May 16, 2013

Capturing the Cosmos in Huntsville

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Chris Myers, U.S. Space and Rocket Center®, Huntsville, AL for this post

Bringing the Cosmos to Space Camp®!

YCCC AyshamAt the U.S. Space and Rocket Center® and Space Camp, we are constantly looking for fun and innovative ways to teach our museum guests and trainees about space history and the science and math concepts that surround it. Naturally, we were excited to participate in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics series of instructional webinars in order to get some fresh ideas and content.  The creativity started to flow as we reviewed the background material, but the amount and quality of the lesson plans and information presented to us by Mary Dussault and Erin Braswell was impressive. By the end of the first hour of the webinar, we had solid ideas and lesson plans that could be implemented in every program from summer Day Camp for 5-year-olds to Advanced Space Academy® for high-school seniors. And they meet both state and national curriculum guidelines!  In this case, our target subject was astronomy.

For our younger trainees, we adapted the activities that dealt with colors and filters into a hands-on component for our astronomy briefing “Tenacious Telescopes.” We use PVC pipe, colored felt and theater lighting gel in the primary colors to teach the trainees about how real telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope use filters to look for specific information, and how scientists can put these single-color images together to make a full-color picture. In addition to making it look more like a real telescope, mounting the color filter inside a PVC pipe telescope has the added bonus of keeping our filters fingerprint and wrinkle free.

YCCC3For our Advanced Academy (junior high to high school) trainees, we added an image processing component into our existing astronomy curriculum which is made up of four components. At the beginning of the week, the trainees participate in a lecture called “Exploring the Night Sky” where they learn the basics of astronomy and focus on finding and naming the constellations and deep space objects. Our second astronomy block is the “Micro Observatory Lab,” where our trainees use the Mobs software to compile full-color images of deep space objects. Our third astronomy block is a “Night Telescope” activity, where the trainees use real telescopes to find the same objects in the sky of which they compiled images the day before. And for our final astronomy block, our Advanced Academy trainees learn the stories behind selected constellations in our inflatable Star Lab.

YCCC AkilHWe have been running the “Micro Observatory Lab” astronomy block since December, 2011, and have had more than 1,500 trainees from all over the world participate. We have so many students participating that we aren’t able to display all their artwork at once, so we have set up two small rotating exhibits of 12 featured photos each here at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, one located in the Main Museum and the other located in the Science Lab used for our summer Space Academy for Educators® camp, and we plan to add a third, larger display to our computer lab this summer.

These kinds of seminars and programs are what make it so awesome to be a part of the network of Smithsonian Affiliates. Imagine all the fun, innovative and educational activities you can dream up with the help of these services! So get out there and sign up for a class today! And spare a glance for the colorful cosmos while you’re at it!

March 27, 2013

Capturing the Cosmos in College Park

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Chelsea Dorman, College Park Aviation Museum, College Park, MD for this post

Last fall, College Park Aviation Museum had the opportunity to lead two Capture the Colorful Cosmos classes using assistance from a Smithsonian Youth Access Fund grant. Our museum attracts many younger children for all of its hands-on activities, but we have been looking for ways to expand our reach to older students. I was excited to be able to use a program about astrophotography to target a new audience of middle school age students. With events like the transit of Venus and solar flares frequently making the news, learning to operate robotic telescopes to take pictures of the heavens has an easy draw. College Park sits just outside of Washington, D.C. in Prince George’s County, MD and boasts a very diverse population. The Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission runs much of the recreation in the county including 41 community centers and our museum. This made it a natural fit for us to offer the Capture the Colorful Cosmos program to our immediate community.

DJ Exhibition

We decided to hold our Capture the Colorful Cosmos programs at nearby community centers since the museum does not have a computer lab. Both Beltsville Community Center and Langley Park Community Center offered us space for an after school program that would be held once a week, for six weeks in their computer labs. Our class size was limited to 10 students by the seats available in the room, but we found that these students kept us busy throughout each class, and it would have been difficult to accommodate additional participants.

Ellie Exhibition

In our first session, students learned the basics of the MicroObservatory software, how to request images, and discussed how astronomy influences their everyday life. Throughout the course we tried to keep a balance of learning to manipulate images, learning about the universe, and a creative activity. At the end of each session students went home with a copy of the image they had created that day printed on our photo printer. By the end of the course, students were able to create and refine composite images and false color images, creating all sorts of artistic, brightly colored galaxies and moons. The Kids Capture the Universe curriculum provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was a terrific resource for finding activities and planning our program. One of our students’ favorite activities was creating astropoetry and many of them decided to include their poem in our final exhibit.

All of the students’ hard work culminated in an exhibit that was displayed at College Park Aviation Museum for three months. Each student picked two images they had created to display. During our final two classes, everyone poured through books and websites to learn about the celestial objects in their images so they could write a caption describing their work. The exhibit was debuted with an evening reception, which coincided with the opening of our Aviation Meets Art exhibit featuring local artists. It was a fantastic event, and everyone was thrilled and impressed by what the kids had created. In fact, many of the adults in attendance wanted to know when they would have their chance to create astrophotography images of their own.

The Capture the Colorful Cosmos program has been a great way for us to continue to grow our outreach. Through this program we were able to reach a nearby home-school group who had never been to our museum. The kids had a lot of enthusiasm for what they were learning, and would frequently share other astrophotography pictures and facts they had found at home. The program was a great success, and we plan on using what we have learned to host another workshop, this time at College Park Aviation Museum. In May, we will utilize the set of netbooks made available by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to host a family workshop. We hope this will allow the younger children and adults who are interested to learn about astrophotography too. Capture the Colorful Cosmos was easy to learn and implement, so we hope to continue offering it as a recurring event.

 

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