Today’s post comes from Kate Meredith. Kate is a former middle school and high school teacher who considers herself a virtual person in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database. She has been involved with pilot testing, writing and training teachers to use the database for the past twelve years. Kate will be facilitating this teacher workshop at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on October 11th.
In the past ten years there has been an explosion of internet-based citizen science research in astronomy. Hundreds of thousands of people have contributed to scientific research through Zooniverse projects. Participants in Galaxy Zoo, Sunspotter,Planet Hunters and more have been so active that educators and scientists needed to develop new ways for participants to explore beyond the focus of any one project. The result is a whole host of new web-based tools designed to assist citizen scientists in exploring vast quantities of astronomical data on their own.
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has been part of the Zooniverse since the beginning, contributing millions of images in four separate projects. The SDSS itself has been providing web-based tools, activities and resources to educators through the SkyServer website since 2004. Check-out this video for more information about SDSS education resources.
About the Workshop:
On Saturday, October 11, 2014 the Adler Planetarium in Chicago will host a free all-day workshop giving an in-depth look at a new SkyServer education website, Voyages, Zooniverse web tools and the ZooTeach lesson and resource repository.
Workshop highlights will include
Introduction to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
A brief history of the Zooniverse
The Voyages website and the NGSS
Database Basics with SkyServer – Find Your Special Place in the Database
Galaxy Shape in the Galaxy Zoo – Navigator Tool in the Classroom
Scaffolded Research Experiences for Lab Settings
Resources Abound – Voyages Preflight, Help Documents and Zoo Teach
This free workshop for Chicagoland educators is appropriate for 9th-12th grade teachers or middle school teachers who work with advance students. Participants are asked to bring a laptop or tablet in order to fully participate in activities. Lunch will be on your own, so please bring a bagged lunch or plan to purchase in the Adler’s cafe. The first five participants that sign up for this workshop will receive a coupon for a Saturday Tour at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin where they can pick up one of the large SDSS telescope plates that you will learn about at the workshop.
Teacher professional development workshops run in conjunction with science meetings offers educators and scientists a unique opportunity to learn from one another. On Sunday March 2, 2014 the Taiwan Teachers Workshop was held as part of the Citizen Science in Astronomy Workshop at the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Academia Sinica in Taipei. The Citizen Science in Astronomy Workshop brought together astronomers, data scientists, and web developers together to discuss the challenges of working with large datasets and best practices in utilizing the power of citizen science to work with these datasets. Recognizing an opportunity to bring Zooniverse project scientists together with area educators, Meg Schwamb, Stuart Lynn, Lauren Huang and Mei-Yin Chou worked with teachers to introduce concepts of citizen science with special focus on Planet Four and Galaxy Zoo. Earlier this year these two projects were translated into Traditional Chinese as part of Zooniverse’s push to translate various projects into as many languages as possible through the efforts of our extensive volunteer community.
To add to this translation effort, a number of existing Zooniverse educator resources were also translated into Traditional Chinese including Planet Four & Galaxy Zoo lesson plans and Galaxy Zoo teacher and student guides. You can find the workshop presentations and links to the translated educational materials at http://taiwan.zooteach.org/.
Funding for the Taiwan Teachers Workshop was generously provided by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
This post is from Debbie Soltis, a 2013 Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop participant. She teaches 9th grade Integrated Science and Astronomy at Chugiak High School in Chugiak, Alaska. A 19-year classroom veteran, Mrs. Soltis enjoys presenting a variety of activities and hands-on experiences because she believes students learn best if they have fun and are motivated by authentic experiences.
I recently uploaded my first Zooniverse lesson plan, Serengeti Ecology. Since posting the lesson, I actually completed the lesson with my 9th grade Integrated Science students. I also had a colleague do the lesson with his 9th graders for a total of about 80 students participating. Two other colleagues are now also planning on using this lesson with their IS9 students. What follows are my reflections on my lesson and our students’ reactions.
My Zooniverse lesson was a supplement to the lessons I have done many times in my ecology unit. My ecology unit always begins by trying to write a definition for life. My students brainstorm characteristics of life and are then presented with a hands-on activity examining and testing three sand samples. The sand samples are made using sand and salt; sand, sugar and yeast; and sand and crushed effervescent tablet. Since the overall scientific question in the ecology unit is how do the biotic and abiotic factors interact to obtain matter and energy, another short lesson is a mini-field trip outside to observe, collect, and sort biotic and abiotic examples.
I created a worksheet for the students to complete in the computer lab while they explored Snapshot Serengeti. Before going to the lab, I presented a modified powerpoint introduction to Zooniverse, the Serengeti project, and what they could expect. (Thanks, Kelly—good timing!) The students loved the project! They had no difficulties getting on the site, they were fascinated by the variety of unique pictures each of them had to explore, and they enthusiastically wanted to share with their friends or myself some of their more interesting snapshots. One girl found a rainbow arcing over a wildebeest, another saw the butt ends of two young warthogs, and a third student replayed multiple times the three-frame sequence of a small herd of wildebeest and zebras. My colleague reported similar experiences with his students. It was a very busy and productive period for all the students. Several students even said they wanted to continue exploring the site at home! (And I did not even mention extra credit!)
Aside from the animals, I directed the students to look at the other biotic features in the snapshots—the grass, trees, and brush. Observations led to inferences about the kind of climate the Serengeti has. Overall, the students really liked the authentic scientific nature of the research being done as well as the fact they were contributing to that effort. As I continue with predator-prey relationships, limiting factors, carrying capacity and other ecological concepts, I feel this lab has provided a real personal experience that will give them a solid foundation on which to scaffold these concepts. In summary, anyone who teaches a biology or ecology unit can use this site—it was fun, generated excitement, and provided a wonderful learning experience for all!
This is the second post in our series from educators who participated in the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop on August 8-9 at the Adler Planetarium. Today’s blog post comes from Chris Brown middle school science teacher at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns school in Toledo Ohio. This is his fourth year teaching middle school and enjoys introducing students to many areas of science so they can take more interest specific classes when they go on to high school.
I recently attended “Zooniverse Teacher Boot Camp” it was an interesting and enjoyable experience. I met a lot of great teachers from all over the country and really got a feel for how much we all agree that preparing students as the next generation of scientists is of the utmost importance as they will be the ones to help save our planet. Citizen science is a way to get them started and understand that they can make a difference.
Every summer our school district gets together and has a few technology conferences where teachers present to teachers ideas and ways they can use technology in the classroom. I got some great ideas from our two days together on how I want to do that in my community. I plan on having my audience sign up for a Zooniverse account and show them some of the basic features of Zooniverse (the various projects, zooteach lesson plans, and the discussion forums). Then I really want to give them time to dive into projects that interest them or they can use in their classes. I encourage everyone to do this if they can in their area as I find it a great means to share such a great resource as Zooniverse with as many people as possible.
These projects are a great way for your students to get primary resources as many of the scientists who’s data the projects are using are willing to video chat with classes you just have to contact them. The Zooniverse educators, developers, interns, etc. are also willing to help anyway they can and appreciate any feedback or questions you have.
In the coming months the Zooniverse Education Blog will feature guest posts from participants in the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop. Today’s guest blogger William H. Waller is author of The Milky Way — An Insider’s Guide and co-editor of The Galactic Inquirer— an e-journal and forum on the topics of galactic and extragalactic astronomy, cosmochemistry and astrobiology, and interstellar communications. Bill’s day job involves teaching courses in physics and astronomy at Rockport High School.
For most of human history, the night sky demanded our attention. The shape-shifting Moon, wandering planets, pointillist stars, and occasional comet enchanted our sensibilities while inspiring diverse tales of origin. The Milky Way, in particular, exerted a powerful presence on our distant ancestors. Rippling across the firmament, this irregular band of ghostly light evoked myriad myths of life and death among the stars. In 1609, Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope heavenward and discovered that the Milky Way is “nothing but a congeries of innumerable stars grouped together in clusters.” Fast forward 400 years to the present day, and we find that the Milky Way has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness. Where did it go?
For 25 years as an astronomy educator, I have informally polled hundreds of students, teachers, and the general public regarding their awareness of the night sky. Invariably, no more than 25 percent have ever seen the Milky Way with their own eyes. For city dwellers, this is completely understandable. Unless properly shielded, the artificial lighting from municipal, commercial, and residential sources will spill into the sky and overwhelm the diffuse band of luminescence that is the hallmark of our home galaxy. The recent video “The City Dark” produced by POV underscores the disruptive aspects that artificial lighting can produce on the life cycles of certain animals – and even upon ourselves.
For residents of small towns well away from large cities (such as my own hometown of Rockport, MA), it is much easier to find dark “sanctuaries” where the Milky Way can be spied in all its exquisite beauty. Yet when I poll Rockport’s sundry inhabitants about having ever seen the Milky Way, I still get a measly 25% positive response. What’s going on here?
Is it that they don’t care about astronomy and the night sky? I would have to say that such astronomical indifference is not typical. Most people in conversations with me will volunteer their fascination for the planets, stars, and the exotica that our universe provides in abundance – from exoplanets to pulsars, black holes, dark matter, and dark energy. Images from our great space telescopes have also revealed to the casual viewer many marvels of the Milky Way Galaxy, other nearby galaxies, and the remote galaxian cosmos. Recently, stunning composite images of X-ray, visible, and infrared emission from regions of cosmic tumult have vivified the many powerful dramas that continue to unfold upon the galactic stage.
Yet, despite popular enthusiasm for the wonders of space, most people still do not bother to find a dark site and witness the source of these wonders for themselves. Otherwise, my informal polling would have indicated that they knew about the Milky Way as a naked-eye marvel. I suppose it comes down to the delivery of experiences. We have grown accustomed to having our experiences conveyed to us in familiar, safe, and readily-accessible packages – be they books, magazines, television programs, planetarium shows, or interactive websites.
Regarding the latter, consider the Zooniverse online portal where anybody with an internet connection can contribute to authentic scientific research. With just your eyes and hands, you can search for exoplanets around distant suns, trace out star-blown bubbles in our galaxy’s interstellar medium, and categorize the types of galaxies that dwell in deep space. To date, close to a million people have contributed to these and sundry other online scientific investigations.
Then there are the mobile apps. One popular type of app, in particular, has brought millions more people closer to the night sky. Google Sky Map, Droid Sky View, The Night Sky, and other interactive planetarium simulators enable a smartphone user to point the phone in any direction and see what stars and constellations are located there. Most of these simulators show the Milky Way as a hazy band, thus cueing the viewer to its existence. But does that mean that more people are making the effort to find dark sites for smartphone-aided star gazing? Is participation in amateur astronomy clubs on the rise as a result? And are star parties at our national parks surging with attendees? My very limited research on these questions suggests that – yes – ever more people are seeking the sublime wonders of dark skies. Whether such interactive apps are responsible for these trends remains unknown. Still, I remain optimistic.
Perhaps our electronic addictions and virtual realities will ultimately re-introduce ourselves to the unembellished Milky Way – and to other direct experiences that Nature so generously provides. We may be plugged-in as never before, but still we hunger for authentic interactions with the mysterious ways of Nature. Towards these ends, I urge that we re-double our efforts to preserve the dark night sky through the advocacy of properly-shielded lighting and the establishment of dark-sky sanctuaries. To help in these regards, please visit the International Dark Sky Society’s webpage.
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