RAISING AWARENESS ONE PIECE OF GUM AT A TIME
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 of songs written about the stars and Moon seems endless. Include other astronomy-related terms, and the "endless" lists expands even more! When you ask a group to name songs with astronomy terms in the titles, the ages and musical tastes of the audience may produce answers from "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to "Moonlight Sonata," or from Patti Page's "Allegheny Moon" to Ed Sheeran's "All of the Stars."
To prompt responses from a group, try posting a list of suggested words:
Sun Sunset Sunrise
Moon Earth Star
Dawn Day Night
Planet names Galaxy Noon
Midnight Seasons Months
How many astronomy-related song titles can you name?
Astronomy in Your Community
Astronomy-related terms can be found throughout the community. For example, our local daily newspaper is the Arizona Daily Star. We have a local school district named Sunnyside, one of our local entertainment and gaming venues is Casino del Sol, Star 95.7 FM is on the radio, and our bus system is called Sun Tran.
Think about national (Nova Home Loans) and local (Tucson's Hacienda del Sol resort) businesses and services. At one of our workshops at the University of Arkansas, our group came up with over 60 local businesses with astronomy terms in their names (Blue Moon, Saturn, Planet, Celestial, Morning, Star, Seasons, Sunset, Sunshine, etc.).
Remember local street names when you look for astronomy-based "inspiration." The Metropolitan Tucson area has more than 800 streets, in English and Spanish, with names connected to astronomy. Wheeler Elementary School is surrounded by nearly two dozen such streets: Calle Planeta, Herculo, Osito, Pegaso, Luna, Centuri, Regulo, Sirio, etc.
Local street names beginning with "Star" include Dimming, Fading, Falling, Flaming, and Glowing stars. In addition to the traditional Blue Moon (Camino Luna Azul), other colorful "Moon" streets are Ruby, Sapphire, Silver, Turquoise, Yellow, Lapis, and Lavender Moon. Add to these the streets named Pleiades, Galileo, Meteor, Meteorite, Quasar, Mercury, and Star Gazer, and you can see that we take our astronomy roots very seriously here!
If you challenged workshop participants or audience members to find astronomy inspiration in your community, what would they find?
Astronomy in Advertising
CHALLENGE: Using the following categories, can you name examples of products/companies that use astronomy-related terms or images?
chewing gum (2) hard/chewy candy
snack cakes/chips (3) chocolate bars (US/UK)
citrus products dried fruit
cleaning products cars makes and models (past and present)
hotel chain physical fitness chain
shoe brand satellite radio
We have used several versions of the Astronomy in Advertising activity, adjusted for the type of presentation and the length of the class or workshop. This activity challenges students or teachers to identify products and logos with astronomy-based names or symbols.
As an ice breaker activity meant to get people communicating and working together at the beginning of a teacher in-service workshop, we asked participants to bring physical examples of products and companies with names or logos connected to astronomy. Contributions included wrappers, box tops, photos, grocery ads, and so on. The teachers were asked to form pairs or small groups and, using provided art supplies, create a project representing Astronomy in Advertising. Posters, mobiles, collages, and other creative representations were quickly assembled as the teachers shared both ideas and the contributions they had supplied. (Just FYI, beware the teacher who shows up with a bag of Starlight® mints and a hammer. Her poster was very creative, but workshop staff are always tasked with clean-up at the end of the evening!).
In a semester-length class for non-science majors, students were given more time to accumulate their Astronomy in Advertising projects. Again, the type of final product (power points, posters, etc.) was left to the students. The most astounding project received was a three-inch thick scrapbook featuring hundreds of astronomy-related products, businesses, and logos.
For another one-semester course at a local arts college, Larry assigned the students an Astronomy in Advertising project which allowed these visual/spatial learners with very little science background to showcase their special talents. While they also took traditional midterm and final exams, for their final project the students were encouraged to create a product or service of their choice with an astronomy theme. The name, logo, and purpose of the astronomy-related product had to be meaningful in terms of what they had learned in class. In addition, illustrations had to be scientifically accurate (no five-pointed stars, no waxing crescent Moon in an illustration representing a product with dawn in its name, etc.). The final projects included sketches, paintings, and an extremely creative video.
Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another. Plato
Be Aware, Be Inspired
We frequently emphasize to students and the general public the importance of going outside and looking up to aid in their enjoyment and understanding of the night sky. Awareness of astronomy can begin with a task as mundane as grocery shopping or browsing products online.