Presentations & Activities

Interactive SPOT presentations utilize slides, videos, animations and an inquisitive approach to relay the excitement of new discoveries! Green Bank Observatory and NASA research along with careers located in West Virginia are highlighted in each show.

Presentations can be held in a classroom or assembly setting. A screen or blank wall and an electrical outlet are necessary for all presentations. Schools/ organizations may need to also provide projectors and/or audio speakers, though these items can be acquired if we know they will not be available at the location of the presentation in advance.

Each show lasts approximately 45 minutes, with optional Hands-on Activities that require more time. We also provide the option to receive a SPOT presentation at any of our participating colleges or universities as well as virtually through Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts.

We are developing K-3 specific presentations for most of our presentations!

In the meantime, our Ambassadors can adjust many of our presentations to suit various age groups. Talk to us at spot.wv@gmail.com or include your needs in your request submission!

Feature Presentations

"The Invisible Universe 2.0"

Best for middle school audiences and above.

We offer a K-3 version!

Is the revamped version of "The Invisible Universe" presentation and includes a new discovery from right here in West Virginia! Explore what scientists have learned about the universe by catching and analyzing invisible radio waves from space. Find out how Jocelyn Bell's historic discovery of pulses in her radio data revealed a new type of star called a pulsar, which is born from violent star explosions and acts like a lighthouse in space. Using the Green Bank Observatory's telescope and others, astronomers continue to be surprised by the invisible universe. New discoveries made by WVU professor Duncan Lorimer reveal a new type of mysterious radio signal called Fast Radio Bursts! What causes these bursts? Where do they come from? Join in the excitement as astronomers around the world try to learn more!

Learn more about the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC)

NGSS and Common Core Standard Connections:

  • PS4B: Electromagnetic Radiation: Learn about an invisible form of radiation called radio waves.
  • NGSS MS-ESS1 Earth’s Place in the Universe, Science and Engineering Practices – Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions – Use multiple sources of evidence. Radio astronomy data and theories of the life cycle of stars are used to construct an explanation for how pulsars create signals that are detected on Earth
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas –ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars – Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe. Jupiter, the Milky Way, and distant galaxies are used as examples of objects in the universe that can be studied with radio waves
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns: Patterns can be used to identity cause-and-effect relationships (MS-ESS1-1). Pulsar detection patterns and changes in those patterns can help us detect gravitational waves
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology. Radio telescopes have led to important discoveries - including pulsars, fast radio bursts, and potentially gravitational waves – and continue to be important engineering/technological tools for learning about the universe
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.4: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics. Learn new vocabulary and concepts related to radio astronomy, pulsars, and gravitational waves

"Water: The Source of Life"

Best for middle school audiences and above.

Emphasizes all the ways in which we utilize freshwater and the importance of maintaining clean sources of water. West Virginia is home to over 32,000 miles of stream, and pollutants we put into these streams ultimately impact the drinking water for millions of people across the United States of America. How much freshwater exists on planet earth? How many miles of stream in West Virginia have been impacted by various pollutants? Can we remedy polluted waterways? Why is it important for us to clean up and maintain freshwater sources? Learn the answers to all these questions and discover the importance of West Virginia water with this presentation!

NGSS Connections:

  • S.2.GS.11: Obtain information to identify where water is found on Earth and that it can be solid or liquid.
  • S.5.GS.8: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.
  • S.5.GS.9: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
  • S.5.GS.10: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
  • S.8.ESS.1: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
  • S.HS.ENV.6: Explain how technology has influenced the sustainability of natural resources over time.
  • S.HS.ENV.18: Identify sources, uses, quality, conservation, and global distribution of water.
  • S.HS.ENV.22: Examine legislation associated with the protection of water: Clean Water Act.

Past Presentations

Can still be requested!

"The Star of our World"

Best for all audiences.

Demonstrates how the Sun gives us so much more than light – without the Sun we wouldn’t have seasons, weather, or life at all. How do NASA and the Green Bank Observatory study the Sun? How does the Sun’s activity affect our “space weather”?


"Mars: Past, Present, Future"

Best for elementary audiences and above.

Explores projects that have been conducted to understand Mars and presents what can be done in the future, including plans of robotic missions and the possibility that one day humans will step foot on or even live on Mars. Dives into current projects that are going on in West Virginia to support these missions.

"How to Make a Planet…with Life!"

Best for middle school audiences and above.

Discusses what’s out there in space? What is everything made of? How do we know? This presentation explores how stars make atoms, how those atoms combine into molecules, and how molecules are recycled back into new stars, and even planets! Learn how every thing, even YOU, is made of star stuff!


"The International Space Station"

Best for middle school audiences and above.

Unveils what it takes to live in space. How do we build a whole station in space? What's it like to be an astronaut? What is the future of human space travel?

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"Space Telescopes: Searching for Other Worlds"

Best for middle school audiences and above.

Features the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the James Webb Space Telescope. Students learn how we use these space-based telescopes to search for planets and worlds around other stars.

Advanced Audiences

“NANOGrav: Tuning into Einstein’s Universe”

Best for high school and above.

Highlights NANOGrav, a collaboration of researchers around the country, including at West Virginia University, who study Einstein's predicted "gravitational waves." It builds on the history of astronomy from Galileo’s time to show how gravity can open a whole new window to our understanding of the universe. How are gravitational waves made? How do we use pulsars to detect them? How can you become involved? For this presentation a graduate student researcher from West Virginia University's pulsar and black hole group will visit your school.

Learn more about NANOGrav here: nanograv.org

Hands-on Activities

Supplement a presentation with any of these interactive hands-on activities!

Please note, time required for each activity varies and is listed next to each option.

Every activity is designed for groups of 30 students or less.

Any teachers present may be asked to assist the Ambassador(s) with aspects of the activity such as hand-out materials, repeat instructions, etc.

(30 minutes)

Astronomers have found hundreds of other worlds. How would another life form adapt to environments with different surfaces, temperatures, atmospheres, and gravity? This is your chance to get creative!

Good for all ages. Best with "How to Make a Planet...with Life!" presentation.

(30 minutes)


Use gumdrops and toothpicks to build your own molecule! Learn about "functional groups" to describe your molecule's properties.

Good for all ages. Best with "How to Make a Planet...with Life!" presentation.




(30 minutes)

Learn how diligent and careful computer programmers needs to be to get a robot like Curiosity or the arm on the International Space Station to follow directions. Program your own code for a robot arm to stack cups!

Good for middle school and older. Best with "The International Space Station" and "Mars" presentations.

(20-30 minutes)

Fold register tape to map out the relative distances between the orbits of the planets! This is a fun, easy, and quick activity.

Good for all ages and presentations.

  • NGSS MS-ESS1 Earth’s Place in the Universe, Science and Engineering Practices: Developing and Using Models. Use paper folding to predict and construct a scale model for orbital radius of planets in the solar system. Discuss pros and cons of the model.
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: ESS1.B Earth and the Solar System. Determine how the planets and the asteroid belt are distributed throughout the solar system.
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. Discuss proportion and scale between model and reality for the relative distance of solar system objects.
  • CCSS Mathematics 6.RP.A.1 Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ration relationship between two quantities. Use ratio language to answer questions such as: If the paper is divided into 16ths and folded in half one more time, what fraction will each segment represent?

(30 minutes)

How big is the moon in comparison to Earth? How far away? Use Play-Doh to make your best guess, then find out the true scale!

Good for all ages and presentations.

  • ETS1A: Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem. Use playdoh to predict and construct a scale model for the relative size of the Earth and Moon.
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. Discuss the difference in proportion and scale between a mass-based model and a size-based model.
  • CCSS Mathematics 7.RP.A.2 Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities. Predict and determine the relative distance between the Earth and Moon, using the same scale as their sizes.

(15-30 minutes)

A new take on the old card game war! Learn about the different types of light. Longest wavelength wins!

Good for all ages. Best with "The Invisible Universe 2.0" and "Space Telescopes: Searching for Other Worlds" presentations.

(60-90 minutes)

The Green Bank Telescope (GBT) is the largest steerable structure on land. How do engineers balance cost, materials, and weight to make such a strong and durable telescope? Practice building your own tall structure that can hold weight with spaghetti, gum drops, and marshmallows!

Good for middle school and older. Best with "The Invisible Universe 2.0" presentation.

  • NGSS MS-PS1 Matter and its Interactions Crosscutting Concepts: Structure and Function. Experiment with structural materials (ex: spaghetti, gumdrops, marshmallows, toothpicks) and shapes (ex: triangles, squares)
  • Crosscutting Concept: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. Discuss how the challenges faced in designing a structure might scale to other materials and larger structures.
  • NGSS MS-PS2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions Crosscutting Concepts: Structure and Function. Design and test structures that will remain stable and support weight (i.e. as sand is added to the top of the structure).
  • Science and Engineering Practices: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Compare and contrast the effectiveness of other groups’ designs; offer explanations for why the GBT designs functioned as they did.
  • NGSS MS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design Cross Cutting Concepts: Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World. Discuss the purposes of building a large structure that can hold weight. Compare to construction of the Green Bank Telescope.
  • Disciplinary Core Idea ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems. Plan construction of a structure with material, height, strength, time, and cost constraints.

(15-30 minutes)

How much of the Earth's water supply is freshwater? Where does the Earth keep this freshwater? How can our state's freshwater reservoirs impact the nation? Students will use 1000 mL of water to represent all water on Earth. They will then divide the 1000 mL into the relative amounts found within each of Earth's major reservoirs. The relative amounts can be given to the students (younger groups), or the students can be required to calculate amounts in each reservoir (older groups).

Good for all ages. Best with "Water: The Source of Life" presentation.

  • NGSS S.2.GS.11: Obtain information to identify where water is found on Earth and that it can be solid or liquid.
  • NGSS S.5.GS.9: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
  • NGSS S.HS.ENV.18: Identify sources, uses, quality, conservation, and global distribution of water.

(30 minutes)

What is a watershed? Where does our water come from? Where does it go? How do our daily lives impact the watershed(s) we live in? Students will ‘build’ their own watershed by balling up newspapers to create mountains, valleys, and lakes. A plastic table cloth will be placed over top of the landscape structure and props, representing various land use activities, will be placed throughout the watershed. Students will then simulate rainfall and observe how the rainwater washes various pollutants into downstream systems.

Good for all ages. Best with "Water: The Source of Life" presentation.

  • NGSS S.5.GS.8: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.