Learning about the night sky is vital to the human experience. Astronomy allows each and every one of us to feel connected to nature and the grandeur of the universe. Seldom do we find an experience as moving as gazing upwards at a beautiful starry night sky. In doing so, our minds become filled with wonder and inspiration as if we were children again. What a wonderful hobby it is where we can continue learning and growing by doing nothing more than observing the night sky over our heads.
Lifelong interest for the hobby of astronomy commonly begins when we are children. Everything is new and exciting during our impressionable adolescent years, especially the sciences. Sparking the interest for astronomy with our youth is imperative for developing the next generation. This spark for kids can be showing astronomy photographs, letting them peer through a telescope for the first time, or simply taking them outside to point out constellations and planets. Involving our youth in astronomy does not mean they all have to become astronomers or physicists when they grow up. The goal of adolescent astronomy outreach is to instill the power of imagination and curiosity, which can lead them onto a path of discovery throughout their lives.
Recently, I had the opportunity to present an astronomy outreach program to a local group of approximately 50 Cub Scouts. The age of the scouts ranged from 7 to 11 years old, which was important to recognize so I could present information they could understand and learn from. To accomplish this, I decided to focus my program on how interesting and cool space is. Every kid can relate to how cool something is such as dinosaurs, mummies, and best of all, space! The approach I employed was to use my experience as an astrophotographer to engage the Cub Scouts through photography and questioning. These two techniques worked well as they engaged both visual and verbal learning styles throughout the presentation. After the presentation we were fortunate enough to have clear skies that night, so I took the group outside to star gaze.
When presenting astronomy outreach material there are numerous factors we need to consider. For example, what is the background of the audience? Is the audience a group of elementary school students, or is it a university level physics class on a field trip? Know your audience and tailor the material to their knowledge level. Moreover, focus on being excited and enthusiastic while presenting. This in vital when working with kids and adults alike. We all can remember the teacher or professor who made learning enjoyable and fun by his unique public speaking abilities and contagious energy for the subject. Rarely do we remember the monotone lecture presentation. If our goal is to change the lives of the audience, we need to present material in an engaging and memorable fashion.
Overall, my astronomy outreach experience with the Cub Scout group was very rewarding. Being able to inspire children about space and science is a passion of mine. Mainly due to the fact that once a kid becomes hooked on science he/she will be asking questions for the rest of their life. Such questions they might be working to answer include: how do we safely land this rocket on Mars and return the crew members safely to Earth, or how can we use what is found in nature to help fight cancer? The future possibilities are endless when it comes to instilling the passion for lifelong learning and questioning in our youth. Won’t you help make a change and promote astronomy to the next generation?