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Need some help with Summer School Outreach

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#1 c_lou


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Posted 20 June 2013 - 01:09 PM

So my oldest daughter is taking an Amazing Earth class in Summer School. The syllabus made mention of a couple days where they talk about the solar system and universe. I mentioned to the teacher that I have a telescope and solar filter and if he would like I would come and set it up for the kids to look through.

Great...Awesome...when can you come? So having never done anything like this, what should I expect? They are 3-5th grade students. Groups of 5 or 6 will spend about 10-15 minutes at the telescope. Not really sure what to talk about? I figure I would be asked about sunspots if there were any. Just a little nervous so I would take any help I can get.


#2 MikeBOKC


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Posted 20 June 2013 - 01:36 PM

Jot down some basic sun facts -- distance, size, temperatures. Maybe a little bit about stellar life cycles, what sunspots are. Then just let 'em look.

#3 btb


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Posted 20 June 2013 - 05:13 PM

Don't get to technical, answer their questions the best you can and if you don't know tell them you don't know. Then try to remember and look it up later at home so you will be able to answer the question if it ever comes up again. Oh, and relax and have fun they will enjoy the view of the sun. Remind them to never look at the Sun without proper equipment.

#4 kfiscus



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Posted 20 June 2013 - 07:16 PM

Be honest with what you know and don't know. Encourage them to check NASA websites and other good ones like spaceweather.com to find great pictures and understandable descriptions. They can find daily pictures of the sun (with total safety) at www.bbso.njit.edu (This is Big Bear Solar Observatory in California.)

#5 Doc Willie

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 07:42 PM

The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project has some resources you might find useful.

#6 Pharquart


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Posted 22 June 2013 - 08:36 AM

For younger kids like this, you might want to build a solar funnel:


This is an inexpensive and easy project. The advantage is that no one has to look through an eyepiece. For younger kids (in that third grade range) you might have some problems getting them lined up at the eyepiece correctly, and it's hard to point out sunspots to them. With a solar funnel, the image is projected onto a screen and the sun is about 4" across, making sunspots very visible and easy to point out with your finger while you look, too.

When I built mine (for the eclipses and Venus transit last year) I kept it very cheap and used a piece of a $2.99 white vinyl shower curtain from Walmart for the screen material. It works fine, though you might get more contrast from the rear-projection screen materials recommended on the site.

Since they're also doing some solar system studies, I highly recommend talking to them about scale of the solar system. I did this with a 4th/5th grade group and it went over very well. I developed much of my content with a nudge from a guy on these forums named Ted. One exercise demonstrates the size and distance of the moon relative to earth, with the other showing the size and distance of the solar system. Very cool, and very easy. If you're interested, let me know and I can send you some more detailed info.

Where is "west central Wisconsin"? I'm in the Mpls area.


#7 jerwin


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Posted 22 June 2013 - 04:45 PM

There will probably be one kid smarter than you, or at least smarter than the others on regards to the sun. You could always to the old teacher trick when a few kids read ahead, you get them to answer each others questions. :)

Know some thing that will WOW them, like how much bigger the Sun is than the earth. If there is a big sunspot, let them know that it's almost the size of the earth, or half the size of the earth or your best estimate.

Explain that they should never look at the sun without special filters. Maybe tell them it takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for the sunlight to reach the earth.

If you have access to a good color printer you could probably find a few images of the sun in h-alpha or some other spectrum so they can see more then sunspots if you run out of stuff to talk about, and if it gets cloudy.

It's something most of them have never seen before, so most of them will probably think it's cool just to look through a telescope.

Not sure how old\big the kids are. The CPC at the lowest tripod level is probably pretty good height for most people, but depending on the and if they are real young kids a step stool might help anyone to short to see, or you could always tip the diagonal to the side. Make sure you tell each one not to touch the eyepiece. It's amazing how many people thing they need to hang onto that. And I think most of us only bring one or maybe 2 eyepieces max, and eyepieces that won't make you turn your stomach if\when someone touches the glass directly.

Despite a bad moment or 2, solar outreach is my favorite. :)


#8 c_lou


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Posted 24 June 2013 - 08:26 AM

Thanks for all of the suggestions. The kids will be coming out in groups of 4-5 for about 15 minutes. I won't have much time to do any size of the solar system, I found a good one with the sun the size of a men's basketball...bummer.

I like the idea of tieing in that the sun is 8 minutes in the past. Perhaps some sort of time travel reference.

Pharquart, I am in Mondovi, about 20 minutes south of Eau Claire.

#9 Jay_Bird


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Posted 24 June 2013 - 11:50 AM

Before - maybe just quick safety talk

After - even if you just leave something teacher can use for follow-up - here are some good links for scale of planets and stars. If you poke around NASA you can find materail for planets, sun, deep space, etc., for classroom visits.

+1 for Charlie Bates

Science at NASA has an entire section on heliophysics (big word for their space weather, solar and earth magnetic field page)

www.spaceweather.com is a good place too

Since time is limited, maybe a few minutes with pictures for the small group at scope, or slides on a classroom projector.

Some pictures from this site (they were originally attributed to NASA & UCAR when I pulled off web for a class visit 2-3 years ago) worked well with later elementary and middle school kids:


Other information about stars and the scale of the universe can be found at:



The two links above are the same presentation in 2 PowerPoint formats.



#10 yepimanerd



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Posted 25 June 2013 - 10:45 AM

+1 on the sun funnel... I did the same for the Venus transit & it made it very easy to share the view with my neighbors.

#11 c_lou


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Posted 01 July 2013 - 02:38 PM

We had our outreach today. The kids seemed to have a good time. Some were more interested than others but all were pretty facsinated with the Size of the Universe screen shots I had printed out. We went over how big the sun seems to us, but when compared with other stars, it's really quite small. I only had 1 minor problem, my power tank lost power around 11:15, so I pulled the car up and plugged into that and we were rolling away again.

Thanks for all the information and suggestions. I hope to post some pictures when I get them from the teacher.

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