media and our past experiences have shaped and created our expectations
of people in various careers. Astronomers are often typecast as
middle-aged, white, "nerdy" males by students and adults alike.
However, astronomy is carried out by men and women in every country
and by people young and old. This activity is a wonderful way to
call attention to, and discuss, our preconceptions about who "can"
be an astronomer.
This activity was written by Alan Friedman (New York Hall of Science)
and Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College).
Copyright © 1995, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390
Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112. This activity may be reproduced
for nonprofit purposes.
an astronomy unit or the first visit by an astronomer to your classroom,
it can be instructive to have the students picture what an astronomer
looks like and then discuss their assumptions. You might begin by
reading them the following paragraph:
your eyes and picture this scene. It is the end of a long night
at the observatory and the astronomer is closing up as the first
rays of dawn are seen on the horizon. The astronomer is tired and
ready for a good day's sleep. Now focus in on the astronomer, coming
toward you on the road that comes from the observatory. Get a good
close look at the astronomer, rubbing tired eyes. Draw a picture
(or for older students - get a clear mental image) of what the astronomer
that this paragraph carefully omits any hint about the gender, age,
or race of the astronomer. After students have made their own picture
(as elaborately or as simply as time allows), have them compare
and discuss the different pictures they came up with. In the past,
there has been a tendency for participants of all ages to draw scientists
as middle-aged white men. If your students also show such a tendency,
this gives you an opportunity to discuss who became an astronomer
in the past, and how the opportunities have expanded today and some
(but by no means all) of the societal barriers have fallen.
Help students look at their assumptions and stereotypes about who
might be an astronomer.
Encourage class discussion about scientists.
This is an excellent activity to start any unit on astronomy,
at any grade level. The activity can be revisited at the end of
a unit to investigate whether students have begun to change their
One way to help dispel the myth that astronomy is the domain of
a particular gender, age, or culture is to present videos, books
and activities that include women and minorities as equal contributors
to the science of astronomy. Some references are included in the
Women in Astronomy