Children Enjoy Peek at Stars, Planets with Assist from U of A STEM Program

October 25, 2016

Greenland Elementary students got the opportunity to look at the sky through large telescopes with help from University of Arkansas students.
Greenland Elementary students got the opportunity to look at the sky through large telescopes with help from University of Arkansas students.

The sky over Greenland Elementary School was filled with puffy white clouds in the early evening Oct. 18. The clouds obscured the stars and planets that University of Arkansas students had hoped to show the Greenland kids through powerful telescopes and binoculars, but the children did not mind.

The Greenland students scampered between U of A students, taking turns to use the equipment to look at trees far away, the horizon, the clouds and each other. Later, they were able to see the planets Venus and Saturn as the night progressed, and more stars became visible.

Daniel Barth, clinical assistant professor of STEM education, is taking a curriculum he developed called Astronomy for Educators to local schools. The Greenland visit was part of a family literacy night the school hosted. Barth and his students will attend a Science-Math Camp Out at Holt Middle School in Fayetteville on Nov. 11 and also regularly help out with astronomy lab nights at Springdale High School.

The College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A purchased telescopes and binoculars for the STEM education program, which now offers a concentration in STEM for childhood education majors and a graduate certificate in STEM education. Barth also showed children and their parents a shot of the moon on his phone. He had taken it with a digital camera mounted to the telescope. He pointed out craters, lava flows and mountain chains on the small screen.

"We are training our students to do low-cost science in the classroom," Barth said, "and we are training them to use this equipment. Then, we come — with my students as experts — and show the kids what we've got. This is equipment a school may never have."

Also this semester, Barth conducted professional development sessions for Greenland teachers on the Astronomy for Educators curriculum.

"They can do astronomy for pennies in the classroom," he said. "Then, children can go outside with their parents and compare what they have seen in the classroom. We light these children up. They get excited about learning."

Before coming to Arkansas two years ago, Barth taught high school in California for 30 years. That's when he began developing low-cost methods of teaching science. He piloted the astronomy curriculum in Northwest Arkansas the past two summers. It's important to him that the program support local schools, and he shared a copy of his book, Astronomy for Educators, giving the Greenland teachers unrestricted educational use of the text and materials until the book is published, when the publisher may impose restrictions.

"They learn to present authentic STEM investigations and activities in astronomy to increase student interest in the astronomy event, and to help them build STEM culture affordably in their local schools," Barth said.

spotlight on faculty scholarship

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