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Wild and unruly kids

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#1 Michael Rapp

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 11:35 AM

The astronomers in my area have a wonderful observing situation. We have a full observatory (3 domes and a large observing deck) run by our local Museum of Natural Science. The observatory is located at a state park in Mag 5-to-Mag 5.5 skies.

Saturday nights are public nights and the arrangement is awesome: bring your scope out and show the public the wonders of the universe from dusk until 10:30 pm, then feel free to remain to do your own observing well after the park closes and in a dark environment. It is an ideal and cherished arrangement.

Like many, I enjoy outreach. It’s fun. In fact, my volunteer work out at the observatory during high school is directly responsible for my career as an educator. There is just something magical about witnessing that invariable catch in the voice as someone looks through a telescope for the first time.

However, there is one thing that has threatened to make me just stop doing it. Actually, it even made me take a hiatus for several years in the past.

It’s those wild, unruly kids. These are the ones that grab the scope and push it around. It is not all the kids, of course, not even the majority of them. If I were to try to classify them it would be that they are in the younger grades, exclusively male, not within twenty feet of their parents or supervising adults, and seem to have had a recent meal made of nothing but sugar. (They are often groups of boys, such as Scout Troops. I’m not saying that scout troops are inherently unruly, but that is the most common large number of boys that come by the observatory.)

Of course, people and kids are going to bump my scope. It’s people’s natural inclination to reach out and try to grab hold of the eyepiece while trying to center their eye on it. I get that. That is normal and to be expected. It’s the ones that run up and grab the scope or put their face over the aperture and try to yell down my tube.

I hate that. This is my telescope, it is special to me, and well, it is expensive.

I often think that maybe this behavior is related to the trend in science museums, especially those that cater to kids. Most of the displays are designed to be manipulated and they are always ridiculously over-built to withstand onslaught of abuse a steady stream of kids can bring. They scream “Touch me! Move me! Find my limits! Try to figure out how I work!” (This is not a bad thing....hands-on science is a good thing!)

It might even be related to the inherent design of the observatory. Below the observing deck is the main lobby in which are peppered about various computer stations for the patrons to explore -- again that touch me/move me/run around and explore notion. It’s a stark contrast to the decidedly do not touch/stand in line/do not run notion of the deck above. (Again, I like the computer stations....it's a step up from just having pictures on the walls to look at.)

And then again, it might just be the overall environment. When we do star parties at schools, the kids are always well-behaved. Perhaps it is the proximity of being on school grounds and close to their teachers. Whereas out at the state park they are free of all of those visible bounds of discipline.

In any case, and before I write a thesis, I’m trying to think of ways to well, minimize my risk. I’m going to try to set up in a corner so that people have to approach my scope from just one side (I’ll be able to see them coming, I suppose). I’m also going to buy a larger step ladder and place some of those small red LED lights on it. The idea here is to 1) provide a physical barrier to the scope and 2) a psychological barrier as well, the young rowdy kids will hopefully be initially focused on the lights on the ladder than my tube.

I’m not an aggressive person and I’m jealous of other astronomers who have a commanding presence when they say “don’t touch” every three minutes. I don’t think the wild and unruly kids are going to go away. It’s part of the package of outreach, so I’m working on managing it.

Suggestions welcome!

#2 Daniel Guzas

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 12:28 PM

This is what I fear the most about my thought of trying to set up my scope on the sidewalk to show people the sights.

What do I do about kids, or disrespectful people who are a problem? I would have to believe that they are in the minority of people who would be willing to take a look. I too am like you. I don't want to be the overbreeding person saying " don't touch that" but I guess there has to be some of that interaction to make sure that damage is not done.

I will be eagerly awaiting others experiences on this. I believe that some will say that using a scope that is your " crown jewel" at an outreach may be part of the answer. But most of us don't have multiple scopes.

I will be following this thread closely and hopefully I can learn as well.

#3 MikeBOKC

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 01:44 PM

At public outreach events as people approach the eyepiece I say "don't touch or you'll cause the scope to vibrate and ruin the view." Most get that and for the few who still start raising their hands in what seems to be an instinctive gestire to grab ahold I say "no hands if you want to see the best view."

#4 MawkHawk

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 01:57 PM

But kids will also run up to the back of a dob and push it while someone is observing. I've seen this several times and it is usually while the parents are trailing behind and watching. I once saw a kid walk over and pour his blue slush onto my buddy's baltic birch dob base, again while with his parents. Can you imagine what that does to your bearings? Outreach with high school kids is usually fine, but I try to avoid it when I know that young ones will be around.

#5 Astrosetz

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 02:01 PM

Mike's warning/instruction up front is similar to what I do. After decades of doing outreach, using many different telescopes at several types of venues, I've come to believe that outreach requires active participation -- dare I say a performance -- from the telescope operator. People need guidance when approaching the telescope, explanation of what they're seeing (and why it's important), and interaction (I ask them questions if they don't ask me any). When there is an active exchange, it seems to be a much more meaningful and rewarding experience for both the telescope operator and the guest. For me, it's one of the reasons I love outreach so much.

#6 izar187

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 03:36 PM

I agree.
I remain beside the scope to interact with each person at the focuser. This seems to cover all the bases of watching out for my gear, sharing insight with them into what they're seeing, and gaging whether or not they are good candidates for steering the scope along with the target. All my mounts are alt-az, and allowing them to steer the scope is usually very big deal for those who do so. The wild and unruly kids are not likely to be among those I'd ask. Nor their parents for that matter.

In truth kids left to run wild are one of the reasons I only use one scope at outreach, with minimal other stuff out. No tables for charts and eyepieces. Once upon a time, but not for many years. I found it to be less for me to watch over, and less for others to bump into. Also less to pack up.

#7 Achernar

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 03:44 PM

That is why I would never bring a $4,000 truss-tube Dob to an outreach event, I use my solid-tubed Dob and less expensive eyepieces. And I watch the children to ensure they don't bump or worse push the rear end of the tube while someone else is looking through it. I have been lucky in that most children are fairly well behaved, but also most children are in the company of a relative. The ones that do seem to be the most rambunctious are boys in the range of about 6 to about 12-years old, older and younger kids seem to be calmer, and girls of all ages are much less rambunctious too. Also, it is a good idea to explain to the children how to use telescopes, including not touching them when someone else is looking through them. It might lead to them joining our hobby, becoming astronomers or other people in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics professions, but they would also know good etiquette as star parties too. One thing that helps is to have enough people with telescopes so wait times are minimal, if there is going to be problems, it when you're being mobbed by large groups of children.

Taras

#8 BarbMoore

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 01:11 AM

I always stay with my telescope while doing public outreach and I have NO problems with voicing my concerns when children start acting rowdy anywhere near any of our group's telescopes.

#9 skyguy88

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 01:19 AM

I've been doing outreach projects for years, probably close to 150 events with a video system and never have had a touching issue. I use a table or a cart out in front of the scope with the monitor on it. Newcomers immediately have something to look at and think about. No standing around waiting...and there is continuous conversation.

There is also never a focus issue, and objects like the dumbbell and the Sagittarius nebula are visible in full color. Galaxy structures are clearly visible.

Because I talk to a group and not a series of individuals, I have more time to develop ideas and generate discussions. That leads extensive engagement.

I probably wouldn't enjoy outreach as much and I'm sure that the experience wouldn't have as much impact on visitors if I used more conventional equipment.

Bill

#10 tedbnh

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 04:13 PM

As kids approach, I remind them,

"Look with your eyes, not with your hands." It helps.

These words are also part of what we tell them indoors before letting them out to look through the scopes. But that's only when we are running both the indoor and outdoor parts. Your situation is different.

#11 edwincjones

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 04:58 PM

I once dripped a hex wrench on my primary while adjusting the secondary mirror,

it happens

I am safer than adults at public star parties,
adults are safer than kids,
kids are safer than drunks

but anytime you get out the scope, there is a risk

so do a little risk reduction/management

do the above suggestions
do not get out the best optics if you are worried

accept that a little risk is worth it for outreach

edj

BUT-a few years back I went to the CedarKey star party and a well known amateur was showing Saturn with his 8-10" AstroPhysics MAC scope
-the most expensive set up I have ever seen at a star party
-the best view of Saturn that I have ever seen
sometimes it is worth it

#12 Skylook123

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 09:13 PM

Here's the setup I use at schools, but I don't use the laptop and small table; I was fooling around with a web cam when I took the picture.

The point is the walker in the background. When I put it in front of the eyepiece with the small green stool, the kids have to hold onto the walker. I've been using it for about two years, and it keeps hands of the eyepiece/diagonal and for older adults who have to bend over, holding onto the walker eases any vertigo from bending over in the dark. From third grade up through high school, they don't need the green stool but for the little ones, it helps. The key is to keep the hands on the walker; it steadies them in the dark, and keeps the hands busy. Cheapo aluminum foldup walker.

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#13 jgraham

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 10:27 PM

This is one concern that keeps me from getting back into outreach. I got tired of doing school events where kids were just running around hog wild while parents stood around in groups chit chatting and ignoring the chaos. What a waste of time.

#14 Astrosetz

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 10:40 PM

Many years ago I got a folding stepstool from my grandma when she sold her house -- it's got a high looping handle that makes it very useful since kids hold onto it when they're looking, as do adults (without having to stand on the steps themselves). I think having something to hold onto helps mitigate some of the grabbing, perhaps.

#15 Mike E.

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 12:31 AM

Using a walker, what a great idea !

#16 cheapersleeper

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 05:16 AM

I am kind of shocked by what I am reading here. I don't do loads of outreach but the outreach I do is around the Dallas Metro area. We move around quite a lot and in many cases are not in the most affluent areas of town. Many, many kids have looked through my scopes and I have never had one behave as is being described. Even the packs of boys have never really messed with my stuff. Possibly, it has to do with what a few others have posted: presence. I tend to greet everyone, tell them what we are doing, discuss with Mom and/or Dad how we can get the little kids to the eyepiece and such. Sometimes I hold up my hand at head height and say "OK, you look like you need TWO steps on the stool, Mom, would you help her up," and so forth.

I would not think that I have only been catering to a better class of kids... :lol:

Regards,
Brad

#17 edwincjones

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 07:26 AM

This is one concern that keeps me from getting back into outreach. I got tired of doing school events where kids were just running around hog wild while parents stood around in groups chit chatting and ignoring the chaos. What a waste of time.


:question:waste of time :question:

maybe,
but if we do not try to get the next generation interested in astronomy/science;
our hobby is in bad shape

edj

what really scares me about your statement is that you may be right

#18 Skylook123

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 07:33 AM

I've been doing serious outreach at schools (four or more a month) for about 14 years, and never had a problem at the scope. I have noticed that in the lower economic areas, the kids seemed better behaved, and the parents and teachers were quite involved with managing the learning experience. Those for whom English is a second, or even non-existent, language are quite attentive when their progeny explain to their parents or grandparents what I am explaining at the eyepiece, and seem to really appreciate the opportunity.

#19 Lt 26

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 08:02 AM

It's not the kids. Monster childs are made not born. That is why I view alone all by myself me and my good friend nobody else.

I have three children, four grandchildren and no desire to impress someone's brats.

Dereck

#20 Michael Rapp

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 11:04 AM

The walker is indeed a great idea. It looks like the strategies are to create a physical impedance to the scope as well as a psychological impedance. That is, have a physical object that discourages or makes it inconvenient to manipulate the scope. Also, to engage the public as they approach the scope so their attention is initially on you and not the instrument.

I was talking with one of my club members a few weeks ago who brings out his 18" scope and has never had any problems. It may be that his scope is so large that there really isn't anything to grab on to initially.

One of our members also brings out his 5" Astrophysics. But this scope rides so high on his G11 that the kids can't initially reach it.

Look at my scope. It's essentially "kid friendly." It's a big visible white tube at kid height. This is a blessing and a curse. Many times I've been able to give a young kid a view of something because they were afraid of the step ladders on the other scopes. On the other hand, it seems to say "grab me."

Maybe I just need to buy a larger aperture scope. Hmmm. :grin:

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#21 Hikari

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 11:31 AM

If you are getting successful, why not try to apply for a grant to buy a scope for this purpose? Talk the schools you work with an ask about how to go about doing this. You may also have the school apply for the grant.

You could also get a beater scope. A really old C5 or C8. It does not have to be special. Saturn and the moon will always impress no matter the quality of the scope.

#22 Hikari

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 11:32 AM

A 120V "dew heater" could stop kids from yelling down your OTA...

#23 zippeee

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 04:06 PM

I too have wondered how to mitigate the hazards of people around your equipment. I thought about (but haven't yet) putting something like this dog pen around my tripod. You could illuminate the bottom and have stuff like your battery and ep cases within the barrier. You wouldn't want to be moving it around all night but we're typically only targeting one object anyway. Anyone done this?

#24 Mr. Bill

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 06:46 PM

:question:waste of time :question: maybe, but if we do not try to get the next generation interested in astronomy/science; our hobby is in bad shape edj



I did my share of outreach early in my observing "career" but don't understand the need to proselytize the hobby like some religion looking for converts...it will do just fine as there are always those that seek it out on their own.

This "greying issue" came up at the GSSP last year as a topic of discussion...how do you get young people interested in amateur astronomy? As people were talking about this I looked over to two teenagers in the courtesy tent and noticed they were there because it was the "hotspot" for their video game playing....enough said.

:shrug:

#25 cheapersleeper

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 09:29 PM

:question:waste of time :question: maybe, but if we do not try to get the next generation interested in astronomy/science; our hobby is in bad shape edj



I did my share of outreach early in my observing "career" but don't understand the need to proselytize the hobby like some religion looking for converts...it will do just fine as there are always those that seek it out on their own.

This "greying issue" came up at the GSSP last year as a topic of discussion...how do you get young people interested in amateur astronomy? As people were talking about this I looked over to two teenagers in the courtesy tent and noticed they were there because it was the "hotspot" for their video game playing....enough said.

:shrug:


You are a member of the IDA and you can't figure out why astronomy needs to reach out to those that are younger and you already know it can't work because they are playing video games?

This thread hasn't really done anything to change my feelings about kids, but it is certainly making me wonder about my fellow astronomers.

B






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