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Family ASTRO: “So You Want to Start a Family ASTRO Site?” FAQs

  1. What is Family ASTRO?
  2. What is a Family ASTRO site?
  3. Who leads a Family ASTRO site?
  4. How do we find educators to participate in the program?
  5. What happens at a Family ASTRO training workshop?
  6. Who trains educators at Family ASTRO workshops?
  7. How are Family ASTRO sites funded?
  8. What is involved in becoming an official Family ASTRO site?
  9. What interaction is there among Family ASTRO sites?
  10. What is the role of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific?
  11. How do I get started if I want to get a site going in my area?

1. What is Family ASTRO?

Since 1993, the non-profit Astronomical Society of the Pacific has been operating a national program, called Project ASTRO™, that improves the teaching of astronomy and physical science in 4-9th grade classrooms, and in youth groups, by linking professional and amateur astronomers with local educators. After training together with their educator partners at workshops that emphasize hands-on activities, the volunteer astronomers “adopt” a classroom or youth group and visit four or more times each school year. Having begun with a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area, Project ASTRO is now operating in over 10 Regional Sites around the country and has trained more than 1,500 astronomer-educator pairs. The Regional Sites have put together a “National Network” for exchanging information and mentoring new sites that want to join.

In 2001, with funding from the Informal Science Education Division of the National Science Foundation, we began a new phase of the program titled Family ASTRO – to bring fun astronomy learning events and activities to families in the same communities where Project ASTRO already operates. Family ASTRO training for educators wanting to do more astronomy is now offered through a number of the Project ASTRO Regional Sites, and through sites concentrating exclusively on Family ASTRO. The program materials are also available through the ASP’s web site to anyone who wants to try them (including educators and families).

At the heart of Family ASTRO is our series of Leader Kits with titles that include Night Sky Adventure, Race to the Planets, Moon Mission, Cosmic Decoders, and Stars-Planets-Life. A variety of educators (e.g., teachers, astronomers, afterschool providers, community youth group leaders, and education staff from science centers, science museums, and planetariums) use the Leader Kits (with some published in Spanish) to lead astronomy events (and thus become “Event Leaders”). Each Leader Kit is filled with hands-on activities that can be done with simple materials and are within the capacities of a wide range of families. At the end of each event, participating families can receive an optional Take-Home Activity (kit or game) of their own for more fun and exploration at home.

Both Project ASTRO and Family ASTRO are part of a series of public education programs at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Founded in 1889, the non-profit Society has members in all 50 states in the U.S. and over 70 other countries. The Society serves as a bridge between astronomers and the public by sharing the excitement of astronomical discovery in everyday language. National advisory boards of astronomers and educators help us make sure our science is good and our expectations of students and families are realistic. For more about the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), see our web site at: http://www.astrosociety.org

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2. What is a Family ASTRO site?

Project ASTRO is organized into Regional Sites, each encompassing one metropolitan area or, sometimes, an entire state. Together, the Regional Sites make up the Project ASTRO National Network. When Family ASTRO started, many of the Project ASTRO sites joined the program and committed to training a number of Family ASTRO Event Leaders each year. Each participating Project ASTRO site eventually became a Family ASTRO Regional Site and the new “Family ASTRO National Network” was born. Since then, other institutions wanting to incorporate Family ASTRO into their programming (but not wanting to become a full-fledged Project ASTRO site) have joined the network.

Note that if you are unable to make a commitment to training at least 20 new Family ASTRO Event Leaders a year, we encourage you to explore the possibility of a more limited and informal Family ASTRO effort. National Office Staff at the ASP are happy to assist in an advisory capacity in such cases, but we are unable to designate you an official Family ASTRO site or to send staff to your site (although you can travel to other site workshops to learn how to do the training of Event Leaders).

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3. Who leads a Family ASTRO site?

Each Family ASTRO site consists of a lead institution that is responsible for organizing, staffing, and fund-raising for the local program. Such institutions are typically science centers or museums, planetariums, observatories, colleges, universities, or other organizations involved in science and/or astronomy education. Ideally, a site has paid staff, consisting of a part-time director, a part-time coordinator, and a part-time administrative assistant. In the real world of limited funding, it is at least necessary to have a part-time coordinator who organizes and oversees the program, and a committed individual to serve as the site director. The site director is often a more senior scientist or educator, who provides the support and legitimacy necessary to garner resources within the lead institution and encourages other local organizations to support the program.

Most Family ASTRO sites also work with partner institutions consisting of local educational, scientific, and community groups, coming together for the purposes of finding participants, funding, and publicity for Family ASTRO (for example, a local amateur astronomy club may put on a “star party” to enhance a Family ASTRO Event, members of a university astronomy department may pool educational funds from several NASA grants to help fund the program, and a local school district may provide meeting rooms and let all its teachers know about the program). Experience has shown that such partnerships are essential to the survival and growth of local programs. They encourage communication and cooperation among educational and scientific groups in the community that may otherwise not be working together.

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4. How do we find educators to participate in the program?

Presentations by program staff at school district and/or administrator meetings, teacher conferences, science center and academic colloquia, or amateur astronomy club meetings can be very effective. So can articles in local newsletters, e-mail messages distributed to special interest groups or research organizations, and special mailings to other likely candidates. Your partner institutions will also most likely have many good ideas on how to enlist local educators for the program. The ASP can sometimes provide the names of astronomy groups and institutions, and even lists of astronomers (amateurs and professionals), in your local community.

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5. What happens at a Family ASTRO training workshop?

Family ASTRO workshops for Event Leaders are typically held on a day and at a time when the most number of educators can participate (e.g., on a weekend or in the evening during the week). The educators attend the workshop to get introduced to the Leader Kits, to learn how to use them to run their own astronomy events, to learn about inquiry-based astronomy teaching, to learn how to recruit and work with families and/or other target audiences, and how to make use of local and national astronomy resources. A key component of each workshop is guiding the educators through the hands-on astronomy activities (from beginning to end) that make up each Leader Kit. Typically, a Family ASTRO workshop covers only one or two Leader Kits at a time, and participating educators usually receive their own copy of each kit. Often, a Family ASTRO site will also provide their trained educators with 5-10 samples of the corresponding (but optional) Take-Home Activity that goes with each Leader Kit, to ensure they are available to the newly trained Event Leaders’ first event participants. Finally, all Event Leaders should be encouraged to use what they learned during the workshop(s) to develop a program that fits with their own interests, strengths, and participants’ needs.

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6. Who trains educators at Family ASTRO workshops?

Family ASTRO workshops are typically led by the site’s staff (Coordinator and Director), and sometimes with the help of partner institutions and/or experienced Event Leaders from the community. National Project ASTRO Staff will provide assistance and discuss workshop design and philosophy with the local staff of each new site, and (if the new site is able to fund it), ASP representatives can occasionally attend and co-lead the new site’s very first workshop. Alternatively, sometimes new site staff can attend a Family ASTRO workshop at one of our existing Family ASTRO sites.

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7. How are Family ASTRO sites funded?

While the National Science Foundation provided start-up funds for Family ASTRO, at the present time all Family ASTRO sites must provide their own funding. Among the sources of funding that the various sites have been successful in tapping are:

  • Donations from local corporations, foundations, and individuals.
  • Education and outreach components of NASA or NSF grants (sometimes pooled from several local investigators or research projects).
  • NASA Space Grant or other NASA educational program funds.
  • State education funds (many states have special programs to which you can apply, often with help from knowledgeable individuals from your partner institutions).
  • In-kind support from partner institutions (such as meeting space, free mailings, underwriting of administrative costs, etc.).

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8. What is involved in becoming an official Family ASTRO site?

A Family ASTRO site must share and support the goals and methods of the program, as described above, and it must commit to training at least 20 new Event Leaders per year. Note that you do not need to be a Family ASTRO site to purchase and use our materials (Leader Kits and Take-Home Activities), but if you do wish to become a site, you will be asked to complete a Family ASTRO application, outlining your plans for getting your site going and obtaining funding to cover its expenses. Once your application has been reviewed and accepted, your institution will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The MOU is reviewed annually, and each site is asked to make a brief annual report to the ASP.

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9. What interaction is there among Family ASTRO sites?

All official Family ASTRO sites are linked to the Project ASTRO National Network, which meets annually and keeps in touch regularly. Experienced site leaders are often available to answer questions from new or prospective sites about issues or problems that come up in getting a site started. Good ideas originating at one ASTRO site are quickly shared among all of them through this network.

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10. What is the role of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific?

The ASP coordinates the national Family ASTRO effort from its offices in San Francisco, and holds the trademark (on Project ASTRO) and the copyright on the Family ASTRO program and its materials. All Family ASTRO materials are published by the ASP, and distributed to official Family ASTRO sites at a significant discount from retail prices. The ASP also provides training and guidance for new site leaders, free templates for commonly used site materials (such as educator applications, workshop flyers and handouts, etc.), coordination for all National Network activities (including the annual Site Leaders’ Meeting and regular communication among members via a listserv), national dissemination and publicity for the program, ongoing consultation and assistance, and occasionally sends representatives to help with initial workshops. One of the main roles of the ASP is to ensure the philosophical integrity of the project among the sites.

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11. How do I get started if I want to get a site going in my area?

The first step is to gauge interest in Family ASTRO locally. It is really those individuals whom you are going to be tapping as Event Leaders who must be courted. The natural first contacts to make are with the local astronomy and science education community, including planetariums and science centers/museums, university and community college astronomy departments, and the amateur astronomy clubs in your area. To interest local teachers and afterschool providers, we find that it is usually best to first make contact with and get buy-in from school and/or program administrators.

The next step is to connect with local individuals and organizations that have an interest in astronomy education and might partner with you. Host a meeting to talk about Family ASTRO and the ways in which it can positively impact the community and those in attendance. Be sure to bring up the issue of fundraising and solicit input from those present as to other possible organizations, businesses, and individuals that might be interested in supporting the local program. You’ll want to be sure to have information about the program available, including copies of the Leader Kits and the Take-Home Activities to show everyone.

Once you have established that there is local interest, contact the ASP more formally and speak with our National Project ASTRO Staff. We can offer advice and direct you to other Family ASTRO sites resembling your own. These sites can often help with your planning by identifying and addressing challenges before they arise, providing sample materials for recruiting and publicity, and perhaps even serving as informal advisors as you begin your activities.

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