In the hills of central Virginia, the extraordinarily dark nighttime skies of southern Albemarle County provide a natural outdoor classroom for local science education. Until recently, this rural area lacked the financial and educational support to take full advantage of this rare and valuable natural resource. With funds provided by the NSF, a team of volunteers from the University of Virginia introduced a new program this fall called "Dark Skies - Bright Kids," which promotes science education at the elementary school level through a wide range of activities. The program volunteers (comprising undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and faculty) have sought to develop a coherent schedule of fun and educational activities throughout the semester, with emphases on hands-on learning and critical thinking. For example, students learn about the constellations by making star-wheels, about rocketry by building and launching rockets, and about comets by assembling miniature analogs. Additional activities include stories about the scientific and cultural history of astronomy, visits by professional astronomers and popular book authors, and astronomy-themed exercises in art, music, and physical education. These projects are designed to make astronomy, and by extension all science, accessible and appealing to each student. Family involvement is important in any educational environment, particularly at the elementary school level. To include the students' families and the larger community in "Dark Skies," we hold weekly telescope observing sessions at the school. Here, all interested parties can come together to hear what the students are learning and view astronomical objects through a small telescope. We hope that this well-received program will soon expand to other disadvantaged schools in the area. The "Dark Skies" team is proud and excited to have an impact on the scientific literacy of the students in these starry-skied communities!
|Published - 1 Jan 2010