camp participants on the front stairs of Yerkes.

Every year, Yerkes Observatory scientists and educators offer a variety of summer camps revolving around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics.

Offerings include YAAYS half-day sessions for Grades 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8, as well as two Tech Camps, one for co-ed students and one specifically designed for girls only. Each session offers age-appropriate activities for students and includes a night observing opportunity for students and their families.

YAAYS began under a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Award #0639690[3] as a way to foster learning in STEM topics through extracurricular activities in astronomy and astrophysics.

Information and schedules for 2016 Summer Camps will be available on this site after January 1, 2016.

Skynet Junior Scholars

Skynet Junior Scholars, funded by the NSF, is a collaboration among The University of Chicago (Award #1223687[4]), the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (Award #1223235[5]), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank (Award #1223345[6]), and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This project serves middle school youth and their leaders of 4-H clubs and other out-of-school education groups.

Online and Face to Face Leader Skynet Junior Scholars Workshops
The Yerkes 41-inch reflector is the largest telescope in Skynet’s worldwide system of robotic telescopes. Enabling students to observe with telescopes and investigate the universe through their own images is a high priority for Yerkes education projects.

With a simple internet connection, students conduct various astronomy investigations using world-class telescopes in the US, Chile, and Australia. Suitable for middle school students and older youth in 4-H clubs, after-school and museum programs, and other non-school groups, Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS) workshops offer:

  • Access to Skynet Robotic Telescopes
  • Explorations through a series of inquiry-based STEM activities that engage young people in a variety of astronomy topics
  • An online web-portal which allows users to create an image gallery, share data with other young scientists, and publish their results
  • Communication with astronomers, engineers, software developers and SJS staff
  • An opportunity for young participants to advance and assist astronomers with their projects

Participants in out-of-school programs may participate in SJS after an adult leader completes an SJS professional development workshop. Participation in this workshop is free of cost.

Yerkes is now accepting applications from leaders of 4-H clubs, after-school programs, museum programs, and other non-school programs. To learn more and to apply, visit Skynet Junior Scholars Workshop (http://www.gb.nrao.edu/sjsworkshop/)

McQuown Scholars

Many students who have participated in Yerkes programs ultimately pursue the prestigious McQuowan Scholars Award at the Yerkes Observatory. With the goal of providing high school students with experiences that support the successful pursuit of STEM careers, the McQuown Scholars program engages students interested in science, computer programming, imaging and engineering. Students assume leadership roles and help to organize and run the program. This initiative has encouraged and supported those who have gone on to pursue college degrees in science, engineering, and astronomy.

This program is free for participants who are willing to invest their time and skills in a self-paced program organized around their individual interests and goals. Once accepted, a McQuown Apprentice Scholar will engage with and learn from a variety of professionals and peers and will be assigned an advisor who is a member of the Yerkes staff or of the University of Chicago faculty.

The McQuown Scholars initiative is coordinated by Kara Rowbotham, who currently teaches science at Williams Bay High School and whose resume includes a flight on NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory.

Interested candidates should contact the McQuown Scholars coordinator Kara Rowbotham at rowbka AT gmail.com

For more information, visit McQuown Scholars (https://sites.google.com/a/starsatyerkes.net/yerkes-young-stars/sofia-hs-group/mcquown-scholars)

YY Stars

Less formal than the McQuown Scholars, the YY Stars program provides opportunities for junior-high and high school students who are interested in technology, astronomy, and scientific research. Students will participate in project lectures by other high school students, interact with Yerkes staff in a collaborative effort, and work on projects in the areas of technology, outreach, asteroid research, observing/imaging and plate vault research. YY Stars participants may also advance to the McQuown Scholars program.

For further information, visit YYStars (https://sites.google.com/a/starsatyerkes.net/yerkes-young-stars/sofia-hs-group)

School and Professional Development

Teacher Resources and Workshops

Teacher leaders who have participate in Yerkes professional development initiatives have formed the Stars at Yerkes (S@Y) professional learning community for both novices and veterans alike. The group sponsors monthly workshops and star parties which are open to all educators, amateur astronomers and out-of-school youth group leaders.

Group members have participated in advanced astronomy and astrophysics research, outreach and ambassador programs, including NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP), the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (for SOFIA) program, Hands-On Universe (HOU and EU-HOU), Searching for Asteroids ASAC, and the Pulsar Search Collaboratory.

Workshops are presented four times a year. Upcoming activities will include remote observing with the Stone Edge telescope in California, a session presented by NOAO professional astronomer Dr. Connie Walker in November, and a workshop with Sloan Digital Survey Plates for Education in the spring.

Spots for these workshops fill in quickly. If interested, please return to this site for updated information.

Schedule for Teacher Workshops

November 21, 2015: Dr. Connie Walker, from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Kitt Peak in Tuscon will conduct this workshop from 9:30-3:00 in the library at Yerkes Observatory. Dr. Walker specializes in education and public outreach, presenting programs on general astronomy, dark skies preservation, optics and solar research as well as developing curricula and kits for science education. She also directs the international light pollution tracking campaign GLOBE at Night. She is the recipient of the 2011 International Dark-Sky Association Hoag-Robinson award. This workshop is being presented as an outgrowth from the Geneva Lake Dark Sky Initiative which is committed to educating others about simple solutions to the detrimental effects of light pollution. The $25 fee includes lunch.

Register here for the November 21st Dark Skies Training