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Space Watch

"You're Amazing!"

By Iain Probert, vice president - education for the Space Foundation

Even after many months of #85 calling the Space Foundation world headquarters home, its diversity and surprising adaptability still never cease to amaze.

Within a few swipes on an iPad, one can go from marveling at incredibly detailed images of our planet, particularly through a dataset called The Blue Marble, to sunning in front of an amazing infrared real-time picture of the Sun - with Coronal Mass Ejections thrown in for good measure. The Blue Marble dataset is a high-resolution, true-color depiction of the Blue Planet in all of her splendor including gray scale clouds, both near and far from the surface. The vibrant 10-minute-delay solar display is courtesy of live imaging from The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, STEREO mission.

SOS Not a Distress Signal

So what exactly is #85? She is the 85th installation (out of more than 90 sites around the globe, so far) of the NOAA-created Science On a Sphere®, or SOS for short. SOS #85 is made possible by a very kind donation from the Northrop Grumman Corp. back in April of last year. Upon hearing the term "SOS" most of us think of the international Morse Code signal, often said to mean "save our souls." But NOAA's SOS is the complete opposite of the distress signals sent by countless ships throughout history. Indeed, the SOS in the Space Foundation's space awareness arsenal provides help instead.

After the installation of SOS was completed in the late summer of 2012, the Space Foundation set about creating a unique set of programs that center around the sphere, which is housed in the Northrop Grumman Science Center. Incorporating cross-curricular Colorado state K-12 education standards, we created a program we call Wonders of the Universe. Through a series of soft openings and the services of an external education evaluator, we tested the first components of Wonders of the Universe, which is a set of educational programs that link grade-appropriate SOS demonstrations and lectures with hands-on student activities.

Overall, the purpose of the study was to judge the viability of these programs for school field trips to the Space Foundation. The investigation further considered the efficacy of the actual programs. In essence, the evaluation was formative in nature in that it sought to identify areas for improvement or new possibilities for program applications. 

The study used a mixed-methods approach and a purposive sample of invited schools. These schools were representative of schools in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado and included grades kindergarten through high school. Students, teachers and parents were surveyed or interviewed for the study. A teacher focus group was also conducted.

Study Revealed Praise for Programs

Results from the evaluation indicate a high level of enthusiasm for the educational programs presented. There was also a near unanimous agreement from students, teachers and parents about the potential to market these programs to schools and the general public. A high level of praise was given to the Space Foundation personnel in terms of their talent, knowledge and professionalism, not to mention the overwhelming enthusiasm for the educational programs themselves. The visitors felt their field trip was a worthwhile experience and a good use of school time and resources. Most indicated they would like to return and would encourage colleagues, friends and family to visit the Space Foundation. Both teachers and parents reported that the visit was a good educational experience for the students. The most common assessment of SOS used the word "amazing" to describe the experience. Overall, the evaluation underscores the consensus that the Wonders of the Universe/SOS programs are a valuable educational resource.

Nothing is more important to the Space Foundation than the trust our guests, students, parents, educators, corporate partners and sponsors place in us. And that trust depends on the quality of the programs and activities that we present!

The classes are now available to classroom teachers, school districts and other educational institutions, including public and private schools, colleges and universities offering education curriculum; and home school organizations.

Let SOS take you for a spin around the Wonders of the Universe and be amazed!

As vice president - education for the Space Foundation, Iain Probert leads the Space Foundation education team and manages its resources to accomplish the Space Foundation's education and workforce development, mission and goals. Prior to joining the Space Foundation, Probert was an executive for the Boy Scouts of America and its affiliate Learning for Life organization. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electronic and computer engineering from Thames University, U.K., and a Master of Business Administration from the International Space University, Strasbourg, France.

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