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Lessons from Astronomy for Everyone

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director Are you looking for something to excite your students? Something out of the ordinary? I remember

fondly an experience I had in sixth grade when a local doctor brought his telescope to our class and

talked about his passion for gazing up at the night sky.

Fast forward a few dozen years, and I had the good fortune to meet Kevin Manning, an award-winning astronomer who tours the country in a bus giving presentations at libraries, schools, and community centers. Since then Kevin has occasionally conducted workshops for CEI. I have sat in on his middle school astronomy STEM classes with students who are mesmerized by his slides of galaxies, discussions of black holes, and his overall enthusiasm.

In talking with Kevin recently it dawned on me that there are lessons from Kevin’s work that really go beyond astronomy.

In a nutshell here are a few of them:

  1. Sophisticated subject matter can be shared with students of all ages. Astronomy is not only for high school.

  2. Hands-on helps to make complex learning more concrete; many children and adults learn faster and remember more with this added kinesthetic component. Kevin often works with youth with kits so that they can build their own telescopes.

  3. Tell stories and use metaphors or similes, comparing the unknown to something knowable. For example, Kevin compares dark holes to water in a sink or tub going down the drain. As you do this, let your own intrigue show – help students see that your are excited about your subject.

  4. Use interesting videos or photos. Kevin’s presentations give us a closer look at stars that are light years away.

  5. Involve the community. Check out local astronomy clubs; members are often available to speak with classes or share lessons online.

  6. Invite families to learn together. Kevin has classes not only for youth, but for families, providing a forum for families to explore space together.

  7. Take advantage of remarkable online resources. Using NASA’s micro-observatory, Kevin help’s students to take images of planets, galaxies, and nebulae.

There is research suggesting that when we view something beautiful our brains relax. As we come out of this time of COVID-stress, many of us are stressed by the transition.

Register now for the Center for Educational Improvement's Virtual Astronomy Summer Camp for Youth Webinar to learn more about ways to engage youth in hands-on STEM activities and for the opportunity to see some other worldly images as Kevin takes us on a trip to the stars.

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