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Education Newswire: September/October 1998

Is “Mostly Right” Good Enough?

A Product Review

NASA’s Strategic Plan now mandates that they “involve the education community in [their] endeavors to inspire America’s students, create learning opportunities, enlighten inquisitive minds,” and “communicate widely the content, relevancy, and excitement of NASA’s missions and discoveries to inspire and to increase understanding and the broad application of science and technology.” The educational community can harvest a substantial crop of information and materials as a result of this mandate.

Two of NASA’s products, STARCHILD (for grades K-8) and Imagine The Universe (for grades 9-12), were created by Goddard Space Flight Center through NASA’s Office of Space Science. The two packages include information and activity booklets, a CD-ROM, and associated websites. Although generally well put together, the materials could have benefited from closer editing.

There are bits of misinformation or misconceptions in various places in the booklets. For example, in explaining the formation of a star, STARCHILD material states: “As the gas spins faster and faster, it heats up°” Although a forming star does spin faster and faster and heats up, one is not the cause of the other. That the gas is heated by gravitational compression is not mentioned. At a later point a ring is said to form around the stellar core – a planetary nebula. But planetary nebulae are not really rings, and nowhere in the material is the term “planetary nebula” explained to have nothing to do with planets. Also, be careful to use the booklets with the website or CD-ROM. The words “galaxy” and “Big Bang” are not used in the text of the booklet but are in some of its questions.

Imagine The Universe tends to have fewer problems, possibly because it can go into greater detail. But consider the discussion of stellar evolution where it is stated that during helium core collapse, the star’s outer layers are said to both “collapse inward toward the core” and be “pushed outward.” And helium fusion into carbon “might take a few minutes,” a rather significant time-warp of the tens of millions of years that it actually takes. Other minor problems exist, as well.

The website material is appealing and the text generally reliable. But I would have preferred actual images of galaxies and the planets rather than drawings; the galaxies are strange-looking and Neptune is shown highly tilted but Uranus is not. The multiple-choice questions have choices you can’t select by a mouse click; only a correct answer button is provided.

It would have been easy to clean up these blemishes before the materials were published. Yet on the whole, I cautiously recommend the packages to teachers. Just be prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Handouts from the ASP Education Meeting

At ASP’s recent Annual Meeting, a symposium was held on teaching astronomy to college non-science majors. While no official symposium proceedings were planned, the contributed papers, presented in the form of handouts, included a variety of useful materials: course syllabi, descriptions of innovative ways to handle large-lecture classes, sources of teaching aids, projects to help instructors, clever lab exercises, resource guides, research results on teaching techniques, and much more.

Because of the enormous interest in this pioneering meeting and the written requests from people around the world, ASP has agreed to make available copies of the symposium handouts to those who could not attend the meeting. To reserve a set of copies (over 200 pages), please send a check or money order for $24.95 (which includes shipping and handling) if you live in the U.S. and $32.95 in U.S. funds if you live outside the U.S., with your name and the full address to which you want the package shipped. Make checks out to “A.S.P.” and mail to: Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Symposium Handouts Dept., 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112, USA.

Time for New IDEAS!

The Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science (IDEAS) Call for Proposals was released 23 July 1998, and the deadline for proposals is 16 October 1998. To get a copy of the Call for Proposals, as well as view IDEAS-related information, visit their new website at IDEAS is a grant program that funds innovative start-up educational outreach projects teaming educators with scientists. Funding for IDEAS grants is available up to $40,000. The IDEAS program is administered by the Space Telescope Science Institute and coordinated by the Office of Public Outreach on behalf of NASA. If you have any questions about IDEAS, please email them to

New at NOVA

NOVA, PBS’s enduring science/technology/ nature documentary series, has an accompanying website that adds significant value to the TV show, particularly for teachers. The site, “NOVA Online,” provides lesson plans, activities, and other resources intended to build on NOVA episodes and give teachers ideas for using NOVA in the classroom. The website also allows teachers to share ideas, thus making “NOVA Online” a dynamic teacher-centered resource.

More ED at the Next AAS Meeting

The 193rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, to be held in Austin, TX on 5-9 January 1999, will have a variety of education sessions and invited talks. Currently scheduled are sessions titled: “Funding of Educational Initiatives in Astronomy and Space Science,” “Astronomy 101: A Continuing Dialogue,” and “Computers in Education.”


Toshiba and NSTA announce this year’s ExploraVision competition. The goal of ExploraVision is to encourage K-12 students to “combine their imaginations with the study of science and technology to explore visions of the future and find solutions for real-life problems.” Students work in teams of three or four to create a vision of the future 10-20 years from now by researching their problem and creating a storyboard. In the second round of competition, regional winners produce a video about their innovation. For more information, call 1-800-EXPLOR9. The deadline for entries is 3 February 1999.

LEO P. CONNOLLY is a professor in the Department of Physics at California State University in San Bernardino. He attended the Project ASTRO workshop in June 1996 and started a partnership last September. His email address is