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Running an After-School Astronomy Club  

Mercury, November/December 2002 Table of Contents

teacher and students with telescope
Courtesy of Louis A. Mayo

by Louis A. Mayo

Organizing a school astronomy club is a way to improve science literacy, and it's a lot of fun to boot.

Little attention is paid to astronomy in our schools. Most school districts do not require astronomy to be taught in any form through 12th grade. Some bury it within "Earth sciences." Even fewer teach it as a separate course. In addition, the teachers who are called upon to teach astronomy often have no training whatsoever in this field.

As an astronomer interested in education, I frequently give astronomy presentations in schools, at community nights, and at star parties. Not long ago, I was asked by a junior high school science teacher to speak in his classroom about "cosmetology" and the expansion of the solar system! Another time, I was contacted by a teacher who had heard that I was an astrologer. The general public holds many other misunderstandings and myths about the nature of the universe. A few that I have encountered are:

  • The North Star is the brightest star in the sky
  • We have sent people to other planets
  • Jupiter has a solid surface
  • The Sun burns - just like the wood in your fireplace
  • The Moon is farther from Earth than the planets
  • The Sun goes around the Earth
  • We have seasons because Earth ventures closer to and farther from the Sun in its orbit
  • Aliens have landed on the Earth and NASA is hiding the evidence.

The problem becomes even more intractable when we realize that teachers have little time to develop and serve curriculum modules that are not mandated by state standards or state aptitude tests. And usually, astronomy isn't.

Determined to do something about this, at least in my childrens' school, I started an after-school astronomy club. A club offers a realistic strategy for infusing astronomy into the educational experience of children, their families, and, to some extent, their teachers as well. It can also be a lot of fun and very fulfilling as long as you make adequate preparations and follow a few guidelines.

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