Introduction My December blog (The Headless Angels and the Four Science Concepts) dealt with science concepts in general, and concluded with a brief discussion of size and distance models of the Solar System. Larry and I developed the models many years ago for use in teacher in-service training workshops. The updated activities described below are now being used for Girl Scout Adult Leadership Workshops under the auspices of a NASA-funded program, Reaching for the Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts. SIZE MODEL 1: The Diameters of the Planets Background: Planetary scientists sometimes use the Earth as a reference point in making measurements. For example, the distance between the Earth and the Sun is called an Astronomical Unit, or AU, and is used to describe distances in the Solar System. Another example is Earth’s atmospheric pressure (14.7 lb per square inch); it is referred to as one atmosphere (1 atm), and the atmospheric pressures of the other planets are sometimes expressed … Continue reading →
About Nancy Lebofsky
Nancy Lebofsky has worked in education outreach since 1990, first at the University of Arizona and then with the Science Center for Inquiry and the University of Arkansas summer teacher training workshops. She wrote a monthly newsletter for the latter two programs which later became the newsletter for Astronomy Camp for Girl Scout Leaders.
She has presented at both state and national science education conferences as well as the first three Faith and Astronomy Workshops. She and Larry edited Meteorite magazine for five years. She is currently serving a second term as a board member for the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
In 1995 the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 5052 Nancyruth, in recognition of her contributions to science education outreach.
Introduction While visiting York Minster in July, the docent leading our small group pointed out a configuration of angels above the entrance, six to the left of the door and six to the right. The angels were holding two round objects each, with their arms in different configurations. I whispered to Larry that it looked like they were doing semaphore. When our docent asked if any of us had any idea what the angels depicted, I gave him the same answer, semaphore. His jaw dropped and he asked if I could read semaphore. I could not, but as a long-time solver of cryptograms, it took just a moment or two to identify the five repeating symbols among the 12 angels. I would like to think that, given 10 minutes, a pencil, and some paper, I could have deciphered their message. Relating the Angels to Basic Science Concepts Since the National Science Education Standards were published back in the mid-1990s, we … Continue reading →
Introduction The Sci-Fi Challenge is an activity we have used in teacher workshops. Selections from nine stories (classic sci-fi, sci-fi/fantasy, children’s stories) are provided to teachers working in pairs or small groups, who then choose one or more passage to analyze according to the following directions. What to Look For Read one of the passages provided. Science fiction should be a blend of entertaining storytelling and some level of science fact⸺either proven, possible, or probable. Science fantasy usually relies more heavily on storytelling and improbable science and technology. Think about the passage you read in terms of science, science fiction, and science fantasy. Discuss several of the questions below with your partner or group. Share your conclusions with the class. Is the passage science fiction or science fantasy? Is there scientific fact included in the passage? Does the science (or technology) presented seem probable, possible, or impossible? Does the passage make mistakes in the science facts or concepts it presents? … Continue reading →
Introduction When we think about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), “Arts” refers not only to visual and performing arts but also to all aspects of literature: creative writing, poetry, fiction, and so on. Students, including teachers and Girl Scout leaders in workshops, can create their own myths or legends based on an aspect of astronomy. “The Ball of Fire” by Maria Elena A long time ago when only animals existed they had nothing to worry about. But then one day they found a giant egg, and from the egg a dragon came out and started throwing fire balls. All of the animals started running. In those times the stars were cold and that’s why they were close to Earth. But when the dragon started throwing fire into the sky, all of the stars moved far away from Earth except for one that wasn’t strong enough to follow the other stars. The dragon threw a lot of fire balls … Continue reading →
Introduction In an earlier blog, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was discussed, i.e., different learners have different skills, strengths, and talents. Accommodating these differences may require a more diverse approach when teaching the physical sciences. We have also discussed the place of narrative and storytelling in the sciences. Now we turn to the use of the arts in the science curriculum. Where does your teaching style fit into the STEM vs. STEAM dichotomy? Or is there a “versus” between the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math approach and the addition of the Arts into the overall teaching plan? For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see Anne Jolly’s article “STEM vs. STEAM: DO the Arts Belong?” Ms. Jolly raises points from both “camps,” and then raises the question of how to include the arts “in an authentic way,” without diluting the focus of STEM education. Her list of how the arts can fit into STEM includes the areas of design, communications, … Continue reading →
RAISING AWARENESS ONE PIECE OF GUM AT A TIME Introduction Whether it’s public outreach, informal education, or science-for-non-science-majors, not all learners are necessarily on the same page as their presenters or even others in the audience. Workshop members, students, and the general public have different science backgrounds, expectations, and interest levels, just to name a few variables presenters need to take into account. The use of ice breaker activities, brainstorming, and cooperative projects not only raises awareness of astronomy-related vocabulary and concepts to be studied, but — especially in a workshop setting — can serve as an introduction of group members to each other and to staff, and can develop a sense of camaraderie. Below are three suggested group activities featuring uses of astronomy terms in music, local businesses and amenities, and advertising. These activities can, we hope, both entertain and pique the interest of the learners as they begin to think about astronomy. Astronomy in Song The number … Continue reading →
Storytelling represents a key element in the creation and propagation of culture…transmitting survival-relevant information while avoiding the costs involved in the first-hand acquisition of that information….The specific adaptive value of storytelling lies in making sense of non-routine, uncertain, or novel situations…. Or to put it another way, Everybody loves stories! Brother Guy Celestial Storytelling Ancient people observed the sky for a variety of reasons. Some were exceptional observers, recorders, and predictors of astronomical events. While they did not have all the answers, they were observing and asking questions, giving names to what they saw, and connecting what they observed to their daily lives. Certain constellations were used as seasonal markers, informing people when storytelling season began and ended, when it was time to plant and harvest, when it was safe to sail, and when the rainy season would begin. Stars and constellations were also used to find direction, both on land and at sea. Stories were used to remind people … Continue reading →
In Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” the speaker—perhaps Whitman himself—concludes his description of an astronomy presentation with these words: Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. This reaction would bring joy to innumerable astronomy Education and Public Outreach presenters. A student who trades a passive experience to go outside, look up, and observe firsthand the complexity and beauty of the night sky—Yippee! Active and Passive Learning The National Training Laboratories’ “Pyramid of Learning” has been around for decades, attracting both fans and skeptics of its reported results. However, the overall structure is worth considering. Simply summarized, the Pyramid divides methods of learning into passive (lecture, reading, audio-visual, demonstration) and active, or participatory, (discussion, practice doing, teaching others). The Pyramid of Learning also assigns average retention rates to each method of presentation, with the small tip of … Continue reading →
Those of us engaged in Education and Public Outreach (EPO) find out very quickly that not everyone processes or responds to information in the same way. Especially important to presenters is the realization that audience or workshop members do not necessarily share our “individual competences,” and because of this disparity, our well-prepared lessons and our expectations for student responses may not be compatible with all learners. In 1993, Professor Howard Gardner published Multiple Intelligences, The Theory in Practice. Gardner was a member, later Co-Director, of Harvard University’s Project Zero and an Adjunct Professor of Neurology (Boston University School of Medicine). Gardner’s specialty was human cognition, and 25 years later his theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) is said to have “revolutionized how we understand intelligence” (edutopia.com, George Lucas Educational Foundation). Gardner’s original theory posited seven types of MI, with an eighth added later. Each “intelligence” gives insight into how learners process information. Which MI best describes your style, your comfort zone, … Continue reading →
The world of EPO (Education and Public Outreach) is an amalgam of formal education, informal education, and public outreach, with frequently blurred lines between the last two categories. Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, an Education and Communications Specialist and Research Scientist at Planetary Science Institute, described the categories for us as follows: “Education is about increasing someone’s knowledge or skills (whether it is in a formal or informal setting). Outreach is more about letting people know about things, talking about a mission, etc., but is not necessarily about teaching them anything. It may be about having fun, raising awareness, etc.” In nearly 30 years of science education outreach, we’ve experienced all three EPO components. Tucson Festival of Books The Tucson Festival of Books (FOB) takes place at the University of Arizona (UA) in March. FOB began in 2009 with an estimated 50,000 visitors; 2019 was the Festival’s eleventh year, with an estimated 140,000 visitors over two days. FOB includes literary awards, food, … Continue reading →