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Planning School Assemblies to Meet State Standards
I love National Public Radio! Listening to NPR in the morning on the way to the office, I often hear about things that are fascinating and that I knew nothing about before.
This morning there was an article about a new astronomical event. Allegedly, in 1979, a star was observed exploding in a Super Nova. But this was no ordinary event. The explosion appears to have been large enough to produce a black hole. And the evidence suggests that this hole, in the last thirty years, has consumed an amount of mass equal to that of our entire planet, which, by these things, is a lot! This appears to be the first time astronomers have been able to witness the birth of a black hole in a normal Super Nova. That’s great!
And that got me thinking about, of course, school assemblies. Kids love this stuff. They love stars and astronomy. And aspects of astronomy and earth science are all through state standards in most states. And yet, there is often a disconnect between children’s innate curiosity in this regard and the teaching of the subject in school.
I recently went on a scouting trip with my son’s scout unit, and we were accompanied by a young scout from a city neighborhood. That light, after all the young men had turned away, but while the adults were still awake and talking around the small fire, this young man got up to see what was going on. It was a clear night and he happened to look up and was immediately struck by the sheer number and brightness of the stars that were visible that night. Growing up in the city, he had no idea of the number of stars that could be seen on a clear dark night outside the city lights. He must have stood there for a good 45 minutes just lost in wonder.
It was a great teaching moment and we used it to point out a few of the more familiar constellations. It was a great moment!
But many young people never get that opportunity, and the context within the classroom is often so disjointed that it leaves students struggling to find passion.
However, they must learn about space because this area is directly listed in the educational standards of most states. Almost every state has parts of their state standards in elementary and middle school that relate directly to our solar system, astronomy, and the stars.
A trip to the planetarium is great for that. However, many schools are not near a permanent facility and often the transportation costs involved in the field trip are prohibitive. This is where school reunion programs can be of immense value to a school. Various companies offer schools the alternative of organizing a visit to a traveling planetarium. In these cases, the dome is usually inflatable and is set up in the gymnasium for the day. Far from being simply a fun distraction, programs like these directly meet educational standards, and do so in a fascinating, kid-friendly way that inspires excitement and a desire to learn more.
There are various opportunities available in this field. In some cases the program is simply equipment rental where the school must provide a trained operator, usually a teacher who knows how to use the equipment. Sometimes the unit provides a recorded story that works automatically after the program starts, like watching a movie. However, the best option is for the company to send a professional presenter live with the planetarium so that the presentation is lively, responsive and thoroughly polished, and can answer questions from students during the program.
There are also different options in capacity. Inflatable planetariums come in a variety of sizes, and this is important because it affects how many presentations it will take for all of your students to get through. Some units are small and can only handle a class at a time. If you want to get your whole school involved, try to find a company with a dome big enough to hold 80-100 students at a time. That way you will be able to pass an average school of 300-500 in just one day. Otherwise, you will undoubtedly be faced with holding the program for several days, which is not only expensive, but can also be very disruptive to the school schedule.
Finally, look for modern technology. Older star projectors were analog and basically consisted of a canister of film over a bulb. Although they could be used at the time, such systems are primitive and can actually be found in some toy stores now. Newer digital systems provide far better programming and have advanced computer-generated graphics.
Whichever path you take, your students will benefit, and their test scores should rise accordingly. And if one day one of the students is traveling in the car with an NPR-addicted dad, and happens to hear the same report that dad heard this morning, that might be the student who says, “Hey, Dad, turn it up. That’s the thing about what we listened to at school” And that’s great!
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