How to Start Astronomy Club in School
So you want to start an Astronomy Club at your School…Very cool!!
But just like any other start-up, one needs to dig in a lot before actually jumping into setting up one.
Though the word Astronomy in itself makes most people excited, still to make people volunteer and be a part of one is not a cake walk. But organizing a School Astronomy Club is a way to improve science literacy and it’s a lot fun to boot.
So before you step on the road of starting one in your School you should ask yourself various questions. The first question to be very obvious is WHY an ASTRONOMY CLUB?? Well the answer goes like this, the curriculum followed in Schools have no scope for budding astronomy lovers. Little attention is paid to astronomy in our schools. Most school districts do not require astronomy to be taught in any form through 12th grade. Some bury it within “Earth sciences.” Even fewer teach it as a separate course. In addition, the teachers who are called upon to teach Astronomy often have no training whatsoever in this field.
If you are determined to do something about this, starting an after-school astronomy club is your thing. A club offers a realistic strategy for infusing astronomy into the educational experience of children, their families, and, to some extent, their teachers as well. It can also be a lot of fun and very fulfilling as long as you make adequate preparations and follow a few guidelines.
Once you’ve decided that you would like to teach an in school astronomy club, you will need to work with the school to make it happen. There are a number of steps in this process and it is important that they should be done in a rough sequence.
The first and foremost step is to seek all the required permissions for conducting an astronomy club from the concerned authority. You might also involve your science teacher to offer a helping hand to you. You must get well equipped with the School policies and procedures. It is important that before you propose your idea to the authority you must be yourself very clear about the logistics like scheduling a room, timings, duration, registration process, school policies, activities etc. Generally the prime concerns of Schools are the safety of children which you need to ensure in all the club activities. Some schools require a teacher be present at all times. Some will delegate full responsibility for the safety and well being of the students to you. Other guidelines regarding fieldtrip authorizations, taking the students outside, making connections with parents, and what kinds of experiments are allowed are important to know up front. As an example, would the school let you build a “comet in a classroom” where students would play with dry ice? How about taking them outside to view a solar eclipse?
Designing your Club
Once you get all the permissions and are well versed by the school procedures, you need to design you Club structure. This will involve everything, starting from the allotment of room, to club size, from membership fee to registration procedure, from allocation of resources to meetings, from selecting/recruiting committee to session development. In short, all your pre-preparations have to be dealt with in designing the structure of your Club.
For instance, for a start up, you can begin with a small group of recruits along with a small group of club members depending on your resources. Club sizes can vary, of course and the presence of a teacher will allow you to manage more club members. With you and a teacher coordinator together, you are just fine to take up 20-30 members and divide them in teams of 4-5 kids and design activities accordingly. Also keep in mind that you would be requiring a basic amount to maintain the resources which of course you could charge from the members or seek funding from School. While charging the members you also have to keep in mind that the cost should not be very high as it might reduce the no. of participants. If you are taking the initiatives of recruiting more committee members, then you also have to look after the training. It will be helpful for you if you choose someone who is really interested in the field of Astronomy and find strong roots in analytical sciences and Mathematics. You can also appoint some more people to manage inventory, resource manager, treasurer, faculty which will aid in managing the club.
You also need to keep a check on availability of the venue rooms to avoid any last minute cancellation for all sessions and astronomy meetings as at the end of the day to organize anything, you need a venue. Also decide upon how many sessions you want to conduct weekly and also need to select an appropriate time according to the convenience of your club members to ensure full attendance. For instance, after school hours or sometimes in activity period.
Advertising your Club
To assure your Astronomy Club venture turns out to be a success, you need to properly circulate it to everyone that you are running one. In other words, you need to advertise for your Club. In doing this you can use various ways. Setting up telescopes in a public place just before class gets out for the day. Pick a day that the moon is up during the day so that people can look at the moon. If you have a solar filter put it on and do daytime observations. This is the best way to get people to look through a scope. Once they’ve actually seen how it’s done they may be more apt to join the club.
You could also set up a star party at the school sponsored by the School on a Friday night or even after a sports event at your school. The idea is to get the most exposure you can to gather interest. Make flyers put them up around the school but make them friendly, approachable, and humorous. Make your school magazine publish that you are forming a group (association or society) – often they will send their photographer around and you’ll get a nice photo and several column inches detailing what you are trying to do and when the first meeting is and how is giving the talk. Most schools also have a monthly newsletter. This can be a great place to advertise your club. A regular monthly newsletter with information on what you can do as events, review the equipments and your future plans and meetings. You can also conduct free lectures and presentations for the kids.
Designing Astronomy Curriculum
Your goal is to have the greatest impact possible on the club members’ awareness, knowledge, and excitement of astronomy. While designing the club sessions you need to take into consideration that your club members might be coming from varied grades and pursue different interest levels, so the structure must be of ONE for ALL. You should design the first few sessions ahead of time, or at least have a few sessions developed that you can pick from. Try to include as many hands-on activities as possible. Kids love hands-on!! Be prepared and arrange for all the materials, ahead of time. Your school might also provide some materials that you use for your sessions. Try out all experiments BEFORE you demonstrate them in class. Children (and adults for that matter) learn best when they are allowed to participate actively in the process of discovery and evaluation. Active learning has been shown to be more engaging and promote better memory retention than traditional lecture teaching methods. Therefore, hands-on science activities will be an important part of your successful astronomy club. When working with one of these projects, try to keep in mind that, as much as possible, you want the student to discover the nature of relationships. This means that your role will be mostly facilitator of learning and secondarily, provider of knowledge. A very effective teaching model that I have used in my club for hands-on demonstrations goes like this:
Lecture: Tell them what they are going to do
Demonstration: Show them what they are going to do – hold up the equipment and/or other materials and show how they work.
Practice: Let them experiment and discover their own solutions to the given problem. As they experiment, you can ask them questions about what they are seeing and why things are behaving in a certain way.
Process: After the experiment, help them talk about what they did and discovered. Help them make sense of their learning and integrate it with what they already know by asking questions. After you have all their inputs, you can confirm or validate their conclusions. A sample structure you can use for basic level:-
|1||INTRODUCTION TO ASTRONOMY AND THE BIG BANG||The word astronomy and its types will be discussed, giving an outlook to the students about the coming sessions and their importance. The concept of birth and end of universe will be introduced and the prevailing theories will be discussed.||1.5||· Team building
· Flag designing
|2||CIRCUMFERENCE OF EARTH||Using a 2200 year old method employed by ERATOSTHENES and refining it, children will learn how to measure the circumference of earth within an error range of 4%, using a pencil/gnomon and SUN. Main emphasis will be on cost effectiveness of science and experiments.||2||· COE experiment
· Direction measurement
|3||IN DEPTH STUDY OF SUN||Sun is a vital part of our solar system hence it is very important for us to understand it in detail. Session introduce solar structure and its anomalies to the students.||1.5||· Sun spots viewing|
|4||THE TIME||Time has always intrigued the human race because of its mystery and versatility. Students will gain Intel about the very concept of time space and how to calculate the time for a particular moment.||1.5||· Sundial making|
|5||INVISIBLE ASTRONOMY||In universe, not everything is observable through our eyes, a lot goes unobserved. It is important for humans to understand this phenomenon and be able to make invisible, transparent. Children learn about different electromagnetic rays, black holes, dark matter and dark energy.||1.5||· CD spectroscope|
|6||EVENING SKY OBSERVATION||Concept of telescopes will be introduced, children will learn from the very basics of the telescopes to assemble a telescope accurately; Its mount, view finder and the main tube. Children will get their own telescopes and will observe the moon and a planet observable at the particular evening.||2.5-3||· Telescopic observation
· Telescope assembly
|7||NIGHT SKY OBSERVATION||Session introduce students to the night sky lit up with stars, they will observe and understand the concept of constellations and their shapes. They will view nebulae, planets and star clusters through precision telescopes and binoculars.||15-16||· Telescopic observation
· Planisphere Reading
· Star Hunt
|8||COMETS||Call of destruction or thing of beauty, comets has intrigued humans since the ancient times. Children will learn about the history, myths, facts, content and primordial soup of the comets and their importance as well as hazardous nature.||1.5-2||· Comet making|
|9||ROCKETRY + QUIZ||Rocketry and human space exploration has been the case of man putting himself against nature’s final frontier. Students learn about the space age and human advancements in the same, some important missions and the principle of rocketry, using which they will construct their own rockets and launch them in sky, not far but curiosities will fly endlessly in space.||2.5-3||· Rocket making+Launching|
Some of the Astronomy activities and lesson plans you can pick from following links:-
Look for opportunities like field trips to observatories, amateur astronomer meetings and star parties, museums, planetaria and science centers, government, private sector, or university research centers present somewhere near your school. Visits to such places can be an exciting addition to your astronomy club agenda and provide opportunities for learning difficult to get in the classroom. Partnerships with some of these groups can even involve teacher training programs and can form the basis for grant submissions. Before you begin your club, you should make a list of these resources and have an idea of how you might use them during the year. Inviting a guest speaker to one of your sessions can be a nice change of pace and allow you to view the club in a different, role, as facilitator.
Plan various night sky observation sessions. In astronomy, nothing can compare to the thrill of viewing the heavens for yourself, firsthand through a telescope. Night time observing can be accomplished in a number of ways. You could schedule the club meetings later in the day or let one meeting a month run till 8pm or so. Also, a special “Family Astronomy” night once a month is a great idea to involve parents in their child’s learning. Here again, it is important to tie the observing sessions into the topic areas being explored by the club. Students, given a little training can also be responsible for set up, running, and teardown of the telescope.
The next important point turns out to be coordination. How your members will get to know about the whereabouts of club. Collecting any registration fees, setting up a schedule of classes for the semester, as well as communicating with the parents throughout the session regarding special events (field trips, etc.) or cancel a class in an emergency. Make sure you have everyone’s work and home contact information. Go over expectations and outline/refine at least the first few club projects. Always keep a list of student names, grades, and parent contact details in case you need to float student release information.
Teaching astronomy to school children can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience with just a little foresight and preparation. Astronomy club provides the budding scientist with an opportunity to make a real and sustained impact on the science literacy of school age children, teachers, and the school altogether. But most of all, it’s just a lot of fun!
Children making COMETS using dry ice.
Hydro- Rocketry – Kids launch rockets made up of PET bottles powered by the energy of water and compressed air.
Kids measure the circumference of Earth by using a 2000 B.C. old method.
Drawing the constellations visible in Night Sky.
Kids learn how to read a Planisphere and use it as a sky map.