19 May 2021

EPO Programs Getting Data into the Hands of K-12 Teachers and Students

Luisa Rebull Caltech

There is a tremendous diversity of programs out there that work to get real astronomical data into the hands of K-12 teachers and students. As the US moves further into implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), there will be ever more need for programs using real data. I started a list of all the programs I can find, worldwide, that, well, get real astronomical data into the hands of K-12 teachers and students. I welcome any additions or corrections.

The list of programs is available on the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Project (NITARP) website. Yes, this list is long. Yes, it is so long as to be a little overwhelming. Not all programs are available to everyone; some are geographically restricted or restricted to students of a particular grade or grade range, or teachers. It is true that not every project on this list is actively running, but most of the ones that aren’t funded anymore still have their materials online for others to use. And, yes, it will take time for any one person to go through and find a project that meets their needs. 

The page is sorted into several broad sections, which I now summarize.

Astronomy programs for teachers and students. This subsection got so big so fast that I had to sort it roughly by primary wavelength of light used. Several programs here are limited by various parameters — Pulse @ Parkes is only for Australian teachers; NITARP (my program) takes applications only from educators and typically has five times as many applicants as there are spots; International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) runs year-round, but you have to join before a campaign starts. Other programs are available to anyone, anytime — Hands-On Universe (HOU) and RBSEU both have battle-tested exercises to use; Emily Lakdawalla has great tutorials on image processing from NASA planetary spacecraft; Cool Cosmos has materials on IR telescopes through the last 40 years.

Exoplanet stuff. Many people have come to me asking whether they can experiment with exoplanet data. It can be hard to find transits in real exoplanet data! This section of the web page collects all the exoplanet-related education materials I could find, ranging from very packaged and introductory (e.g., PlanetQuest) all the way through Python and machine learning code to play with Kepler, K2, and TESS light curves.

Public web-access robotic telescopes. A surprisingly large number of telescopes are available for public use, though access may be geographically restricted, or you may need to pay for access. Not all of these telescopes have the same capabilities, and you may need to reduce your own data.

Astronomy citizen science. There is a tremendously large, rich range of astronomy citizen science programs out there. Just a few of them are listed in this category. Many have accompanying lesson plans.

Even bigger projects. Some projects allow you to contribute data but require that you have your own telescope! These need telescopes, well, larger than a cheap amateur telescope, but not necessarily research-grade. You can build your own radio telescope!

Summer research opportunities for high school students. I get a fairly steady stream of requests from students asking for anything from science projects to multi-year daily internships. I cannot support even a few percent of such requests! Many of the opportunities listed on this page cost money (though scholarships are often available), but a few pay the student. Of course, at the college level, opportunities for paid summer (or even school year) work abound. 

Places to publish for high school students. This is the least-well-populated section of this page. Students who wish to publish their work have few avenues lately; such students should work with a scientist mentor to explore publishing opportunities. 

In an earlier post, The Ecosystem of Astronomy Outreach, I mentioned that you can think of astronomy education and outreach programs as being organized as a funnel, from relatively simple online classifications via citizen science portals at the top to original research at the bottom. The programs listed on this page populate this entire funnel!

If you have resources that should be added, updated links, or other information, please let me know!

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