Project ASTRO

From 2007-2008, I was a volunteer in two fifth-grade classrooms for Project Astro.

Expanding Your Horizons

Expanding Your Horizons is an annual science outreach day for middle school girls. I volunteered as a presenter with other members of the Berkeley astronomy department in 2005 and 2006.

In 2005, we made a scale model of the solar system outdoors (with planet sizes and distances on the same scale). We used the scale 1 AU = 15 meters. We made the planets out of crumpled aluminum foil and taped the smaller ones to index cards so they wouldn't get lost. The girls paced through the model, stopping at each planet to see a picture and learn one or two interesting facts. I compiled a sheet of pictures of the planets (plus Pluto/Charon) for them to take home. It is available here. Each of the girls then used the number of paces they counted between each planet in the outdoor model to make a "map" of the solar system on a roll of adding paper tape using the scale 1 AU = 1 meter. About half of the girls preferred the first part of the activity and about half preferred the second part.

In 2006, we had the girls cycle through several shorter activities in small groups. I ran an activity in which the girls learned about atomic spectra. I started by asking them what an atom is. Few could answer directly, but when pressed they could name many (oxygen = breathing, nitrogen = air, etc.). I then said that atoms are excited by different kinds of light. I provided a bag of crumpled-up construction paper to represent photons, and encouraged them to throw them at me, the "atom." I was only "excited" about one color of construction paper. People like throwing things, so this got them interested. Then, each student got a pair of diffraction grating glasses (which they could take home at the end). We talked about the fact that white light is composed of light of many colors (a rainbow) and looked at an incandescent lamp through the glasses as an example. Then, I showed a series of different gasses in an arc lamp. For each gas, the students colored the spectra they saw using crayons on this worksheet. At the end, I chose a "mystery spectrum," and they had to look at the arc lamp and tell me what gas they were seeing. We then briefly discussed the fact that spectra allow us to determine what planets and stars are made of. This is one of my favorite outreach activities. If flourescent lights are around, you can see that their spectra contain wide bands. If the students can take the diffraction glasses home, you can suggest using them to look at different types of city lights at night. The first time I did that was in college, and it was a lot of fun.