Learning in a Planetarium

So, I’ve begun to make some forays into Astronomy Education Review, a journal about science education specifically as it relates to, of course, astronomy. It has been recommended to me by several people, and I’ve browsed it a bit as I begin to understand the wide-world of assessment.

As a kid, I thought tests were just something you had to get right to move on to the next level. It was a whole lot of rote memory, and much of high school was devoted to teaching to state tests. It is a system that many complain about but few know how to change. After all, as teacher, we really want to know the answer to the immortal question, “Is our children learning?” (Yes, yes, cheap shot.)

So, how do we make learning fun, student-centered, and still get an accurate assessment of learning?

I’m getting the impression that this is not very easy. However, Dark Skies, Bright Kids has embraced this difficult challenge and is experimenting with new ways to make assessment fun for our after school astronomy club, while still being accurate. AER is a great resource, and so have been many people in the astronomy education and outreach fields.

Recently, I found a paper in AER that describes using a planetarium as a way of measuring student-learning about celestial motions. It is not a terribly long paper, and it focuses on using kinesthetic learning techniques as well as the advantages of watching things move inside a dome at a far greater speed than they move in real life. With the acquisition of our new Digital StarLab, this is sure to spark great new ideas on how to use this tool, and how to understand how effective we are at communicating scientific principles to our kids.

At the end of the day, one thing we do know is that we are getting kids excited about science and astronomy. Without formal measures, we have pictures and video and comments from parents that tell us just how much these kids like coming to the club, and looking at the night sky, and building rockets, and hugging the mascot, and… and…

It’s a good feeling for us as well.

(Don’t go try and vote for us as the video description says, we’ve been out of the running for that for a while. However, book progress is being made, and we will find someone to publish it, gosh-darnit!)

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