Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Astronomy Night

As I mention frequently, we are a small school, and being a small school means that some people have to wear a lot of hats.  My official title is teacher; however, the reality is I teach fifth grade in the morning and technology to fifth and sixth grades in the afternoon. I’m the gifted and talented coordinator for the district and the de-facto technology coach for the staff.

Last Thursday I organized and hosted an astronomy night for the community put on by the Elementary Science and Engineering Club.  I have never organized something this big. In fact, I had wanted to hold it later in the month, but the weather report was getting ugly fast and the unseasonable warm, clear nights we had been having were numbered.

To say it was hectic was an understatement.  I had to train several high school volunteers (many completing a community service requirement and with little knowledge of astronomy) on how to use the telescopes. Due to an obligation to an after-school field trip, I actually got to the event location, a baseball diamond, as the sun was going down and people were showing up.

The next two hours were a blur.  If you asked me how it went at the end of the night, I would have said, “I don’t know.”  I spent most of the time running around, keeping the three telescopes lined up on Jupiter and the moon, although the high school kids were a great help in this.  Nothing teaches you that the earth is rotating quite like keeping a tiny point of light in your telescope only to find it racing out of your vision after a few minutes.

I don’t know how many people came—I suspect around 40. But I know that I went through more than 50 cups of hot apple cider during the evening.  I had three telescopes ranging from a small tabletop telescope costing about $60 to a $2500 one weighing at least a hundred pounds on loan from CESA (our educational cooperative).  I had a table set up with Stellarium and a scavenger hunt for constellations.

The tragedy of the evening came when I tried to adjust my new telescope and it fell off of the tripod, hitting the ground and cracking the eyepiece off.  I was crushed.  But a fellow teacher told me that “it did more good being used and broken, than being in a box.”  Despite my misgivings and the stress, I know that it went well, because the next day I had the kids who attended fill out a survey in Google Documents that told me as much. Also, the next day I was hounded by kids wanting to know more, telling me that they’d stood out on their decks with binoculars, and that they wanted telescopes for Christmas.



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