StarLab evokes the big questions from kids

If you cannot visit the planetarium, I’m going to try to bring the planetarium to you, I promised my students in the middle of the school year. With the help of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, that dream came true with the visit of StarLab to Salt River Elementary School last week.

StarLab_InTheBag

This is how the ‘lab’ arrived.

Dome_1In less than 30 minutes it would fill the room!

InsideStarlabOn the inside, Karen Knierman from ASU, setting up for 16 class sessions…

Constellations_1Follow up: This week First Graders in my class had to design and name their own constellations!

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Starlab, such a gift to students

Yesterday, at Salt River Elementary School, our students got to experience astronomy in a whole new way. We had StarLab here for two days.

It’s impossible for any kid to sit out this lab!

StarLab_SREThis 2-day experience was made possible through ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.  (Don’t I sound like a line from NPR!) Translated: We have some really smart, passionate post-doc students working with StarLab to conduct 8 sessions each day.

Two things StarLab struck me about bringing an inflatable planetarium to a school.

  • This is what the whole ‘pop-up’ phenomenon has taken after. If you’ve not heard, there’s a new fascination with ‘pop-up agencies’ and pop-up marketing booths at events such as South By Southwest.
  • The notion that planet Earth is so tiny when compared to the universe, and how much in science is left to be discovered.

For students the latter could be a powerful catalyst, incentivizing them (even wide-eyed first graders) to consider a career in the sciences.

As for the former, just the fact that you could view galaxies and constellations in a portable space like this, smashes that stereotype that science is boring, and/or hard.

A lab within a lab? Mucking around with Edison’s idea

I’ve been talking about labs and science a lot, recently. Partly because we are zeroing in on S-T-E-M areas across the board in our school, and partly because my class, after all, is a lab that is constantly under construction, so to speak. By now my students know the mantra:

I say: “This is not a computer lab, it is…”

They say: “A computer and technology lab!”

I’ve move things around, to crate more interactive spaces, and just made my robotics board a permanent fixture etc.

I may have to move the tables back a lot more, as I just heard from StarLab that we will have them set up here next month for two days. We have somehow got to fit this 25′ x 25′ inflatable planetarium inside!

A lab within a lab  lends itself to some good discussions of what exactly is a laboratory? Science is too broad and deep to limit it to something that involves chemicals or PCs, magnets or motors.

If I had my way, I would build a science lab that is more Discovery Zone than science class. A place where kids could learn to try things they would never be allowed to do in a regular class. To ‘mess’ with batteries, to invent flying objects, to experiment with sound waves, and plot the path of asteroids.

Thomas Edison used to describe his team of science assistants as ‘Muckers’! Why? His buddies were apparently messing with (mucking with) many different scientific ideas, simultaneously in the lab. His earliest ‘lab’ was in the baggage car of a train! This was probably the genesis of ‘inter-disciplinary’ sciences, before we had a fancy term for it.