Navigating Our Future

Thursday, July 15 2004 @ 08:54 am EDT

Contributed by: bobmoody

The Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society was formed in early 1985 in Ft Smith, Arkansas. We established our own constitution and preamble based on that of the Astronomical League, spelling out our goals and desires as amateur astronomers. These goals are directly related to what we want to do with where we see ourselves going in the immediate future. As you can see from our preamble, education has been, and always shall be our most important goal.

This installment for our “Chart Room” section will define what we’d like to do to help the schools and their students of our area. We want to help every student understand what astronomy is, but more importantly, we want to illustrate why a complete understanding of science and mathematics is essential to a good education. That in turn is crucial for our country to maintain its technological edge in the 21st Century.

Our American children score as well as or better than children from other parts of the world for achievement test scores up to the fourth grade. Thereafter, test scores for US students begin to falter through the eighth grade level, and continue falling behind their foreign contemporaries all the way through to high school graduation. Our college freshmen are not as well prepared for learning at this level as college freshmen in other countries around the world.

AOAS feels that astronomy has the potential to raise the test scores of American students to higher levels of understanding by encouraging them to see the interdisciplinary connections between astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology and mathematics. We feel that that understanding needs to happen early in a child’s education and have some way of continuing to stimulate and enrich our students as they reach the college level. Indeed, there are many benchmark requirements set forth in US Education Reforms which stipulate that a child’s education be supplemented with astronomical concepts as early as the first grade.

We would suggest that even more astronomical concepts be included in the curriculum of our youngest students. Space science and all things astronomical are such exciting and inspirational subjects for young children that they are among the only subjects that can capture and hold a child’s interest longer and more thoroughly than any other single subject. With proper reinforcement of their understanding early on, we would then recommend a much more aggressive campaign to further enrich their understanding with more astronomical knowledge and interdisciplinary concepts for the remainder of their elementary and secondary education.

As these students reach the Jr. High and High School years, regular classes in astronomy and other science subjects need much more attention to detail regarding what the students are learning. To simply teach the subject is not sufficient. Here we must begin to help our students understand how science works through the scientific method. About 80% of American adults cannot read and understand the majority of subjects in the Tuesday science section of the New York Times (see Why We Should Care About Math and Science Scores) Nor can they understand the majority of the PBS programs offered on NOVA, or science subjects on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic channels. AOAS believes that advanced astronomy, physics and mathematics classes can help rectify this deficit in our students understanding of science as a whole.

What we are proposing is to help develop better learning materials and teaching techniques that will stimulate these young minds from the first grade onward. Increasing materials and techniques with each successive year will help students to establish interactive astronomy programs by the time they reach their Jr. High years. These programs will be administered by area schools through direct participation with AOAS' Coleman Observatory. By the time students reach their High School years, full-fledged astronomy research programs could be offered. The scientific method must be a central theme throughout this new standard of education.

Our current plans and goals are for obtaining community and area business financial support for the establishment of a professional type facility at our Coleman Observatory grounds. This initial phase will cost an estimated $70,000 minimum investment for the building of a control room with two enclosed domes for research-grade telescopes of 14" and 16" of aperture. The 14" telescope is already a reality with our Celestron CGE 1400 14” f / 11 Schmidt-Cassegrain instrument. This telescope can do meaningful, professional work in a number of astronomical research areas at the present time. The 16" telescope will allow for two ongoing research programs at once. Making these instruments available to area schools by remote operation via an Internet connection remains another immediate goal. Regular upgrades and additions of other instruments will keep providing more and more capabilities as time goes on. These telescopes will be able to be commanded and operated remotely by schools throughout our area with “live” real-time images being shown at any participating school’s computer in the comfort and accessibility of their local institution.

These lofty goals can become a reality within a very short time span if we can acquire the needed funding. Businesses, banks and other institutions and foundations, as well as private donations are needed to fulfill this goal. We have the manpower and knowledge to operate such a facility and to make its capabilities available to thousands of area students and dozens of schools. AOAS is a non-profit 501-C-3 organization with all donations of money, equipment and materials being fully tax-deductible.

We have offered our services to our area schools and their students for the last 20 years. Now we’d like to “kick it up a notch” and get truly serious about astronomy. We believe we can help with our local children’s understanding of science and the scientific process thereby improving math and science test scores. To do this we’d like to ask you to consider contributing to our current goals. Think of it as an investment in our children's education and thereby, our future. That is, after all, what it really is.

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