Night Sky Network Log:
Event Date: Wednesday, 8/2/2017
Name of Event/Service: Stars for Kids
Type of Service: Public Outreach
# of Hours: 1.4
Description of Service Performed: We arrived at about 2:45 PM and were immediately led into the second building, where the kids were playing. The teachers called the kids together and quieted them down, then backed off to let me talk. There were about 40 kids, mostly around 3rd grade age, but with a couple of older kids who stayed quiet in the back for most of the time.
I started by introducing myself, telling them that I was 16, and an astronomer. I said “Now, before we get started, I want to say that if any of you think of any questions, just go ahead and raise your hand, and I’ll answer your question.”…and immediately about 7 or 8 kids put their hands up. Rookie mistake! I started taking their questions, and continued for about 15 minutes before telling them I’d only take a couple more questions and then we’d start on the presentation.
I then began a walkthrough of the solar system, starting with Mercury and ending with Pluto, using laminated photos of the planets that we had printed out. Before pulling out each photo, I’d ask the kids what planet came next in the order of the solar system, and they got it right every time. I’d then show them the photo, tell them about the planet, and take more questions.
We finished working our way through the planets around 3:30, and started passing out materials for a craft, to make a scale (distance) model of the solar system. Each kid got one strip of paper and one strip of planet stickers. I walked them through the craft step by step, starting with folding their paper in half. I then told them to pick an end of the sheet of paper and stick Pluto on there, but I forgot to tell them to unfold the paper, so some of the kids stuck Pluto by the fold on the center, and we had to work that out. I was much more careful with my directions after that. We then walked through folding and placing stickers on the paper, all the way down to Mercury. As the kids finished their craft, they left the group to go get snacks, and the class finished. We left the building around 4:15.
Comments: The kids were much, much more knowledgeable than I had expected. There were several kids in particular who looked to be around 3rd grade age who were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and engaged, but the almost entire group was interested.
My previous experience with giving a presentation to kids was to a 4H group, in which the kids were required to go to a certain number of presentations before they could show their animals in the fair. In that presentation I got maybe 2 or 3 questions, from the same kid, who wanted to hear about black holes.
However, this group was full of questions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to answer all of the questions because of a lack of time. It was clear they’d recently done some kind of unit on astronomy, as they knew the order of the planets, some facts about them such as Uranus’ unusual tilt, and even some minimal information about star clusters and the Milky Way. Some kids even came up to me after the presentation, asking more questions, but the teacher called them away to line up.
The kids were also very talkative, and classroom management was poor. It wasn’t a big problem in the beginning, because they were all so engaged, but once we started the craft it became an issue. It was very difficult to get them to listen to directions on how to do the craft, since they were all talking among themselves. The teachers were able to get their attention a couple of times in the beginning, but the kids increasingly ignored them as time went on. There was a clapping signal that the teachers used to try to get their attention, and I was able to get them to quiet down some by doing that the first couple times, but after that they again stopped noticing. My mom’s teacher voice was the most effective at getting their attention, but even that didn’t work perfectly. I think in the end only about half or less of the kids were hearing the directions; but I also think the ones that didn’t hear copied off of their classmates, because they all wound up completing their model.
It was positively chaotic during the craft, and I’m not sure if they really appreciated the craft at all, but that may have been because they were so distracted.
I was surrounded by a group of kids for almost the entire craft, asking “Did I do it right?” “Can you help me?” “Is this the right spot?” “Which once goes next?” A couple of the kids figured out the pattern of folding, and went all the way to Mercury before I gave the directions, and while as a result their models were slightly inaccurate on the inner solar system I just left it as “good enough”. I used to do the same thing when I got bored in class because the activity or work was too simple for me, so I certainly understand.
I also received many random questions and statements in that wonderful way only kids can do. For example; when I first introduced myself and began answering questions, several of the first questions were not questions at all, but the kids would say “Her name is Lauren” and point to a certain girl. Throughout the craft, various kids would come up to me and say “Her name is Lauren!” and point at the girl, and at one point, Lauren herself came up to me and said “Hi Lauren! My name is Lauren too!” I said “Cool! That’s a pretty name.” She asked me what my last name was, and I told her “Herrington.” She was very disappointed when she heard it wasn’t the same as her last name.
The second or third question I took in the beginning was also not a question, but rather just a girl who wanted to say “You’re very pretty.”
During the craft, there were many random questions, such as:
“Are those your grandparents?” (pointing to Amelia and Steve handing out supplies for the craft)
“Do you have a dad?” (much later, and from a different kid.)
When I said “Well, yes”, she asked:
“Where is he?”
I said: “He stayed home.”
She said: “But where is he?”
I just repeated “He stayed home.”, and she seemed to accept that answer.
“What’s your favorite color?” (Asked just after we had finished the craft and we were about to leave.) I replied “Tie-dye.” (my go-to response); and the kid said “oh…” and sadly walked away… back towards the lego table. It was at that point I realized he had probably wanted to make me something in my favorite color. Oops! I felt quite bad about that.
There were other memorable moments, such as when in the first bout of questions, someone asked if you could see Saturn in a telescope. I said “Yes!” and described the view (making sure to describe only as much detail as in a cheap, beginner telescope, so as not to get their hopes up), and one boy (probably one of the most interested of the lot) leaned back and said “Pfff! I needa get me a telescope!”
The same boy had been asking earlier in the presentation about where you could buy a telescope, and whether they were available in stores. I carefully told him that while you could probably find one in a store, some of the regular store telescopes might be bad quality and make all the images look fuzzy and not very good at all, and that your best bet is to go to a telescope store if you don’t want a fuzzy image.
The kids ooohed when I pulled out the picture of Mars. Mars seemed to be one of the their favorites, along with Saturn, whose unveiling was accompannied by little exclamations of “it’s beautiful!” and “it’s so pretty!”. One kid asked if people had gone to Mars, and I told them “Not yet… but we’re planning on doing that soon!” One of the girls decidedly said “I’m going to be the first woman on Mars!” I told her “I’m certain you will.” as another girl chimed in from the back “I’m going to be the third woman on Mars!!” It was quite heartwarming to see.
Overall, they were a fun group of kids, and really surprised me with their engagement and enthusiasm. I would call it a success, although I don’t know if any of them will go on to get telescopes or become astronomers. Who knows? Perhaps one of them will, someday, and maybe they’ll remember me then.