Project ASTRO How-To Manual: FINDING A PARTNER
By now you've decided you want to start a Project ASTRO partnership, but you don't have a partner. Having the interest is the first step; finding a partner may require some initiative and persistence. Even if the first person you contact does not work out, he or she may be able to refer you to the perfect person. Here are some ideas about where to begin.
Among the ways to find a partner teacher are:
1. Make contact with an individual teacher.
2. "Network" through school personnel and other people you know.
3. Publicize your availability through written material.
Making contact with an individual teacher is perhaps the best approach. Information left with school administrators can get lost before it reaches interested teachers. A good way to find the names of teachers is to start with people you know (see below) because they will have a greater interest in helping you. When you contact a teacher, explain that you want to volunteer as a Project ASTRO astronomer and describe some of what you'd like to offer. Be aware that not all teachers cover astronomy, so it may take some persistence to find a teacher who does, or wants to. Here are some suggestions about whom to approach as a first point of contact:
Your child's classroom teacher or science teacher.
Your friends' children's teachers, especially those who are interested in science.
Classroom or science teachers in your local area (especially a neighborhood school). The principal, school counselor, or school science coordinator (if there is one) may be able to connect you with an interested teacher.
County or District level Science Coordinator or Volunteer Coordinator. Contact the County or District Superintendent's office for names.
A local planetarium or science center. Teachers who are interested in astronomy may be involved with special programs there. Ask for the education coordinator at these organizations.
State science teachers' association (check the phone book, ask a teacher, or contact the National Science Teachers Association, 1840 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201 (703)243-7100). Ask the officers or staff of the state organization how to reach interested teachers. They may be able to pass your name along to people in your area.
Science education faculty at a local university School of Education. These faculty members may be familiar with teacher professional development programs, and may be able to steer you toward a network of interested teachers.
Graduates of national astronomy education programs for teachers. These teachers may be interested in working with an astronomer, or may be able to refer you to other teachers in their area. Contact the organization that runs the astronomy program for names of teachers in your area. A complete catalog of national astronomy education projects is included in The Universe at Your Fingertips. Organizations with experience running teacher education programs in astronomy include:
American Astronomical Society
Suite 400, 2000 Florida Avenue
Washington, DC 20009
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Education Department, MS 71
60 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Lawrence Hall of Science
Astronomy & Physics Education Program
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720
NASA Teacher Resource Centers
For a list of centers contact:
Lorain County JVS
15181 Route 58 South
Oberlin, OH 44074
National Science Teachers Association
1840 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
Call us at Project ASTRO (415) 337-1100. We may be able to connect you with a Project ASTRO expansion site, or give you the names of teachers in your area from our growing database of participants in our programs and others across the country.
How to Approach School Personnel
When you call or write, communicate your desire to have an ongoing relationship with the school and to have an impact on astronomy and science education. Let the teacher, counselor, or administrator know that you would like to provide ongoing enrichment to the classroom lessons (not just a one-time lecture). Describe some of the specific ways you think you can be of help, and discuss your availability and commitment.
Bring a copy of the Project ASTRO How-To Manual, The Universe at Your Fingertips, and other Project ASTRO resource materials you may have to a meeting with the school principal or classroom teacher. Summarize or photocopy the brief description of Project ASTRO at the beginning of the How-To Manual.
Ask what ideas the teacher, counselor, or administrator has about how you can help with astronomy and science education. Emphasize that the focus of Project ASTRO is on astronomy, but the broader goal is to help students develop enthusiasm in science and logical reasoning skills.
Follow-up with a note and phone call. Teachers and administrators get extremely busy and may have difficulty getting back to you as soon as you would like. Take it upon yourself to make follow-up contact.
(Adapted from One Small Step...An Education Outreach Resource Guide produced by AIAA and NASA)
Because Project ASTRO encourages both amateur and professional astronomers to visit schools, there are several avenues to pursue to find a partner astronomer.
1. Contact local astronomy clubs
Many amateur astronomers belong to local astronomy clubs. Each club usually has some members who are interested in education and explaining astronomy to the public. Often, astronomy clubs hold star parties for the public, or go to local schools for one-time visits. You will want to find the club members who are interested in conveying astronomy to others and have at least some experience with children. Call the club president, attend a local meeting, or show up at an evening star gazing session and talk to the members. Most likely you will find someone who is enthusiastic. To find amateur astronomy clubs in your area, contact your local planetarium, community college astronomy department, or a local telescope store. Lists of amateur clubs also appear each year in a supplement section included in Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines, available in many libraries.)
2. Contact astronomy educators
Call your local planetarium, science center, or community college to find astronomy educators. Many of these institutions have at least one person on staff who teaches astronomy, usually someone with a Master's degree in astronomy. Staff and faculty at these organizations can be quite busy, but may be interested in visiting your school to enhance their teaching skills and experience, and to link with the community. If the main astronomer or faculty member is not available, he or she may be able to refer you to advanced students, amateur astronomers, or others in the local astronomy community.
3. Contact professional or research astronomers
The involvement of professional astronomers in K-12 education is gaining legitimacy as scientists in astronomy and other fields recognize the importance of supporting science education in the early grades. You can find professional astronomers through local colleges and universities, research labs, NASA centers, and industry. Graduate students and postdoctoral level professionals may be particularly interested in working with schools. At the university level, the best initial contact is the astronomy and physics department secretary. He or she should be able to give you names of faculty members or graduate students who have an interest in education. Ask if the secretary can post an announcement on electronic mail (astronomers use electronic mail as one of their main vehicles of communication), or distribute letters to all faculty and graduate students. If you need help finding astronomy programs and research centers in your area, contact the American Astronomical Society (2000 Florida Avenue, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009 (202)328-2010). The AAS is the professional society for astronomers and publishes an annual directory of its individual and organizational members.
4. Call the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
We have a growing database of astronomers interested in Project ASTRO, and can help refer you to other organizations. You can reach us at (415) 337-1100.
About Amateur Astronomers
Amateur astronomers come from all walks of life and pursue astronomy as a hobby. Most amateurs have other careers - they may be doctors, or contractors, or business people, or software engineers (one dynamic amateur astronomer we know is a butcher). Some amateurs are retired professional astronomers, and, while the majority of amateur astronomers are men, there are increasing numbers of women involved in astronomy clubs. Amateur astronomy is an exciting hobby because amateur astronomers can actually make scientific discoveries and contribute to the field of astronomy. Because the sky is so large, there is room for many telescopes to keep watch for astronomical events. In fact, many new comets are discovered by amateur "comet hunters" and some exploding stars were first noticed by amateur observers. Many amateurs know a lot about the night sky, constellation lore, and observing through a small telescope. And their enthusiasm for astronomy can be contagious.