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Organized Science/Astronomy Outreach?

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#1 dennyhenke

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 01:34 PM

I posted this over at the Cosmoquest forum, thought I'd post here too. I'm based in rural Missouri, Madison County to be more specific. My thoughts here are not just about Astronomy outreach but science outreach as well. What I'm discovering is that there is a general lack of science literacy here (I'd guess it is common in rural areas). I'm sure that is not a big surprise to folks on this forum. Unfortunately it seems to be a general trend in the U.S. My main question, is there any organized effort to get folks out into communities? While this website and other related sites are a fantastic resource I can't help but think that some sort of real life community based action is needed? I have a history in community activism so that may be why I'm looking at it this way.

Here's what I've got going on as a sort of example of what I am proposing. We have a group that meets in town once a week, we call it the Geek Parade. Started as a general sort of discussion group covering all sorts of things. This past fall we centered it on science with a loose structure. We're all non-scientists taking turns researching different areas and reporting back to the group. More recently a couple of us have been focused on astronomy. I purchased my first scope since the 9th grade (I'm 42) and have spent the past 3 months learning the night sky in search of Messier objects and the Herschel 400, etc as well as exploring the science of Astronomy. In fact we're meeting more often outside of town at my place because of the dark skies, often 2-3 times a week. As word get's out about us and our scopes we're getting some interest from outside of the group. A friend at the library has now started directing anyone interested in astronomy to me and I had my first session this past Saturday with 7 homeschool kids and their parents! I've got others coming soon.

My intent is to continue as I have and to do a bit of outreach. I'll be contacting the teacher responsible for the science club at each of the local schools and have also considered how we might organize an ongoing series of in-town discussions/presentations covering a range of topics fundamental to the different sciences. The idea would be to introduce some of the basic concepts in geology, astronomy, biology as we also introduce people to (remind them of what they hopefully learned in HS) the scientific method, skepticism and critical thinking in general. The audience would depend on the specifics of the activities.

I'm thinking of this as a sort of organized community/citizen science outreach which could happen in local libraries (or other spaces) and which might hopefully draw upon the services of educators from local schools when needed and available. Is there anything like this happening aside from star parties? If not is it something that should be developed? Might there be interest for that here?

#2 csrlice12

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 03:14 PM

"A friend at the library has now started directing homeschoolers to me"

While I fullly appreciate what you are doing for the community, and encourage you to continue (check into maybe setting up something with more rural harvest fairs, 4H fairs, etc...think of the dark skies and how much that would do for public outreach). I do have a little problem with the guy from the library sending you "homeschoolers". It would be ok if he was sending any interested parties, he is a public employee; but if he is only sending "Homeschooled" children, he is not being fair to the rest of the community. In many states "Homeschooled" famlies get gov't funds to help with the schooling; these are tax dollars. Public schools would be required to pay someone to "teach" their children, even if it was a special presentation. Turning your good hearted project into a "free" class for the Homeschooled goes a little beyond what I consider acceptable for a public employee to do. Nothing against you, but you may want to let the guy know that you are willing to present to others as well...

#3 dennyhenke

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 03:22 PM

Oh, no, not like that at all (I'll clarify the original post). He'll send anyone my way that has expressed an interest as he knows I'm interested in sharing. I think that he gets a lot of homeschoolers (just the nature of being open during day when school kids are in school) and it just so happens that the first two families he has sent my way are homeschoolers.

#4 csrlice12

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 03:26 PM

Glad to hear that. Keep on Keeping on then; that memory of seeing Saturn as a kid is what brought me back to the hobby as I near retirement. I'm thinking that next year at Halloween, bringing my scope out front and giving "views" along with the treats....

#5 dennyhenke

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 04:02 PM

Saturn was it for me too! The other night, well, let me just say that it was quite special to be able to show these folks their first planet! There's nothing quite like the excited gasp of a kid (or adult) looking at Jupiter or Saturn the first time! Your idea for Halloween is excellent!!

#6 coolrocketdude

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 05:44 PM

Homeschoolers in general do not receive any (federal/state)government funds to help with schooling costs. While some local school districts may provide a stipend, the norm is no government support (some church groups and local organizations might contribute but this cannot be considered generous by any means). The vast magority of homeschooled parents assume a financial repsonsibility to provide this type of education to their children. As a homeschool parent myself - I use my connections through my astronomy community to provide science education to my children, and to those in the public schools (in which my tax dollars support but receive no benefit/stipend). I appreciate the efforts of any friend, librarian, and fellow astronomers that can point us to these resourses.

#7 MikeBOKC

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:53 PM

I spent eight years working on the staff of a state governor. Groups were always coming to the capitol to lobby, and the ONLY group that didn't come with incessant demands for money were the homeschool parents and kids. They were also the nicest and most polite of all the organized groups. All they wanted was to be left alone.

#8 BarbMoore

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 10:43 PM

Our little astronomy group has done outreach at public schools, private academies, public libraries, museums, and city parks. We pretty much will do outreach anywhere we are asked. We do it for the love of sharing our passion.






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