Monday, June 28, 2010

Stupid Computer

Today I spend the whole day finishing up my application for the NASA AU Ambassador training program. It's due by Wednesday, in Washington, DC, & they need both an e-mail copy & a hard copy. I figured a couple hours to answer the last couple of questions & email it off, quick run to the store to get new ink for my printer, then get to the post office by 2pm to mail it. Murphy had other ideas. My computer kept freezing. Fortunately, I was on top of saving my work every couple of sentences, so I never lost any work. It just took most of the day to get even close to the point of being done. Finally I gave up for a couple of hours, went to the store to get the printer ink, and took my time walking home to try and exercise the stress out of me. And so by the time I got the e-mail sent off & the application printed, it was a quarter to 6. That's the time the last mail goes out from the post office here in Logan. So I e-mailed the rest of the StarHouse Discovery Center board to ask approval to send the application FedEx. It was approved, so after dinner I sent it off. I'm still stressing, though. I know I shouldn't be, but what can you do?

On the plus side, I will be teaching an astronomy class tomorrow evening for teenage girls at camp. I always enjoy getting out into the wilderness, looking at the stars, & teaching, so by tomorrow night, I should be feeling good again.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Success in Small Steps

The last day of Summer Astronomy Camp did not go off without a hitch, but it did go well. Stellarium hadn't been installed on the computers, so I tried calling the guy again, but only got voicemail. So we went outside, and I taught the kids to find an object with a small telescope or binoculars, then to align a finder scope with a bigger scope, and find an object in the large scope using the finder scope. Almost started a fire when I was showing them how to move the big scope around by accidentally pointing it at the Sun for a few seconds. But never heard back from the guy, so when we were done with that, we went down to the computer lab, and I showed them the website for Stellarium so they could get it at home. It's Open Source, by the way. Then we used the screenshots so they could see some of what Stellarium does, and I could tell them a bit about the controls. At the very end of the class, I had them all fill out a short survey about the camp, what they liked, what they would like to see in the future, that sort of thing. I haven't looked at the surveys, yet, partly because I was at Uprising, and partly because I want to have some space before I look at them. Since I kept this blog, I'm not too worried about forgetting things by the time I look at the survey. Except maybe which kid was which. I asked them NOT to put their names on the surveys, but I really don't want to know who said what.

Immediately upon finishing the class, I hurried home, put the telescopes away, and my husband and I headed off for Uprising. We got there just in time for dinner, missed court because we were setting up camp (it's very important to set up camp before dark), but I still had a couple of hours before it got dark enough for my class. It was intended for anyone, but got announced as a kid's activity, so most of the people there were kids, with a few parents along for the ride. The temperature was nice, we lasted about an hour before people started wanting to get back to campfires, myself included. There was one kid who kept interrupting, wanting to ask questions or add stuff about something I planned to talk about after first introducing a few basic concepts, to help people understand the later stuff better. It's cool when kids are so interested in things, but kind of frustrating when you know other people will be totally lost if you let things skip around too much. Oh well. The class went well overall, and I even had people all the rest of the weekend telling me they had wanted to come but either couldn't find us or thought it was just for kids. I guess I'll just have to volunteer to teach it again next year.

The best success of the last week, though has been that I've got another opportunity to teach. Girl's Camp, for the teenage girls at church, is next week, and the leader has asked me to come up and give an astronomy class for them. We're planning on Tuesday for that, weather permitting. I'll post here afterward about how that goes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sun, Rain, & More Sun

Today, the main activity I had planned was making sextants & trying them out. It looked like it was going to be a nice day, but 5 minutes after we went outside, it started raining. So we went back in & made sundials. By then it had stopped raining, so we went back outside, this time to the football field. And it started raining again. By the time most of the kids had all four of the measurements I wanted them to take, someone from the school came out to say we needed to stay off the field and track while they are wet. So we went as far as the asphalt, let the last few kids take their last measurement, then went back inside.

Michelle Larson, an adjunct professor from the USU Physics Department came and spoke for about half an hour about how she became an astronomer. She shared some images from the Yohkoh Public Outreach Project which she worked on. She brought a sunspots in visible light and X-rays matching game, which each student was able to take home with them, and a Solar Storm puzzle.

After Michelle left, we still had 45 minutes, and everything I had planned was already done, including the "extra, just in case things take less time than expected" sundials. So I gave everybody a blank sheet of paper, & used the overhead projector to explain, briefly, how telescopes work, & the three main types of telescopes. I drew, & had the kids copy, a diagram of a refractor telescope, a reflector telescope, and a catadioptic telescope. I passed my binoculars around as an example of a pair of small refractors, and showed them some of my sketches of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, & Saturn that I had made using my 8" Dob.

I am going to get paid for teaching this summer camp. I found out today that I need to turn in an invoice to the Logan City School District for it. So after I got home today, I made that up. I also made a survey for the kids to fill out at the end of the day tomorrow. Getting paid for doing what you love is awesome.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Around the World in 50 Minutes

Today in Astronomy Camp, I put a list of a bunch of topics in astronomy history up for the kids to see, & had them pick one. I also let only one kid have any given topic. There were 23 things on the list, & only 10 kids in the class, so there was plenty to choose from. Six kids wanted Ancient Greek Astronomy! So I had all six choose a second topic, & said that possibly one of them could do Ancient Greek Astronomy, depending on what else got picked. The very next topic, two of those kids wanted, so I let them decide between themselves who was going to do which. Another kid, though, all he wanted to do was Greek Astronomy, & nothing else. Since he wouldn't pick something else, I used the rand() function in a spreadsheet program to pick one for him. I think that kid was one who, during introductions yesterday, had said his parents' were making him come to Astronomy Camp. The entire time he was resistant to doing anything.

Once all the kids had picked a topic, we went down to the computer lab. Starting with Astronomy for Kids, they each read about the topic they had chosen, then used Google searches to find pictures, and sometimes more information, about their topic. I gave them an hour and a half to work on that, & those who finished sooner were given the choice of doing a second topic, or playing on Flash Planetarium, which I had used yesterday to help them learn to use their planispheres. They used a word processing program to make some notes & save their pictures, which I then saved to my jump drive. The last hour of Camp today, we went back to the classroom, I plugged my jump drive into the computer there that was connected to the projector, & they each gave a little 5 minute presentation on their topic.

I also did some preparation for the next couple of days. Tomorrow, Michelle Larson from the USU Physics Department, is coming to talk to the kids for about half an hour, so I talked to her about that, & also gave her directions to the room. I also talked to the Logan District Computer Specialists & arranged to get Stellarium on some computers for Thursday.

I think things are going really well.

ps. There is also a Harry Potter Camp going on at the same time, except it is 5 weeks long. They are mostly doing science activities. I talked to the guy in charge, & they are spending a week on astronomy. I got his e-mail address, so I'm going to try to keep in touch with him over the next year, & maybe get to be part of that next year.

Monday, June 14, 2010

So Far, So Good

Friday was the first Cache Valley Stargazers meeting I made it to in a long time. It was also the last one until fall. There are several star parties scheduled over the summer, though. On July 9, there will be one out at Newton Reservoir. The rest will be held at Mt Logan Park on:
  • 18 June,
  • 16 July,
  • 6 & 13 August,
  • 10 & 17 September.

    The Star Parties are scheduled to start at 9:30pm.

    Saturday afternoon, there was a Family & Children's Expo up at Utah State University. We had a booth, & probably about 100 people came by. A few kids tried out the Galileoscope or the Electromagnet, but the big hit was the Hydrolic Robot. It uses syringes with colored water to move various hinges, like an arm. The challenge for the kids was to work together to make the robot pick up Legos or pens & drop them in a box.

    The Star Trek clubs in Northern Utah had a Giant Star Party scheduled all last weekend. My husband went with me out there on Saturday evening for dinner & visiting. Since is was overcast, we played a fast Star Wars Roleplaying Game round, which was fun. About 11:00, a few of the clouds cleared out, & we were able to see, in turn, Ophiucus, Scorpius, Delphinus, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, & Lyra. It never got clear enough to set up telescopes, though.

    Today was the first day of the Astronomy Summer Camp. There were a dozen kids signed up. Today we did introductions, made planispheres and practiced using the planispheres with Flash Planetarium. Then we went outside and did some Kinesthetic Astronomy-type activities. I think it went well, and hope the next three days will also go well. I'll let you know tomorrow & Wednesday. Thursday, as soon as camp is over, I will be heading to Uprising, where I will also be teaching an astronomy class. I'll let you know how that goes next Monday.

  • Friday, June 4, 2010


    The 501(c)3 application is finally complete. By Monday, it will be in the mail. This means we can finally start applying for grants. Time to start writing. :-)

    After our board meeting this afternoon, I went out to the Logan Airport for the Celebration of Flight. Got to see a B-17 Flying Fortress: probably one of the coolest planes ever. I also talked to a number of people, pilots, a guy from Exxon, a Civil Air Patrol major, & a lady from Channel 8 KUTA. I left business cards with most of these people, and the lady from Channel 8 would like to have me come in to the studio to talk about the upcoming events we are going to be involved with.

    We are going to be very busy in the coming weeks. On 12 June, we will be at the Family & Children's Expo, part of USU's Unlocking Your Child’s Potential Conference. That same evening, I will be out in Trenton, UT at a Giant Star Party for all of the Northern Utah Star Trek Clubs. Then starting on Monday, 14 June, Neil Dabb & I will be teaching at a summer camp for Logan City's Gifted & Talented elementary students. The camp will run for four days. Neil will teach in the mornings about weather, & I will teach in the afternoons about Astronomy. As soon as I am done on Thursday, I will be taking off for Firth, ID, where I will be teaching a Beginning Astronomy class for the Society of Creative Anachronism. And before all of that starts, next Friday, the 11th, is the monthly Cache Valley Stargazers meeting.

    I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. This seems like a lot to do, in a very short time, & I only have a week to prepare.