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March 2010 Meeting Notes

March 2010 BAS Meeting Notes

Teaching Astronomy to Students - Grades 5 thru 8
Joyce Ritchie presented her second program on teaching astronomy to students.  The first outlined methods for introducing astronomical topics to early elementary school students.  This month's program focused on methods for presenting advanced astronomical concepts to middle school students.  As with the earlier grades, Joyce's teaching techniques focus heavily on hands-on, student participation activities that keep students engaged and interested, while building a foundation of important astronomical concepts.

Joyce discussed projects and activities for teaching a broad range of astronomy topics, including scale and distance of solar system objects, moon phases, eclipses, constellations, seasonal changes in the night sky and stellar evolution, among others.  Creating a scale model of planetary distances from the sun using students to occupy the relative positions, or unfurling a roll of toilet paper to serve as an "astronomical tape measure" are among the clever techniques Joyce has used to hold the students' interest.

A lively discussion arose at the end of the presentation.  It was widely agreed that it's very important for teachers to be comfortable, well informed and enthusiastic about the subject(s) they're teaching; in this case astronomy.  Joyce pointed out that students benefit when they are taught by several teachers who are "specialists" in their subject, rather than by a single teacher with a general knowledge of many subjects.   Members of the audience confirmed this by their own education experiences.

Night Sky Program for Schools
Plans are now  being finalized for BAS to provide an evening of observing and other astronomy activities at Wayside Elementary.  Todd Rhodes requested that we schedule two observing nights between March 22 and April 9, preferably on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night.  After discussing Moon phase and daylight savings time, we agreed to schedule the first observing session for March 23.  We will set up on the concrete basketball court on the Wayside playground.  It's unclear at this time whether electricity will be available, but considering the potential for tripping, those needing electricity who can run from battery power, would probably do best to avoid power cords strung across the ground.

Although it is unlikely, Todd indicated that there is the potential for a maximum of 100 students, accompanied by a parent, on each night.  Even if the count doesn't come near that number, we will still need as many telescopes and binoculars as possible, to prevent long lines, frustration and disappointment.  A signup sheet for volunteers was passed around.  Those who weren't able to attend the meeting, but wish to volunteer, should contact Joyce Ritchie or John Grismore.

Rather then dealing with the difficulty of rescheduling in the event of bad weather, we intend to provide enough indoor astronomy activities to get the students' attention and promote an increased interest in astronomy.  Suggestions so far include, several telescopes set up to familiarize students with different types of scopes and how they work, a computer with desktop planetarium program (and volunteer comfortable with the program) to demonstrate how the sky would look if the weather cooperated, and if we have internet access, one or two computers providing internet resources for astronomy activities (robotic observatory?).  We really need more ideas to make sure we're prepared.  Please pass along your ideas and suggestions to Joyce or John.

Site Searches
Steve Plank has been coordinating our efforts to find a good dark observing site as well as a convenient in-town site for more casual observing.  But since Steve was unable to be at the meeting, John Grismore and Arden Strycker gave a brief update on our progress.  Using the library video projector, John presented a Google Earth aerial display of Sooner Park.  Steve had visited an old model airplane field just south of the Sooner Pool and suggested this as a possible short-notice, in-town site.  During the weekend prior the meeting, Steve, John and Arden visited several prospective sites including this one.  It looks like a reasonable site with a circular cement pad in the center and a much larger circular cement ring centered on it.  The area is flat, mowed and easily accessible from the road and parking lot at the pool.  Of course there will be some interference from street lights and school lights at Madison and Mid-High, but since this is intended for casual observing, that  may be acceptable.  Steve planned an informal observing session at this site on Wednesday, March 3 to evaluate the it's suitability.  He'll report on this at the next meeting.

The weekend prior to the meeting, Steve, John and Arden also visited several possible dark sites in the Hulah Lake area, where light pollution maps indicate we have the nearest, most accessible dark skies.  These included the entrance to the Wah-Shah-She campground, where Steve and Arden had observed several weeks earlier, the Skull Creek Public Access area on the northeast part of Hulah, and the Silo Cove area at the west end of Hulah.    Arden and Steve had previously reported that the Wah-Shah-She entrance was a very good site, with an open horizon, very easy access and very dark skies.  Arden summarized this at the meeting and pointed out that this would be a very good dark site except for the fact that there will be a lot of campground traffic during the normal park recreational season (March through November).  This is why we explored several other sites.

The visit to the Silo Cove area quickly eliminated it from the list of candidates.  Access is poor, there appear to be no facilities, and the entire area is floodplain and wetland, which means low elevation, wet ground and questionable access by car, and high humidity that might cause frequent dewing and fog.

Skull Creek, on the other hand, included two promising sites.  Both were on high, grassy ridges with open skies nearly to the horizon in all directions.  Access was by a reasonably good gravel road, about 40 minutes from Bartlesville.  According to light pollution maps, skies here could be a bit darker than at the Wah-Shah-She site.  By the time we left Hulah Lake, we were very optimistic that either of the Skull Creek locations would be an excellent choice.  We agreed that Steve would contact Mike Vaught, who is responsible for state parks in this region, and verify that we could use these sites.  Unfortunately, Steve found out that both sites are actually on private land instead of state land.  As Arden, pointed out, this does not necessarily eliminate these sites from our list yet.  Steve will contact Mike to find out if he can tell us who the landowner is.  In the mean time, we will continue to investigate other sites.

During the meeting, a signup sheet was circulated for future programs.  Rather than continue to plan meeting programs month-by-month, we will try to establish a schedule of future programs.  Additional volunteers will be needed.  Contact John Grismore or Jim Vogh.

Next Meeting
Monday, April 5, in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room A, Daryl Doughty will present "Constructing a Backyard Observatory".

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