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Informal Science

Middle School Astronomy Night

Author Post
Tom Heckman Tom Heckman 5495 Points

Our middle school is going to have an Astronomy Night in conjunction with our high school sometime in the next couple of weeks. The president of an area astronomy club is bringing in his telescope and we will be using a Star Lab planetarium. I have some activities in mind for students and their parents to do. I was wondering if anyone out there has been involved in a similar venture and has any ideas of things we might include.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

by Tom Heckman, May 1, 2011, 9:24 PM
I was wondering if anyone out there has been involved in a similar venture and has any ideas of things we might include.

Hi Tom,
You should check into the JPL's Solar System Ambassador (SSA) program. The SSAs are a dedicated group of space enthusiast volunteers who travel to events, similar to what you are describing, to educate students about the universe. I have been involved with this program for about 2 years, and it is outstanding. If you are in Northern California, I'd be more than happy to attend your event as an SSA (you can private message me for more details), or if you live in a different part of the country, you can find the SSA nearest to your location on the Solar System Ambassador Directory.

Additionally, the NASA Nightsky Network has numerous resources that you might find useful as you plan your astronomy night.

Best of Luck! I look forward to hearing about how everything goes! I'm sure your students and their families will have a great time and learn quite a bit!


Tom Heckman Tom Heckman 5495 Points

Thank you for the suggestions. I'm in extreme SW Indiana. The high school earth science teacher and I are working on this together. The past couple of years he's had the president of our local astronomical society bring his telescope in along with the couple he has. I'll add mine to the array this year.

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

Hi Tom! I run a similar event for my 5th grade students in conjunction with the high school astronomy club. Here are some of the activities we are doing (or have done at past events). Hope some of them work for you! The SSA is an amazing resource - use it! - while everyone is arriving, have an activity that families can do - I have playing card sized decks of "space-based" photos. They are spread around the cafeteria tables and when people get there we encourage them to find a way to organize the cards. Then as an icebreaker families can share what they had and how they organized their pile. Each pile is different and I have ones that include planets and stars, human space flight, powers of ten photos, Hubble photos, robotics, and 5 Kingdoms of living things. - bring your own telescope: we encourage families that have a telescope to bring it. The more the better - especially when it is a telescope that was purchased as a gift but no one really has any idea how to use it. - club fundraiser: hot chocolate and bake sale goodies make a great easy fundraiser for the club and keep everyone happy on a cold night. - constellation stories: the focus of our astronomy night is that the kids "take over" the star lab, showing the audience how to star hop to the constellation they researched, pointing out major stars/asterisms and then retelling the story of that constellation. Good luck with your night under the stars!

Angie Fairweather Angelika Fairweather 12180 Points

Hi Tom, This will be such a fantastic experience for your students! I worked with my local group of deep sky enthusiast to help with an astronomy night, it is great to have a pool of people who are able to easily locate and discuss celestial objects. We were able to contact our local colleges and had several professors join in to man a telescope. Another idea is to get some musicians to perform. We had an acoustic guitar club at my school that enjoyed playing during the event. Good luck and please report to us how your astronomy night goes! Thank You, Angie

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

There are so many great ideas being posted here!

Two more outstanding resources for astronomy nights or informal programs are
The GREAT STAR COUNT - sponsored by Windows to the Universe and
NASA's Afterschool Universe. There is a free training taking place in July for this program if you are in the Greenbelt, MD area.

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

Talk about astronomy nights - follow this link for music and astronomy under the stars - events listed from Massachusetts to Washington DC but most are Long Island NY based - what a great idea - star gazing through an evening concert and then star gazing afterward!

Music and Astronomy Nights

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

Talk about astronomy nights - follow this link for music and astronomy under the stars - events listed from Massachusetts to Washington DC but most are Long Island NY based - what a great idea - star gazing through an evening concert and then star gazing afterward!

Music and Astronomy Nights

Donald Boonstra Donald Boonstra 8585 Points

The year is closing and you probably aren't doing any more observations, but it sounds like you have a great thing going. There is an organization that has been getting a lot of buzz and good response. It is International Observe the Moon Night and there are many events during the year and support resources. It is great when the Moon is too bright for other observations. It is a coalition of NASA groups and astronomical groups. Lots of good energy for next year.

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

Thanks for the link to Observe the Moon Night Don - this year's event is Saturday October 8th - also Yom Kippur - but hopefully we can get students out and observing the week leading up to and that weekend as well.

The following week is the 'Great Star Count' which deals with light pollution and is a fantastic opportunity to get students involved in: UCAR Great Star Count
It also reminded me that we are still in Year of the Solar System though August 2012 - so there are many community events to get involved in and resources to support study!

Bambi Bailey Bambi Bailey 9515 Points

Tom, I can't help but bring up that it is almost the longest day of the year. Many people use this day to conduct the following activity: It is part of the Eratosthenes Project. People all over the world, most particularly student gathered at the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt measure the radius of the Earth using his methods. I know it isn't the kind of activity you're looking for specifically, but it is a great project. If you'd like to try to join a group that compares data, check out this website: Bambi

Bambi Bailey Bambi Bailey 9515 Points

I apologize. I do know my mathematical terms. I meant the circumference of the earth. Bambi

Caryn Meirs Caryn Meirs 26235 Points

It was certainly a hard winter to host an astronomy night. Now that spring weather is taking hold, the astronomy club at our school is getting ready to head outside for some viewing! In looking at the thread here, I can easily pick out these great resources and ideas that have been posted so far:
Solar System Ambassadors
Local Astronomy Club
NASA Nightsky Network
NASA's afterschool universe
UCAR Windows on the Universe

In order to get families excited about our 'Night of 100 telescopes' we can also use these resources for year-round student involvement:
World Space Week
UCAR Great Star Count
International Observe the Moon Night
Longest Day observation

There are also some useful resources for planning a family astronomy night and activities for different age groups here:
Family Science Night Collection and the Tools of Astronomers Collection.

Steve Kirsche Stephen Kirsche 9145 Points

One of the best resources I have found is local colleges. Astronomy nights are a wonderful opportunity for them to share what they know. This helps get the students excited about learning!

Karyssa Lambright Karyssa Lambright 1640 Points

This sounds like it will be a great experience! So many great ideas in here!

Caroline Dillon Caroline Dillon 315 Points

What a great idea and wonderful way to get students interested in astrology!

Julius Dease Julius Dease 830 Points

Did you mean astronomy? A middle school astronomy night would be a really cool event to get the students as well as their families involved and interested in astronomy. They may even be able to get to see some of those astrological constellations to which you may have been referring. I'm going to put this idea in my pocket for a not so rainy day.

Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11965 Points

Astronomy nights are great community outreach for schools. I just helped with one in one of our district's elementary schools a few weeks ago. I did a constellation show in one of the inflatable star lab planetariums and my wife and kids brought our boa, bearded dragons, and tortoise. Both were well received, but the animals stole the show....

Kathy Jenkins Kathy Jenkins 885 Points

In March, we had activities along with StarLab like moonjumping. Students were given a chance to see how high they could jump here on Earth and then compare it to how high they'd be able to jump if they were on the moon. We had paper hanging down the height of the wall marked every four inches. An observer measured and we averaged three jumps. Then we had a handout to help kids calculate and visualize just what the moon jump would look like. Other activities included constellation art (hole puching constellations in black paper), alien family glyphs, moon phases, and more. We tried to cover all the learning styles with some astronomy related task.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Great ideas for activities! Thanks for sharing. I especially liked the jumping activity. Such great ideas, Kathy.

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