Hubble Adds Flair to High School Final Project
There's nothing extraordinary about using PowerPoint for final projects in school. But students in Keith Turner's Earth and space science and astronomy courses at Carmel High School in Indiana can make their presentations truly out-of-this-world.
The students get to flash their presentations on the "big screen." Big might be an understatement here, for the slides are displayed not on an auditorium screen, but the dome of a planetarium. That is just one way that Turner makes learning astronomy a thrill.
Astronomy, with its mathematical backbone, can be daunting to learn and a challenge to teach in an engaging way. But Turner, who directs the planetarium in the Carmel school district, has found a creative way to keep his students engaged and focused throughout the school year. He asks them to explore a constellation in-depth and then use images from the Hubble Space Telescope to craft their final class projects.
His approach helped Turner earn a "Gold Star" in the NASA-sponsored Top Stars contest. The contest, conducted by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in cooperation with the Space Telescope Science Institute, recognized as "Top Stars" educators documenting exemplary use of Hubble in science, technology, engineering or mathematics education.
Turner's entry, titled "Adopt a Constellation: Final Project," garnered a Gold Star because it was judged to be one of the contest's 10 best entries.
Turner said he was looking for new ways to motivate his students to learn astronomy. He was attracted to using the HST for the final project because of the amazing discoveries and images that have been made with the telescope.
During the course, students choose a constellation and study its history and brightest stars. They also study deep sky objects or a visible planet in the vicinity of the constellation. For a closer look, they pick a deep space object in the constellation and analyze it by developing an original question about the object and trying to find the answer. They use diagrams and HST images to display their results so they are visually stunning.
"The main idea of this project is to creatively apply knowledge, labs, activities, and skills performed and acquired in this course, and to weave the semester together and finish in a fun way," he said. "The nuts and bolts of science, such as math, are a real problem sometimes. Students can have trouble seeing the big picture idea, so I have tried to break down the process into steps and parts that fit together to make the final project."
The best way to help students understand complicated concepts is to immerse them in the scientific process, he added. "I am a big believer in learning by doing."
Turner is one of those rare people who say that one of the more exciting things about their life is their job. He exemplifies the crucial role educators can play in fostering students' interest in astronomy and Earth and space sciences.
Turner credits role models of his younger years for shaping his interest and influencing how he fosters students' interest in astronomy and Earth and space sciences. His sixth-grade school teacher, an astronomy enthusiast, first got him interested in the night skies.
In college, his astronomy professor Ronald Kaitchuck taught him how to ask the right questions and opened his mind to the scientific research process. "He was always open to questions and willing to engage," Turner said. "He willingly shared his science with me and tried to help me understand and digest how he does research."
Turner is now doing his part, sharing his enthusiasm about astronomy and motivating teachers and scientists of the future.
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Prachi Patel: Institute for Global Environmental Strategies