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Project ASTRO: Astronomer Roles and Activities

Goals. Project ASTRO's amateur and professional astronomers work in partnership with educators to bring astronomy to students and to help teachers develop their understanding and comfort with astronomy.

Commitment. Participating astronomers make a commitment to attend a training workshop and to visit their partner school at least four times during the school year. Almost all astronomers make at least three to four visits during their first year in the project, and a good number visit more often, some as many as weekly.

Roles for Astronomer during Class Visits. Astronomers play a number of different roles during their visits. Most astronomers, working together with their teacher partners, lead or help lead students in hands-on astronomy activities. In many cases, the astronomer and teacher "team-teach," that is, they lead the activity together. In other cases, teachers prepare their students for the visit, and the astronomer leads the activity on his or her own.

Kinds of Activities. The activities led by the astronomer-teacher team or the astronomer alone may be closely linked to the classroom curriculum and what the students are currently studying, or they may be done as stand-alone astronomy lessons.

Planning and Follow-up. Astronomers and teachers together determine how to structure their visits and what roles to play, given their particular interests and situation. Teachers generally continue the astronomy activities between the astronomer's visits.

An Example Activity. One example of the type of activity astronomers and teachers might do involves having students observe and investigate the Moon and its phases, using activities from The Universe at Your Fingertips . Students might do this by first making hypotheses about the order of the Moon's phases, then charting the Moon's phase each day over a month and modeling the Moon's phases using styrofoam balls. Later, students might discuss their observations of slides of Earth's Moon and the moons of other planets, and experiment with craters by dropping objects of different sizes into pans of flour or salt. Then, students might design their own lunar colony, given specific design constraints, or they might go on to create a scale model of the entire solar system on the school grounds.

Project ASTRO astronomers can play a role at various stages of this unit: for example, they could set up a telescope for daytime or nighttime Moon observations, lead the whole class through the Moon-phase modeling activity, show and discuss slides, or work with students in small groups as they experiment with craters or design their lunar colonies. The astronomers' role depends on his or her interests, the teachers' interest, and both partners' time availability.

Other Roles for Astronomers. In addition to working directly with students, Project ASTRO astronomers may play a number of other roles. These range from helping teachers determine the scope and sequence of an astronomy unit, arranging a field trip to an observatory or other research institution, organizing school-wide "star parties" for students and families, providing training to other teachers in the school, or presenting at school board meetings. Project ASTRO has found that astronomers who remain involved in the project often branch out from their original classroom visits to take on more school or community projects in support of science education.

Subsequent Years. Project ASTRO astronomers are encouraged to continue working with their original teacher partner in subsequent years. Many do continue working with their first teacher (62% of those responding in one summative evaluation); some are matched with a new educator in the same school or in a new school.

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