Eileen Neary

STEM in the Sky

Eileen Neary

When I was a kid, I went to this awesome weeklong science camp. We looked through kiddie telescopes, made weird substances out of flour and baking soda, and practiced our STEM skills before the acronym “STEM” was even coined.

So when I heard about NASA’s STEM in the Sky Astronomy Series where kids can look through telescopes and see outer space, I naturally felt some serious envy.

At NASA’s Wallops Facility Visitor Center, kids have the opportunity to head outside for a couple hours and learn about all things space. An expert team from the Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation was even scheduled to allow guests the super-rare opportunity to view the sun, its sunspots and flares with a solar telescope (!!!). Which is exactly as cool as it sounds. Unfortunately, due to the sky having a mind of its own, that particular event was canceled.

The good news is that additional installments of Stem in the Sky are scheduled. They will focus on the planet Jupiter, solar eclipses and more. Reading about this program, I suddenly found myself falling down the rabbit hole (or should I say wormhole?) of other children’s educational space programs.

Stem in The Sky was funded in part by the Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitor Centers, or, in “short,” the CP4SMPVC. Each year, the CP4SMPVC funds events for students and educators across the country. Grants have been awarded in almost every state. Many of these events tie in to STEM and NGSS curricula. The best part? Through the programs offered since 2008, millions of participants have taken part in all-day activities, seminars, afterschool programs, overnight astronomy experiences, special planetarium and science center exhibits, camps, and more.

So far there have been three projects awarded in PSG’s home state, Massachusetts, two of which are still ongoing. The first is through the Museum of Science in Boston. It has been running since October 2016 and will continue until October 2018. Called From Project Mercury to Planet Mars, the project includes a planetarium show about the challenges of a human journey to Mars and a “large-scale engineering design challenge activity” that also teaches about Mars exploration.

The second is at the Boston Children’s Museum. It has been running since January 2015 and will continue until January 2018. Our Sky is an educational series of programs for kids aged 3–10 to help them “gain an appreciation for celestial objects and phenomena as a foundation for understanding of Earth and Space Science.” The Our Sky series helps “inspire practical applications of STEM skills by children and adults as they explore celestial objects together.”

For the full list of CP4SMPVC awardees, past and present, and a map of events, click here. What a great time to be a space-loving kid!

Did You Know?
The United States is currently building what will be the largest solar telescope in the world. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The DKIST is located at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.

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