Project ASTRO: So You Want to Start a Project ASTRO Site?
- What is Project ASTRO™?
- What is a Project ASTRO site?
- Who leads a Project ASTRO site?
- How do we find astronomer and educator partners to participate in the program?
- What happens at a Project ASTRO training workshop?
- Who trains the partners at Project ASTRO workshops?
- How are Project ASTRO sites funded?
- What is involved in becoming an official Project ASTRO site?
- What interaction is there among Project ASTRO sites?
- What is the role of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific?
- How do I get started if I want to get a site going in my area?
Project ASTRO™ is an innovative national program to improve science education by linking volunteer amateur and professional astronomers with local educators and young people in grades 4 through 9. Developed by the non-profit Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), with a start-up grant from the National Science Foundation, the project provides materials, training, and support to sustain effective partnerships between astronomers and educators, and to get students excited about science through astronomy. After attending a training workshop with their educator partners, Project ASTRO astronomers "adopt" a class or youth group for at least a year, working with them during 4 or more visits. The underlying approach of the program is to encourage students to think and act like scientists, by helping them engage in hands-on, inquiry-based astronomy activities.
The project is organized into regional sites, each encompassing one metropolitan area or, sometimes, an entire state. Each site trains and supports between 10 and 35 partners each year, puts on follow-up training activities for all the local partners, and becomes a member of the Project ASTRO National Network.
Note that if you are unable to make a commitment to have at least 10 new partnerships a year, we encourage you to explore the possibility of a more limited and informal Project ASTRO effort. National Office Staff at the ASP are happy to assist in an advisory capacity in such cases, but we are unable to designate you an official Project ASTRO site or to send staff to your site (although you can travel to other site workshops to learn how to do the training of the partners).
Each Project ASTRO site consists of a lead institution and a Project ASTRO coalition. The lead institution is responsible for organizing, staffing, and fund-raising for the local project, and is typically a science center, planetarium, observatory, college, university, or other organization involved in science or astronomy education. Ideally, each site will have paid staff, consisting of a part-time director, a part-time coordinator, and a part-time administrative assistant. In the real world of limited funding, it is at least necessary to have a part-time coordinator who organizes and oversees the project, and a committed individual to serve as the site director. The site director is often a more senior scientist or educator, who provides the support and legitimacy necessary to garner resources within the lead institution and encourages other local organizations to support the project.
Each site works with a coalition of local educational, scientific, and community groups, coming together for the purposes of finding participants, activities, resources, and publicity for Project ASTRO (for example, a local amateur astronomy club may put on a "star party" at one or more schools, members of a university astronomy department may pool educational funds from several NASA grants, and a local school district may provide meeting rooms and let all its teachers know about the program). Experience has shown that such a dedicated coalition is essential to the survival and growth of the project. Through its coalition, each local Project ASTRO actively encourages communication and cooperation among educational and scientific groups in their community that may otherwise not be working together.
If you have cast a wide net in selecting the members of your coalition, they will most likely have many good ideas on how to enlist local astronomer and educator partners for the project. Presentations by project staff or coalition members to teacher conferences, astronomy department colloquia, or amateur astronomy club meetings can be very effective. So can articles in local newsletters, e-mail messages distributed to special interest groups or research organizations, and special mailings to likely candidates. The ASP can sometimes provide the names of astronomy groups and institutions, and even lists of astronomers (amateurs and professionals), in your local community.
Astronomer and educator partners complete an application form and are selected and matched according to criteria that include location, interests, grade level, etc. Some priority is typically given to educators who work with young people who are traditionally underrepresented in science due to race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
The two-day ASTRO workshops are typically held over a weekend (or on Friday and Saturday) in the summer or early fall. The astronomers and educators attend the workshop together and learn about inquiry-based astronomy teaching, forming effective partnerships, and making use of local and national astronomy resources. A key component of each workshop is guiding the partners through several hands-on astronomy activities from beginning to end.
During the workshop, partners are provided with many useful materials (including The Universe at Your Fingertips: An Astronomy Activity and Resource Notebook and the Project ASTRO How-To Manual) and are given guidance to help in planning their series of classroom visits. Our astronomers and educators are never given a prescribed set of activities, but are encouraged to use what they learned during the workshop to develop a program that fits with their own interests, strengths, and students' needs.
After the workshop, astronomers make at least four visits to one classroom or youth group. Neither astronomers nor educators receive payment for the visits. During and between their visits, the astronomers help the educators develop their science skills and astronomy knowledge, assist with hands-on classroom activities, lead discussions and special projects, and/or serve as mentors and role models. The partners typically engage in a range of activities, from hands-on classroom activities to school-wide events like "star parties" (evening telescope observing sessions) for children and their families.
The annual training workshop for the partners is led by the local Project ASTRO site staff, with the help of experienced astronomy educators from the community. Often, these mentor educators will be part of the local ASTRO-coalition institutions. The national ASTRO staff will provide workshop templates and discuss the workshop design and philosophy with the staff of each new site.
If necessary, new site leaders can receive training in organizing a good workshop. If the new site is able to fund it, representatives from the National Project ASTRO Staff can attend and co-lead the first workshop. In this way, current and future workshop leaders from the local site can see demonstrated some of the workshop techniques that have been developed elsewhere. Alternatively, your staff can attend a workshop for partners at one of our existing Project ASTRO sites.
While the National Science Foundation provided start-up funds for the Project ASTRO National Network, at the present time all Project ASTRO sites must provide their own funding. Among the sources of funding that the various sites have been successful in tapping are:
Donations from local corporations, foundations, and individuals.
Education and outreach components of NASA or NSF grants (sometimes pooled from several local investigators or research projects).
NASA Space Grant or other NASA educational program funds.
State education funds (many states have special programs to which you can apply, often with help from knowledgeable members of your coalition).
In-kind support from coalition institutions (such as meeting space, free mailings, underwriting of administrative costs, etc.).
A Project ASTRO site must share and support the goals and methods of the project, as described above. Note that you do not need to be a Project ASTRO site to purchase and use such project materials as The Universe at Your Fingertips from the ASP catalog. But if you do wish to become a site, you will be asked to complete a Project ASTRO application, outlining your plans for getting your site going and obtaining funding to cover its expenses. Once your application has been reviewed and accepted, your institution will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The MOU is reviewed annually, and each site is asked to make a brief annual report to the ASP.
All official Project ASTRO sites are linked into a National Network of site leaders, which meets annually and keeps in touch regularly. Experienced site leaders are often available to answer questions from new or prospective sites about issues or problems that come up in getting a site started. Good ideas originating at one Project ASTRO site are quickly shared among all of them through this network.
The ASP coordinates the national Project ASTRO effort from its offices in San Francisco, and holds the trademark and copyright on the program and its materials. All Project ASTRO materials are published by the ASP, and distributed to official Project ASTRO sites at a significant discount from retail prices. The ASP provides training and guidance for new site leaders, sends leaders for the first workshop when possible, and develops new and revised materials for all Project ASTRO partners to use. In addition, the ASP will provide free templates for commonly used Project ASTRO materials (such as educator and astronomer applications, site news releases, local newsletters, workshop handouts, etc.) to all official Project ASTRO sites. One of the main roles of the ASP is to ensure the philosophical integrity of the project among the sites.
The first step is to gauge interest in Project ASTRO locally. The natural first contacts to make are with the local astronomy community, including university and community college astronomy departments and the amateur astronomy clubs in your area. We find that it is seldom difficult to interest local teachers in Project ASTRO; most teachers love the idea of having "their own astronomer." It is really those individuals whom you are going to be tapping as astronomer volunteers who must be courted. The next step is to set up a local coalition of individuals and organizations that have an interest in astronomy education. Host a meeting to talk about Project ASTRO and the ways in which it can positively impact the community and those in attendance. Be sure to bring up the issue of fundraising and solicit input from those present as to possible organizations, businesses, and individuals that might be interested in supporting the project (you may want to have information about the project, and a copy of The Universe at Your Fingertips and the Project ASTRO How-to-Manual at the meeting to show everyone).
If there is local interest, contact the ASP more formally and speak with our National Project ASTRO Staff. We can offer advice and direct you to other Project ASTRO sites resembling your own. These sites can help by identifying and addressing challenges before they arise, providing customized materials for recruiting and publicity, and perhaps even serving as informal advisors as you begin your activities.
Director: Greg Schultz
Project Coordinator: Brian Kruse