When it comes to being a cool teacher, few things are more inspiring than the idea of outer space. For a kid looking up at the sky and wondering what is out there, it is what dreams are made of. So it is time to make astronomy a key part of your classroom experience.
Astronomy creates an energy for learning that applies to all other studies – math, reading, history, design, physics, even physical education.
Most students have seen Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and every kid has watched Star Wars, Star Trek, Rick and Morty and perhaps even E.T. (that goes back a bit). Ok. Interstellar, maybe? But it doesn’t matter. Movies are made about space because we are fascinated by the idea of the infinite. A blood moon, red moon or full moon gets toes tapping and draws adults out of the house to stare in awe. Kids are much more inquisitive and their dreams are bigger.
According to PBS, when kids are asked for their favorite topics in science, astronomy (along with dinosaurs) is always high on the list. As a “gateway” to science education, astronomy is essential to the curriculum in many states and school districts. But even where astronomy is not required, it can often be a wonderful way to approach required science principles and ideas. Examples from astronomy can make vivid any general discussion of gravity and forces, of nuclear energy, of light and color, and of the nature of scientific hypotheses.
In a world where kids are hearing Elon Musk talk about about Mars colonization in one ear and influential sports stars talk about a flat earth in the other ear, it is time to hit the planetarium.
If you are fortunate enough to be close to a science museum or planetarium or observatory, here are some ways to get students engaged in astronomy. If you are not close to a planetarium, a good telescope will suffice. And there are plenty of other resources. NASA has your back.
Visit a planetarium museum, a science or space museum (or a museum that has a science or space section), either physically or through video.
Be prepared before launch. Research information about each site before visiting on a field trip. Discover your educational community resources and be creative. Get kids to create glasses to watch a solar eclipse, research weather patterns in your area or have students write about a long trip to Mars. What would they take on that journey? What would they expect when they got there? There are literally hundreds of ideas.
As a teacher, take a class that will refresh your own mind so you can pass on both the knowledge and excitement. You will be amazed at how the little kid will likely come out in you when you get hands on with physics and astronomy. As you start stargazing yourself you will see how the experience can translate into classroom learning activities.
The key to getting started with astronomy is your own imagination.
Searching the web will provide you with as much source material as you can handle. NASA is a particularly great resource for webinars, articles and videos that can be shown in the classroom. Science Daily provides up-to-date news and all things outer space. The appropriately named astronomy.com also provides articles, video and blog posts. And since the focus should be on the kids, go to kidsastronomy.com for a free children’s learning network of resources for your classroom. The site also has a “teacher’s corner”.