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Project ASTRO: Teacher-Astronomer Partnerships

Three of the keys to Project ASTRO's success are the careful selection of teachers and astronomers, the careful matching of teachers with astronomers before the training workshops, and the training workshops themselves.

Teacher Selection. Teachers are selected in a competitive process developed in the Project ASTRO pilot project. Criteria include grade level taught, interest in teaching astronomy, science teaching background, and student populations taught (an emphasis has been placed on reaching students traditionally underrepresented in science because Project ASTRO has been found to be unusually successful with these students).

Teachers are not required to have any experience teaching astronomy, but they are expected to have an interest in and enthusiasm for participating in Project ASTRO. It is considered helpful if a teacher has had some experience in inquiry-centered, hands-on teaching of science. However, the pilot experience showed that teachers with no such experience benefited. In fact, some went on to change their teaching styles.

Teacher candidates are also asked whether they have the time, flexibility, and willingness to integrate an astronomer-partner into their class schedules. This is not always easy given the time constraints of most teachers.

Astronomer Selection. The selection process for astronomers is competitive. Commitment and interpersonal skills but not teaching experience per se are viewed as essential. It is not essential for the candidate to be either a professional or an amateur astronomer; both have proved successful in the program.

Astronomer-candidates must be able to commit to participating fully in Project ASTRO's two-day training workshop and to visiting the teacher-partner's classes at least four times during the year.

Although no teaching experience is required, experience explaining astronomy to children or the public is preferred. In the pilot project, 16% of those responding to a questionnaire were teaching for the first time, 34% had been making school or youth club visits for more than one year, and 50% indicated adult or college teaching experience.

Creating Good Partnerships. To ensure good partnerships, Project ASTRO lead institutions--those in charge of Project ASTRO sites-- follow certain guidelines developed from the pilot project:

  • Team size: Lead institutions match each astronomer with one, two, or sometimes three teachers.
  • Timing: Partnerships are formed before the training workshops, so that the workshops are an opportunity for partners not only to learn but also to develop a friendship for and confidence in one another.
  • Partnership training: The training workshops cover how to have a successful partnership. It is consider critical for teachers and astronomers to attend together. Then there is ongoing training and networking throughout the year and in subsequent years.
  • Failed partnerships: Because they involve human beings, not all partnerships are successful or continue in subsequent years. Project coordinators at each site play an important role in negotiating or counseling when difficulties arise or in finding replacement partners when necessary.

Training Workshops. The two-day training workshops have three different strands:

  • How children learn; preconceptions that children have; cognitive development and the significance of a child's age
  • Inquiry-based teaching is demonstrated, with outstanding science educators as models
  • What classrooms are really like; what works in classrooms and what doesn't; how to form effective partnerships (including a brainstorming session on what to do and what not to do in various situations).

There is also a strong emphasis on the importance of networking, initially locally and eventually nationally. Participants draw on each other as resources, and most sites create informal list-servers, newsletters, and follow-up activities to support a continuation of this collaboration and sharing.

Training Materials. All teams receive the 44-page How-To Manual for Teachers and Astronomers and the 813-page looseleaf notebook entitled The Universe at Your Fingertips: An Astronomy Activity and Resource Notebook, view the video entitled "Partners in Learning," and receive any equipment needed to do any of the activities that were modeled or performed during the workshop.

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