and a pencil or crayons for each student.
do we have stereotypes about what an astronomer looks like? The
reason is obvious: there really are fewer women and minorities working
in astronomy - and in all the physical sciences. In the past, there
were active barriers that filtered out people of a certain race
or gender. For example, two decades ago, the observing proposals
of women astronomers were refused at some observatories because
"there were no restrooms or sleeping quarters for women". Many of
those discriminatory barriers have been broken down, and now women
and minorities account for a growing fraction of astronomy graduate
students. Unfortunately, this reversal is beginning at a time when
there are few jobs for new Ph.D.'s.
background information and online resources are available in
the "Extensions" section for this activity.
Have students discuss the images of astronomers (or scientists in
general) in the media. What gender, race, or age are the astronomers
they may have seen in the movies or on TV? Have any of them seen
astronomers in the newspaper or on the TV news? What kind of news
or stories about astronomy have the students read or seen recently?
Is it good for our country that newspapers and TV feature a lot
more information about sports stars and movie stars than the real
Have students research what preparation is required to become an
astronomer. Some frequently asked questions about becoming an astronomer
are posted online
by the National Optical Astronomy Observatories. An excellent
booklet on "A Career in Astronomy" is available from:
American Astronomical Society
2000 Florida Ave. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20009
Have students report on what it is like to do astronomy today. Reports
can be orally or in writing, individually or as a team. Your students
may be surprised by what they find. For example, much astronomy
can be done during the day; many astronomers no longer work at the
telescope in an open (and cold) dome, but rather sit comfortably
in a heated control room at a computer console; and many astronomers
never come near a telescope at all, concentrating instead on creating
or refining astronomical theories. As an alternative, you can assign
each group a different astronomer whose life and work they can research
and report to the class about. A reading list on 20th century astronomers
and their work is included in the Resources & Bibliographies
section of the Universe at Your Fingertips.
Use this activity as preparation for a visit from a local astronomer
to your classroom. Be sure the students do the activity before the
astronomer comes. During the visit, the astronomer might begin by
talking a bit about how he or she first became interested in astronomy.
After the visit, give students an opportunity to talk about how
the astronomer was similar or different from the mental picture
they had before the visit.
Try the Astro-Kids Puzzle
background information and online resources
in Astronomy: An Introductory
the ASP Mercury magazine:
There are about 15 African-American professional astronomers in
the United States. Not 15 percent, fifteen. Latinos and Native Americans
are similarly underrepresented. Those who make it not only must
run the usual gauntlet of school, college, graduate school, and
the job market; they must jump extra hurdles that can include poverty,
discrimination, isolation, expectations of failure, and the burden
of "representing" their ethnic group to their profession and their
profession to their ethnic group.
more in this Mercury magazine
Women's Program Committee at Harvard University has published a
16 page, illustrated
guide that highlights the careers of a dozen women involved
with astronomy. The brochure is free to students, teachers, guidance
councelors and parents.
Electronic Library: Women
and Minorities in the Sciences
Women and Minorities in the Sciences