Interact! for Definiti is a set of 13 DigitalSky 2-enabled planetarium programs using the time-tested Planetarium Activities for Student Success (PASS) modules developed by planetarium staff at Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California. This full set of curriculum-based content brings audience-participation-style learning of basic astronomy to both digital and traditional planetariums.
Each module includes in electronic form everything you need before, during, and after time in the dome: DigitalSky 2 button sets, narration/script (PDF), still images, movies, animations, music, and pre/post classroom activities related to the teaching concepts. Each subject is taught using an integrated combination of the planetarium system and hands-on items.
Interact! for Definiti is ready for distribution. All 13 Interact modules now fit on a single DVD. If you’d like a preview of Interact!, take a look at the show descriptions below. We also offer a version of Interact! without the DigitalSky 2 presets called Interact! PASS Classic (for non-digital theaters). To receive a free show from Interact! PASS Classic, click this link.
Perhaps our most powerful tool in capturing our students’ imaginations is the planetarium. For at least a small part of their school day, our students can journey to the countryside and pick out familiar constellations against an inky black sky, or travel to Mars or a planet circling a red sun.
But the very power of the planetarium to whisk students through space and time poses a dilemma: How do we balance education with entertainment? Debate about where the balance point should be has been going on since the first planetarium program. Some school shows have been criticized as being too dull (all education) while others have been accused of flashy programs with no substance (light shows that are all entertainment).
This workshop has been developed by the authors and their many collaborators as a tool for enhancing planetarium education and entertainment for any audience and any occasion. Over the past several years we have found strategies for making science content more entertaining and simultaneously more meaningful. These strategies include techniques for selecting and arranging content and for actively involving the students in the planetarium program.
The Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide is intended to be used by any group of educators who want to get together to experiment with new techniques for presenting astronomy and space science to students. This group of educators may be the staff of a school district that has a permanent or portable planetarium, or attendees at a teachers’ conference or science institute. While an individual teacher may find the Guide useful, it is designed to be most effective (and most enjoyable) for a group of people who are willing to spend a few hours sharing ideas and challenging each other’s assumptions. Tips for presenting a workshop are found on pages 81-88.
The goals of the workshop program are to enable you to:
While the authors of this workshop guide are enthusiastic about active (“participatory”) learning in the planetarium, our purpose is not to prescribe any one technique for developing planetarium programs, nor to criticize poor techniques. Rather, the workshop modules present a variety of perspectives for viewing what occurs in a planetarium, and a number of specific, useful strategies for creating programs.
Constellations Tonight was designed for public audiences and for school children in grades four and above. With simpler star maps and other slight modifications, it could be presented to somewhat younger audiences as well.
The program begins by inviting the students to locate a familiar constellation, the Big Dipper. Then, a brief discussion brings out the many possible functions of constellations for the people who invented them. An optional activity for younger school groups helps the children understand the origin of constellation figures by creating their own.
The major activity teaches the students how to use a star map for finding specific constellations in the planetarium sky. Students then take turns pointing out their constellations to the entire audience. As each constellation is identified, the instructor may project artists’ conceptions of the constellation outlines, tell a short version of the relevant star myth, and/or show telescope views of star clusters, nebulae, or galaxies that can be found in the constellation.
A student who uses the star map under the true night sky might wonder, “How come the brightest star in that constellation is not on my map?” It’s probably a planet. Since planets move around, they cannot be assigned to the same season each year. Check astronomical data in a current issue of Astronomy or Sky and Telescope magazine for current planet positions. Planetary motion is covered in more detail in Disc 1, Red Planet Mars.
Red Planet Mars was designed for public audiences and school children in grades four and above. With some adaptation, it could be presented to slightly younger groups as well.
The purpose of the program is not to tell the students all about Mars, but to enable them to make their own discoveries about the red planet. Through a series of activities, the students gain an understanding of planets and how astronomers investigate them.
In the first activity, students identify Mars as the ancient Greek astronomers did, by observing its motion from night to night as it wanders among the “fixed” stars. Next, slides are used to show how Mars looks through a telescope. A special effect or movie simulates the changing, distorted view caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, students are invited to sketch a map of Mars. Discussion of their own maps provides a jumping-off point for the instructor to introduce the Great Canal Debate, which astronomers waged during the first half of the twentieth century.
The science of “exobiology,” still very much alive today, provides the rationale for the next activity: inventing a creature which might have evolved on a Mars-like planet. The program concludes with the modern space scientists’ view of Mars, images captured by recent NASA missions to Mars, and a look towards the future exploration of Mars by spacecraft and by humans.
Moons of the Solar System was designed for public audiences and for school children in grades one and above. Presentations for younger age children (grades 1-3) require simplification as noted in the script.
The program begins by students observing how the Moon changes position and apparent shape during a two week time period. To better understand their observations, each student models the Earth-Moon-Sun system with a light in the center of the planetarium representing the Sun, a hand held ball as the Moon, and the student’s own head as the Earth. This is the best way we have found for anyone (including adults) to understand why the Moon goes through phases. The model is also used to explain lunar and solar eclipses.
In the next activity, students observe the moons of Jupiter. Classes of children in grades 4 and up will be able to plot the Galilean moons’ positions on a data chart. Younger groups will watch the moons’ positions change from night to night and draw conclusions from those observations without attempting to record them.
The last part of the program is a tour of the solar system to see the moons of each planet through the eyes of spacecraft that have visited those planets. Viking and Voyager images are featured.
Colors From Space was designed for public audiences and for school children in grades three and above. Presentations for younger age children (grades 1-2) are possible with some simplification.
The program begins by students observing and pointing out stars of different colors. They then see a demonstration of how the color of a star is related to its temperature. The class pretends to go to a planet orbiting a red star and observes how the colors of objects appear different, depending upon what color of light is shining on them.
Next the students use light filters to discover how different color filters can allow astronomers to see particular details in astronomical objects. Then, they use diffraction gratings to analyze the colors that comprise light and determine what stars are made of by examining emission spectra. Finally, the students find out some of the ways that astronomers detect invisible colors of light that are beyond the ordinary visible rainbow colors of light.
Journey to the Moon was designed to inspire children to learn by letting them know what it would be like to travel to the moon.
In Watching The Moon’s Phases, children observe a cycle of Moon phases and learn the names, but do not delve into anything about why there are phases. They enjoy a brief Moon Story, and then discuss How Do We Get There? In that discussion, the question “What would we need to take with us?” comes up, and the need for space suits and air tanks becomes apparent. In preparation for a make-believe trip to the Moon, children don vests that are make-pretend space suits with air tanks on them. They see movies of real astronauts putting on space suits. Also needed is a rocket: the giant Saturn V rocket with its Command Module.
Children Blast Off! in a pretend launch, “experience” weightlessness, and look at Earth from space. The pretend 3-day excursion to the Moon is accomplished by the children marching in line out of the planetarium and making one orbit of the planetarium before re-entering. An adult leader leads the group, while the presenter changes the “set” in the planetarium to make it into a make-pretend Moon landscape. This is done mainly by illuminating the planetarium with UV or unusual colored lights, and scattering some fake moon rocks (foam rocks) around the floor. For a small planetarium, white sheets can be put over the seats to make the appearance of lunar landscape complete. When the children re-enter the planetarium-as-the-Moon, they see video of what the Moon is like, astronauts hopping around, and collecting rocks. The children also hop around and collect the Moon rocks on the floor. They see a movie of the Lunar Rover and then prepare for their liftoff in the Ascent Module (movie) and return safely to Earth.
The beauty and majesty of the universe can bring awe even to the most hardened of hearts. The night sky holds a special magic over us. It tempts us and humbles us. Through the years, the study of the night sky has yielded answers to mysteries as old as humanity itself. Yet, the universe still contains many more mysteries, perhaps as numerous as the stars in the sky, beckoning to be solved.
The ability to recreate the wonders and mysteries of the universe through a planetarium, offers you, the teacher, a powerful tool for enriching the lives of your students. Students are fascinated by the subject of astronomy and the workings of the planetarium. However, there is an important caution to consider in using such a facility. The planetarium is a tool in the educational process; it is not a teaching machine, nor a toy. It is a tool that in the hands of a skilled educator can open young minds (as well as minds of all ages) to explore the cosmos and comprehend some of its complexities, but to do this it must be used properly.
Like many tools, through time and experience, better ways of using it and improving the end result have emerged. The “Participatory Oriented Planetarium” technique (POP) is one that has been shown to be an effective method for using a small planetarium, especially in a school setting. This philosophy of planetarium programming emerged in the 1970s as an alternative to the “Star Show” (a special-effect spectacular). In a POP program, a live presenter (a teacher) asks questions to provoke two-way interaction with the audience, and hands-on activities involve the participants in learning about the subject matter of the show through their own actions. The attraction of a POP program is not what the students see and hear, but rather what they do and say. To give you a better understanding of this technique, and also a historical overview of its development, you will find an excellent article by Alan Friedman, following this introduction. This article was first published in 1975 and clearly explains the rationale for the POP technique, as well as listing many wonderful activities for such programs.
Constructing an effective planetarium experience requires a careful analysis of the content, the background of the selected audience, and the possible activities that could communicate the topic to the audience. This guide is designed to present you with a few of the methods that have been used successfully by other instructors to integrate these three components into effective planetarium programs. As you review these lessons, you may wish to adopt or adapt some of these ideas for your own programs, or use them as a springboard for inventing your own planetarium activities. Finally, the use of a planetarium, like the use of any classroom, depends on the background and creativity of the teacher in charge. This set of activities should not be viewed as the only valid uses for a planetarium, but rather as a starting point. Included on these pages are a few sturdy seeds from which to begin planning planetarium usage for your own curriculum and student needs. The planetarium is a remarkable, seemingly magical tool for teaching. The magic, however, isn’t in the machine but in the person using it. Good Luck!
As with people everywhere in the world, Native Americans look at the sky above and observe the Sun, Moon, stars and planets. In many places in the Americas, the original astronomical knowledge of the sky has been preserved and passed on to Native Americans who are alive today. In other places, Native American astronomy has been rediscovered through the efforts of archaeologists, ethnologists, astronomers, and others. Altogether, Native American astronomy presents to us today a vision of living in harmony with the cycles of the Earth, Sun, Moon, stars and planets.
In all of the Native American astronomies included in this program, there is a common theme: horizon astronomy. Watching for the rising and setting of astronomical objects allows us to track time, keep calendars, follow the seasons, and better understand our place in the cycles of the cosmos.
You will notice that the words Sun, Moon, and Earth are always capitalized. In most text materials you will sometimes find these words capitalized and sometimes not. Our decision to capitalize here is for the special reason that Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, and Mother Earth are never viewed as objects by Native Americans. They are as important as our brothers, sisters, and cousins, and not simply large objects floating in space. This is consistent with what all of our Native American consultants have taught us—that although there are large cultural differences among different Native American peoples, they all share certain important convictions about the relationship between humankind and the natural environment.
Astronomy of the Americas explores the astronomical concepts of five cultures:
Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument in southern England, is one of the best known structures in the world. Its strangely beautiful shapes, rough symmetry, and above all its mystery have made it an attraction and fascination for centuries. Articles, pamphlets, scholarly books, and novels have been written about it. Its silhouette has appeared on the covers of travel guides, rock music albums, freshman astronomy textbooks, and religious tracts.
Interest in Stonehenge among scholars intensified dramatically in the past three decades as archaeologists have made major strides in learning about the neolithic (new stone age) and bronze age people who lived in England at the time Stonehenge was built. The public became entranced by the ideas of Gerald Hawkins, a young astronomer, who boasted in 1963 that he had “decoded” Stonehenge, and that it was an astronomical observatory and eclipse predictor. The debate over the more speculative of Hawkins’ claims has still not ended, but his basic ideas have convinced most scholars that astronomy did indeed play a more important role in the design of Stonehenge than had been suspected. The excitement also helped to stimulate a whole generation of investigators who are studying the new science of “archaeoastronomy,” and who have learned much about the importance of astronomy to ancient peoples around the world.
This planetarium program seeks to take advantage of the continuing fascination with Stonehenge, and the dramatic story of Hawkins’ hypothesis, to communicate to students important aspects of how science works. New ideas about Stonehenge were invented, explored, refined, and tested at other ancient structures around the world. Some of these sites, particularly in the Americas, turned out to have astronomical alignments far more accurate and indisputable than does Stonehenge itself.
Thus the Stonehenge story is an excellent example of the human drama of science, with all its inspiration, mistakes, controversy, and, in the end, immense satisfaction in having glimpsed a little more of how the universe works.
Aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights) are beautiful displays of moving luminous colored patterns in the night sky, especially in far northerly or southerly latitudes.
To set the stage for observing northern lights, we first look at “Seasons & Sunsets Above the Arctic Circle” to find out at what latitudes and at what times of year aurora are most likely to be seen. This section of the program is highly useful in teaching students about characteristics of seasons and the amazing phenomenon of “midnight sun” which occurs at extreme north and south latitudes.
In the original version of this program, for a visual experience of aurora, Franck Pettersen supplied an excellent set of slides of an auroral substorm that he photographed in Norway. His taped narration describing the storm with the aurora slide sequence transports the audience to Norway for a few minutes of effective aurora “theater.” Subsequently, when the University of Alaska produced superb aurora motion pictures, we found that Frank’s narration could be set to some of that footage for an even more effective aurora experience for the audience. Franck’s slides are still available for planetariums not equipped with video projection.
The “Scientific Explanation” of the program has changed much in recent years owing to revealing results from the spacecraft missions of NASA’s Sun-Earth Connection Program, whose generous support has enabled the publication of this PASS Volume. The old model for the causes of aurorae envisioned solar wind particles streaming through the Earth’s magnetic field and crashing directly into the Earth’s atmosphere. In newer models, charged particles interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere which acts as a sort of electromagnetic dynamo that accelerates the particles along magnetic field lines into the Earth’s polar regions. Where the charged particles originate is an active research question now. Described in this section of the show are the Fast Auroral SnapshoT (FAST) satellite, the Polar satellite, and most recently, the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft project is in progress and we look forward to even more interesting and valuable results from that mission.
Flying High was designed to inspire students to learn by letting them know what it would be like to travel to into space.
First, outside the planetarium, they observe a discrepant event: they look at two human figures (dolls) that they do not know are really the same size. While one is positioned far away from them, children are challenged to guess which figure is larger, the nearer one or the farther one. They invariably guess the farther one is smaller because it looks smaller. Then the two figures are brought together and seen to match size. This sets the stage for seeing how the sizes of things in the sky might be difficult to know.
Inside the planetarium, children observe the Sun go across the sky in a day with time sped up. They imagine what they might be doing at different times of day. When night falls, they learn to identify the Big Dipper.
The rest of the program is spent seeing and discussing what it would be like to actually fly into space on a space ship. Movies of the space shuttle are used for illustration and to spark questions.
Many students of astronomy have been inspired by the film Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames. If you have not seen this film, we highly recommend that you see it and show it to your classes. It is used in this planetarium program as a lead-in to the question “How big is the universe?” But in watching the film, many distances to objects are given as fact and we can’t help but ask, “How do you really know how far away that thing is, especially when the distance claimed is so outrageously large?”
This program answers the question, “How do we measure the distances to extremely distant things?”
Before tackling the formidable question of how big the universe is, we start by considering how big some smaller things are. It is often very difficult to tell how large something is without some object of known size as a reference. In the beginning of this planetarium show, students view objects ranging from microscopic to cosmic scales, and try to guess what they are looking at.
After viewing the mind-blowing journey to the outer reaches of the universe in Powers of Ten, students learn the real methods by which the distances in the film were determined: radar ranging, parallax measurements, behavior of Cepheid variable stars, and comparing apparent brightnesses of objects that are the same absolute brightness.
The program includes a model for how parallax angle is used to measure the distances to stars. An optional section for older students allows you to extend the model by having your students actually measure the distance to the model “star.”
There is some mention, at the end of the program, of the red-shift of galaxies, the expansion of the universe and the age of the universe. But to really understand those concepts requires more time than a simple 50-minute program. There are classroom activities that explore the subject more thoroughly.
This program encourages students to view the Sun in a variety of ways. It has a symmetry starting out with direct Earth-based observation, then with observations through telescopes and spacecraft instruments, and finally back to Earth-based views again. This is also the first PASS program to have an extensive audio narration version of the script. Although we still strongly encourage live presentation of the entire program, with audience activities, we realize that some planetariums like to have pre-recorded programs and a number of facilities prefer to have hybrid shows: part pre-recorded and part live. For this reason, we have made the program as modular as possible, each section of the program having a recorded narration with visuals, so that your planetarium can create a custom program from the some or all of the different modules. We give here a brief overview of the sections of the show (modules).
The program starts with beautiful views of the optical effects of sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere (rainbows, halos, sun dogs). There is no explanation for cause of these phenomena given, only the names. In the reference section, To Learn More About the Sun, there are resources given that have more about sunlight-atmosphere effects and their causes. For the program, these images are simply an artful, visually pleasing way to “get in the mood” for a show about the Sun.
This section focuses on views of the Sun for Earth, without instruments, and how the apparent paths of movement of the Sun change from season to season. Activity: The audience keeps track of where along the eastern horizon it rises, how high it gets in the sky at noon, and where along the western horizon it sets at different times of year. We realize that there are other PASS planetarium programs that have a similar audience activity, but this one is different in that it entails a very fast time machine effect to see movements rapidly. Also, the audience measures how high the Sun gets at noon, which is not done in any other PASS program. The section concludes with a diagram that summarizes the findings, showing a winter path with sunrise in southeast, a “low noon” position, and sunset in southwest; a summer path with sunrise in northeast, a “high noon” position, and sunset in northwest; and an equinox path midway between the summer and winter paths.
In this section, we jump from sketches of the Sun by Galileo to the view of the Sun from from the vicinity of Pluto—an artist’s conception from the New Horizons mission and an actual image from Voyager. The audience then sees spectacular TRACE and SOHO spacecraft images of the Sun.
The audience sees sunspots and learns that the numbers of sunspots can vary in cyclical patterns.
Activity: Students use time-lapse movie sequences of magnetogram images of the Sun to measure its rotation rate. By tracking sunspot clusters at different latitudes on the Sun and noticing that the rotation rates are not all the same, students can conclude that the Sun is not a solid body, but giant spinning ball of gas.
Students either watch and/or use models of Earth and Sun with magnets embedded to create magnetic fields. Magnets in the Sun models are arranged in sunspot pairs. Students see how the Earth’s magnetism affects space around Earth using (a) a simple magnetic field detector consisting of a specially-bent piece of paper clip loosely fastened to the eraser end of a pencil with a push pin, and (b) tiny washers that act as magnetic field indicators. They see the difference between the structure of the magnetic field around the Earth (magnetic dipole) and the magnetic field of the Sun (loops associated with sunspot clusters).
The program concludes with some discussion of solar storms, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and then a return to Earth views of sunlight-atmosphere phenomena.
Depending on demands of school districts in your area, state science education standards, and target age/grade audience, you can select a subset of show sections to create a custom show. Also, if you have a larger size planetarium (more than a 30-foot(10m) dome), you may elect to either not do the hands-on activity about magnetic fields, or do it as a pre- or post-activity in classroom space if that is available in proximity to the planetarium. In either case, you can still use the narrated video for the section that illustrates the field models.
When asked “Who ‘discovered’ America?” many students answer, “Columbus, of course!” Others say no—that the “Indians” were here first. Who is right? Are there other groups of people that might also claim to be “discoverers” of the Americas? A complete answer to the question, “Who ‘Discovered’ America?” depends partly on our understanding of history and archaeology, and partly on the meaning of the word “discover”. Does it mean the first time a person finds or explores something? Must a discoverer recognize the significance of the discovery? What if other people have discovered it before? Can there be more than one “discoverer” of America? These are questions that we want students to consider in this planetarium program.
The program encourages students to come aboard for a fascinating journey into the past. While on this journey, they will enjoy finding answers to the questions:
We hope to leave the students with a richer understanding of: ocean voyaging and navigation, the social and economic state of the world in 1492, a broader perspective on the exploration and settlement of the American continents, and a deeper understanding of what it means to “discover” something.
“Strange Planets” is a fifty-minute planetarium program about finding extrasolar planets, focusing especially on the transit method & the Kepler Mission. It was originally designed for a sixth-grade audience.
The primary goal of this planetarium show is for the audience to understand the difficulties of finding extrasolar planets, and to understand how those difficulties are overcome by modern astronomy techniques.
The audience will consider interstellar distances and grapple with the two challenges of finding extrasolar planets—extrasolar planets are very far away, and are very dim compared to the stars they orbit.
We discuss two ways it can be done: through the spectroscopic and the transit methods.