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Project ASTRO: History & Evolution

Since 1994, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s (ASP) highly successful national Project ASTRO™ program has been providing opportunities for professional and amateur astronomers to contribute to science education in their local communities. With startup funding mainly from the Informal Science Education Division of the National Science Foundation, Project ASTRO began as an experiment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, the program has expanded to include a number of regional sites across the country, thus forming a “National Network” that exchanges information regularly. The Project ASTRO National Staff & Office are located at the ASP in San Francisco.

The stability and strength of Project ASTRO is attributable to some of the following key features:

Keys to Success

  • Sustainability: Each site is managed by a lead institution (e.g., planetarium, university, research center, etc.), and supported by a local consortium of educational and scientific institutions.
  • Training: Astronomers and educators are trained together at 2-day workshops, with an emphasis on treating both as equal partners.
  • Multiple Visits: Each volunteer astronomer “adopts” a class or youth group and makes at least four visits during the year.
  • Inquiry-Based: The focus is on hands-on, age-appropriate activities that put students in the position of acting like scientists by asking questions and finding their own answers.
  • Research and Networking: Project ASTRO uses and makes available to its partners materials and approaches that earlier educational projects and research have shown to be most effective. Local networks also allow participants to learn from one another.
  • Community Involvement and Outreach: In addition to classroom lessons, many partners put on “star parties” or arrange visits to local astronomy facilities for their students’ families. Special efforts are also made to reach out to populations traditionally under-served by the scientific community (for example, we have partnerships working on a Native American reservation in New Mexico, with mainly African-American groups in Chicago, and at a school for the blind and deaf in Tucson). The program also benefits by attracting many minority and women astronomers as role models.

Please note that Project ASTRO is not a curriculum in astronomy. There are no prescribed activities or topics to cover (though a number of resources are provided — see below). Each partnership draws upon its own strengths and interests to plan what happens during each astronomer visit. The strategy works, and independent evaluation has confirmed that both educators and students involved in the project have more positive attitudes about science and accomplish more science learning in the classroom.

Resources

Through Project ASTRO, the Society created two rich and popular resource guides for both educators and astronomers called “The Universe At Your Fingertips” and “More Universe At Your Fingertips.” Both publications are now disseminated internationally through the ASP catalog, and we recently took the “greatest hits” from each and had them translated into Spanish. The result is “El Universo a sus pies,” a collection of 55 exemplary hands-on astronomy activities for Spanish and bilingual educators, which started world-wide distribution this winter.

Associated Programs

Family ASTRO

With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Society started Family ASTRO in 2000 as a new phase of Project ASTRO. The original “classic” Project ASTRO educator-astronomer partners found tremendous interest in what they were doing among the families of their students, and thus Family ASTRO was born to continue at home what was begun in the classroom. For more information, click here to go to the Family ASTRO page.