Date: November 4, 2009
Title: Top 10 Ways to Get Kids Excited About Astronomy!
Podcaster: Damian Handzy
Description: Whether you’re a parent, an educator, an aunt or uncle, or just want to show people some cool stuff about astronomy, this podcast gives practical ideas of how to share some of the amazing things astronomy has to teach us. How can you get kids excited about astronomy? What experiments can you do with kids? What games can you play that teach kids some aspect of astronomy? Since kids (and adults) learn by doing, seeing, acting, and taking part, the focus of each of these 10 ideas is active participation. And the ideas are good for adults, too.
Bio: Damian Handzy is part physicist, part dad, part entrepreneur, part teacher, and all promoter of things scientific. His scientific credentials include a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and several peer-reviewed publications. His teaching credentials include stints as a lecturer in astronomy and physics at Michigan State University, and he is currently a frequent speaker at risk management conferences in the investment industry. Damian is the father of three scientifically literate children (all under the age of 12) and feels passionately that the promotion of science and scientific literacy is the key to improving human life around the world.
Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Drew Roman in honor of The Voyage National Program (http://voyagesolarsystem.org).
In this episode, we’ll be talking about how to get kids excited about astronomy. I chose to host an episode of 365 days of astronomy, and I chose this topic in particular, because I feel strongly that every one of us who is fortunate enough to be scientifically literate has a responsibility to educate others – especially children – about living a reason based, humanistic, and morally good life that includes understanding this amazing universe we have found ourselves in without invoking supernatural explanations. Astronomy’s place in the story of humans overcoming superstition and supernatural beliefs is center stage. And we owe it to our children to show them that we humans have the ability to understand everything (and I do mean everything) around us. Astronomy is a great way to be introduced to these lessons.
Here are just four reasons why:
1) No matter your age, astronomy continues to amaze and inspire all of us;
2) The pace of astronomical discovery has really taken off (pun intended,) and we regularly have interesting astronomical updates to talk about;
3) Demonstrating the scientific process is easy with astronomy – examples of new data disproving incorrect notions are plentiful, as are examples of people forming new explanations about current observations that are then put to the test of independent verification;
4) Astronomy is just plain fun. Unlike most other scientific fields, it’s actually difficult to make astronomy dry or boring – but please don’t try because it is possible.
Hello, my name is Damian Handzy. I’m not a professional astronomer, but I do have an educational background in the physical sciences. I am a scoutmaster, I volunteer at the public schools in our town for any and all science programs, and I’m the father of three grammar-school aged children who have grown up knowing that almost all of the good things we humans have in life are thanks to science’s relentless advancement of our knowledge of how the world really works.
In this podcast, you’ll hear my “top 10 ways to get kids hooked on astronomy.” In previous podcasts, we’ve heard a number of great ideas of projects you can do with kids including building a to-scale model of the solar system (which I highly recommend for older kids). In fact, check out the sponsor for this episode to learn about how to get a permanent to-scale model of the solar system in your community and see just how FAR apart the planets really are.
Here’s my list:
Number 10. Do an astronomy podcast with your kids.
This is not the tongue in cheek answer that it sounds like. What I mean is, find exciting and different ways of involving kids in the fun astronomy things that you yourself do. Excitement is contagious – just listen to Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson and try not to be moved by their passion. One of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned – from the Scouts incidentally – is leadership by example. This applies to kids in spades. Involve them to some degree in special astronomy projects that you yourself might do and you’ll quickly see them follow your lead. To practice what I preach, you’ll meet my own children in this podcast shortly, each of whom has an entry in this list. You’ll hear from 7 year old Sofia, 9 year old Stephen and 12 year old Matthew. I hope they remember this exciting experience and associate it with astronomy for a long time to come.
Number 9. Paint your kids’ rooms
You can include planets, nebulae, rockets and anything that has a personal connection with your child. One of the things I highly recommend is to make the image as accurate as the room will allow. Kids tend to like things more when they know they’re real, and they can tell the difference a mile away (if you don’t believe me try giving a toddler a plastic cell phone and watch her they toss it while she makes a bee-line for the real one on the counter). So I encourage you to make any painted star or planet scene realistic. Your kids will never forget how special you made their room! And if it doesn’t turn out to your liking, you can always paint over it before selling the house.
Number 8. Get a pair of binoculars.
Telescopes are good for older kids – like teenagers, but they can be tedious for younger kids and turn them off from the experience. On the other hand, an inexpensive pair of binoculars can be a lot of fun for kids and even adults. With a relatively small investment of under 100 US dollars, you can begin to introduce a child to the night sky including details of several planets. Remember that the telescope Galileo used 400 years ago to discover the moons of Jupiter had a magnification of only 8 times. With a $65 pair of 15×70 binoculars stabilized on a camera tripod that takes less than 3 minutes to set up, I have shown hundreds of children those same moons. Almost all of them have had the same reaction the first time they saw those pinpoints of light: WOW!
Number 7. Stars, by Sofia.
Hi. My name is Sofia, I think one of the coolest things you can do is tell your children that stars are born all the time. There are about 100 billion stars in our galaxy and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. That’s a lot of stars ☺
Number 6. Orlando, FL is only about an hour from Cape Canaveral.
If your travels take you to Disney World, don’t forget that the Kennedy Space Center is only about an hour away on the Atlantic coast, where you can see actual rockets, have lunch with an astronaut, tour the real launch pads, see mission control and much more. Again, kids quickly realize that as entertaining as Disney is, it’s all fake. In complete contrast, everything at Kennedy is real and they know it. Long after Mickey faded from our active family memory, we still talk about our trip to Kennedy.
Number 5. Visit a Planetarium, by Stephen.
Hi, I’m Stephen. One cool thing I like about astronomy is when I went to a planetarium and I saw a show about space that the very first stars were influenced by dark matter. Sometimes I listen to podcasts about space. The coolest thing is that my dad knows about stars, and he’s painting my room with a rocket on my wall and planets on the ceiling!
Number 4. Astronomy Bedtime stories
Of all the things I do with my own kids, one of my favorites is astronomy bedtime stories. I will admit to taking this idea right from one of my heros, Richard Feynman. Sometimes the stories are about space and astro-adventures, and sometimes they’re about more down to earth things, but they almost always have a science lesson in them. One of their favorite stories is a series that I made up years ago about a dog named “Har-Har” whose adventures in chasing the neighborhood cat involve all sorts of lessons in reasoning, logic, science and astronomy. My kids love the stories and they have no idea how much science they’re learned while falling asleep. As they’ve gotten older, sometimes instead of a story, we play “3 questions” where they ask me questions about any topic of interest and I give them scientifically accurate and fun answers.
Number 3. Make it fun, by Matthew.
Hi, I’m Matthew. I think that the most important thing to do is to make it fun – use movies and music and cool things. Lectures are boooorrrring, so don’t do it. Books are OK but the best thing to do is to show them movies instead of talking. Remember – keep it fun!
Number 2. Get out of their way.
This one I’m taking directly from Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has said that he wants to write a book on raising a scientifically literate child, which I can’t wait to read. One of his main points is to let children explore the world around them – instead of scolding a child for playing with their food, realize that they’re exploring how this food stuff looks and acts when its smushed or thrown or mixed with other food stuff. Banging pots is an experiment in acoustics, rather than a reason to admonish. To a large extent I agree – little children are natural scientists – they want to explore and understand, and it’s unfortunate that structured society – especially the conformity of the classroom – has a strong negative influence on them. By the time they’re teenagers many of them lose the instinct to ask “why.” I recommend we all encourage children to keep asking why and that we help them find the answers.
Number 1. Make Astronomy part of everyday life.
I think the single best thing that adults can do to instill a love of astronomy and science in children is to make discussing the topic as natural as eating and breathing. Try to make it a part of everyday life but be careful not to over do it. Dinner-time conversations or casual chats are a good way to weave it into your day. I’ve taken many of the things I’ve learned in previous 365 days of astronomy podcasts and turned them into short exciting things to chat about with my kids. One of the things my younger two love to play when we’re in the community pool is a dunking game. While holding them up just above the water, I ask them a question about science – usually about astronomy – and if either of them doesn’t get it right, I let that one go so he or she falls into the water. They don’t even realize how much they’ve learned because they’re having so much fun. Share your excitement with your kids, make it fun and remember to keep it to small doses so they always look forward to more rather than less.
I hope these ideas have given you some new ways to instill the love of astronomy and science in our own “next generation.” I owe a special debt of gratitude to my friend George Hrab for introducing me to 365 days of astronomy and to Slau for graciously letting us use his studio to record this podcast. And thanks to all the organizers, other podcasters and sponsors for making 365 days of astronomy such a resounding success. As Galileo might have said himself, salute!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.