Project ASTRO

Project ASTRO San Diego Frequently Asked Questions

These questions from astronomers and teachers have come up from time to time. If you have a question not addressed below, please send it to the email address at the bottom of this page.

Q: A teacher asks: I don't see much "astronomy" in my curriculum next year. Is it worth signing up?

A: Project ASTRO activities and materials cover many more topics than just distant stars and other planets. Examples are: phases of the moon, energy from the Sun, the reason for the seasons, weather, origins of life, and debunking pseudoscience. Astronomy activities are also a great way to engage students in writing and math skills. Some astronomers will also go beyond Project ASTRO to volunteer their expertise for science fairs, and other math/science projects, if you let them!

Q: An astronomer asks: I don't have any formal training, but astronomy has been an active hobby of mine for years. Am I qualified to volunteer for Project ASTRO?

A: Almost certainly, yes! Many amateur astronomers know far more about the subject at a practical level than the "professionals". We do ask that you have some experience in explaining astronomy to the public or to children, and that you are comfortable with the subject matter (see the previous Q&A for a list of topics). Membership of an astronomy-related organization also helps. "Armchair astronomers" are most welcome to apply - you don't need a PhD or a telescope to be a Project ASTRO astronomer. Please contact us if you still have concerns and we shall be glad to discuss them with you.

Q: An astronomer asks: If I want to volunteer, how will I know which topics to teach to the students?

A: Project ASTRO is a partnership between a teacher and an astronomer. You do not have to produce lesson plans by yourself - your teacher will do that. Since this program is not a curriculum, it is suitable for all classrooms in grades 4 through 9 where some astronomy is taught. Many hands-on activities are provided for use in the classroom and you and your teacher will learn how to do these actitivies in training workshops together.

If your teacher partner does not have an astronomy curriculum, you will both learn about available curricula and will be able to choose one to suit your partnership and the needs of the class.

Q: A teacher asks: I do not have a strong background in teaching astronomy, and frankly I feel intimidated by some aspects of the subject. Should I sign up for Project ASTRO?

A: Definitely YES! Project ASTRO was designed with you in mind. Your adopted astronomer will provide all the expertise you need, and by attending the workshops and planning activities together, we hope you will both learn from each other as teaching partners.

If a student asks a question you cannot answer, just refer them to your astronomer partner. Some teachers collect questions in writing before the astronomer's next visit. Bear in mind that even elementary school students can pose questions that "stump" the experts - that's the beauty of astronomy as the most accessible of the physical sciences. (A biased astronomer wrote this answer!).

Q: An astronomer asks: I have a nice slide set of my favorite celestial objects, and I love to give public talks about my research/hobby. Can I present these instead of the classroom exercises?

A: Probably NOT a good idea! While we value the unique background of each astronomer, Project ASTRO is designed for you to be the "guide on the side", not the "sage on the stage". Certainly we encourage you to talk about your career/hobby with the students, but let them be the ones to ask you personally, while you are helping them with a hands-on activity.

If you find it hard to break out of "lecture mode", you have a lot of company! Don't worry, we shall provide you with training and materials to lead kids in hands-on, inquiry-based activities. The Project ASTRO How-To Manual is full of tips on how to get started. We hope you will find the "hands-on" approach to be refreshing and rewarding; many astronomers tell us that Project ASTRO has improved their teaching at the college level, too.

Q: An astronomer asks: I'm used to working with adults who (mostly) behave themselves. How do I deal with discipline in the classroom?

A: Simply put, you don't! It is the teacher's job to deal with any discipline issues that may arise during your visit. In practice, you will find that most children are respectful to visitors, and appreciative of your efforts to make their learning experience fun and interesting. (Find some space at home or work to display their artwork and thank-you letters).

Q: A teacher asks: Should I just let my astronomer "do their thing" and take a break during their visit?

A: No! (Please!). As partners in the classroom, we hope you will work out a plan before each visit as to who does what, but you should expect to work together in leading the students' activities. In addition, as the teacher-in-charge you will still need to keep order in the class, and to keep an eye on the clock.

Q: A teacher asks: I teach children who have learning difficulties or other special needs. Project ASTRO sounds like a program for gifted or mathematically-inclined students - should I even bother applying?

A: Absolutely YES! Project ASTRO is suitable for children of all abilities, and arguably produces the greatest improvements in traditionally low-scoring students. Please let us know of any special needs on your application form; every effort will be made to find an astronomer who best fits the needs of the class and its teacher and students.

Q: I prefer to teach some (or all) classes in Spanish. Can I adapt the Project ASTRO activities? Enseño mis lecciones en el español. ¿Puedo adaptar las actividades de Project ASTRO?

A: Thankfully, now you don't have to! The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has provided the most popular classroom activities in El Universo A Sus Pies, the Spanish-language edition of The Universe at Your Fingertips activity guide. Please contact us for more information. (The training workshop will require at least one partner to have basic English comprehension skills).

Lo podemos proporcionar con la edición española nueva de nuestra guía El Universo A Sus Pies. Avísenos por favor (en el inglés si es posible!) para más información.

Your question not answered here?

Then don't be shy - send an email to Philip Blanco, the San Diego Project ASTRO coordinator, and we shall do our best to answer it.
Project ASTRO San Diego