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Classdome September 2014
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From the Classdome

September 2014

How long are your planetarium shows?

That is one of the top three questions I get asked when groups are making reservations for the planetarium. The other two are “How much does it cost?” (free) and “How many people can be in the planetarium at one time?” (50). 

I normally explain it to the parents, teachers, and caregivers that I vary the length of the presentation to fit the age of the audience. If you are under 7 years old, then I limit the presentation to 35 minutes in the dark with 20 minutes of twilight and transition activities. If you are 7 or older, then it is a 45-minute presentation with 10 minutes of twilight and transition activities. 

I was trying to keep with an hourly schedule to book groups. 

That changed this summer when a teacher booked her entire school to come to the planetarium over the course of a month, and because of the drive time to get to the planetarium they wanted to spend more than an hour on site. She proposed a 3-hour visit.

That's right, three hours.

I said the kids will be so stimulated and wound up from 3 hours in the planetarium that they would be crazy on the bus ride home. She said that she had read about some of our other courses and activities and was wondering if the kids could experience some of them, and I could also break up the group of 60-80 students into a little bit more reasonable sizes. 

During the summer I have no support staff, so leading some of the activities was going to be interesting. Luckily, one of our science teachers was going to be in town and was willing to help, but he also was in graduate school classes in the morning, so he could only help after noon. Below is the schedule we created for the kindergarten and first grade groups.

Time Kindergarten (35 students)  First Grade (30 students) 
11:00-11:45   Lunch/Recess at the playground  Salt water aquariums and aquaponic gardens
11:45-12:30  Salt water aquariums and aquaponic gardens  Lunch/Recess on the athletic field
12:30-1:15  Native American Astronomy Presentation  Sustainable gardening (planting seeds) 
1:15-2:00  Sustainable gardening (planting seeds)   Native American Astronomy Presentation

I did very few changes to the schedule as each week passed and an older group would arrive, mainly changing the sustainable gardening to transplanting seedlings and then finally moving them to pots. 

At the end of the month all I was able to deliver nearly 400 plants to their school for use in the community garden they were building over the same month. 

An activity that I didn't expect the kids to like was “Find the Turtles.” The center of our building is large courtyard garden that we let the classroom turtles, Einstein, Beavis, and Marie (Curie), wander around during the summer. It wasn't even set up as formal station, having just a sign on the glass with pictures of the three turtles and their favorite part of the habitat and challenging the students to find them through the windows. 

Beavis was the easiest. He is our escape artist and will head butt the glass doors, making it sound like someone is knocking. When a person opens the door to investigate, he escapes into the hallways. He would hear the kids’ voices and come out of hiding. It was great hearing all the investigative questions; “Can turtles sit at the bottom of the pond?” “It is too sunny for them to be sitting on the patio, let's see if they are in the tall grasses.” “I wonder if they get into the raised beds?” “Do you think they try to eat the koi?”

So, a three-hour visit is possible if you have the support of the teacher/chaperons, coworkers, and lot of scheduling. If you are wondering, the teacher who helped me worked on an exchange basis. For each hour he worked on my project, I would work one hour as a fake student on his aeronautics unit he was developing. It worked out to be a good trade.

Lesson Plan:

We built an alien activity at a recent instructional methods workshop. There was a nice introduction to extremophiles and how our preconceived notions about where something can live have changed drastically.
The group was divided into groups of three. The three sat with their backs toward each other. Each person was given a clipboard with a sheet of paper that had been folded in half and had three flaps cut in it. The flaps were labelled Top, Middle, End instead of Head, Torso, Legs. 

An environment was stated on the paper, and the group had 3 minutes to draw the top of a life form that would thrive in that environment, adding two tick marks into the next lower area where the drawing would continue. 

Sealing the top section with a little tape, the clipboard was passed counterclockwise to the next person, who used the marks to start drawing the middle of the life form. This was repeated again to the third person, who would draw the end of the life form. Returning the clipboard to the original team member, the tape was broken and the life form revealed. 

The first person had to list 3-5 adaptations for that life form to succeed in that environment. Below are several of the environments I used with my students.


Deep sea, water temperatures are nearly freezing, very high pressure Dark underground, cool temperatures all the time, food burrows in the ground
Near an underwater volcano, high temperature, acidic water, very dark Fresh lava flow, rock is not yet solid, food is very small 
Very cold, food is buried in the ice, sun is reflected by the ice Salty sand environment, warm temperatures, many predators 
Dry sand, lots of prey, high temperatures, little rain

Lower atmosphere, can't touch ground or will be eaten, light breezes

Gravel, food hides behind rocks, extreme temperature changes Mud, it only rains for a couple of weeks a year, rest of year is snow
Sand, eats oil/hydrocarbons, no oxygen just carbon dioxide Acidic atmosphere, high winds, gravel and stone
Upper atmosphere, breezes bring food to this location, warm during day, cool at night Upper atmosphere, low pressure, low temperature, radiation  



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