Solar System Ambassador with a Solar Spin (July 2008)
My name is Laura Venner and I have been a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador since 2003. The Ambassador program has afforded me the opportunity to reach out to the public and engage them in scientific inquiry and discovery. The Ambassador program is a public outreach program designed to inspire the next generation of explorers by engaging children and adults in NASA's missions. Their primary goal is to motivate children to seek out careers in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. My focusing on the Sun is also in line with the International Year of Astronomy's 2009 objectives and the 400th anniversary of Galileo's viewing of the sun and sunspots.
Partly due to the Ambassador program, I am working at The Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst, New Jersey and have created a gifted and talented consortium program for seventh and eight graders entitled "Our Star Through Time." The program takes children on a journey from naked eye astronomy in ancient Egypt to the development of the sundial, invention of telescopes and the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum, passive solar energy use, and finally to the Sun we know today as seen through the eyes of SOHO and STEREO. This learning program has been modified and subsequently used for students with disabilities.
I am developing a week-long astronomy camp that will focus on the Sun and the electromagnetic spectrum. I have purchased a Sunspotter, Solarscope, two Coronado solar telescopes, eclipse and rainbow glasses, astronomical binoculars equipped with solar filters, an Astroscan (a small telescope) and have two 8" telescopes on site that also have solar filters. My objective is to have children view the Sun with different instruments and record what they see. I also want them to understand the dynamic nature of the sun and the benefits we receive from our nearest star. Kids are usually amazed when they see the Sun for the first time through one of our devices. The first thing they usually say is "WOW this is so COOL!" and I say, " The Sun is Cool??? Are you sure?" And that opens the discussion for what is the hottest cool object in the sky.
In June I presented a public lecture that focused on the SOHO mission. The public lectures are designed for the general public and usually include a hands-on component for the children in the audience. I will bring out all of the solar viewing equipment mentioned above for the hands-on solar component and give out some solar educational materials sent to me by SOHO. I am giving another solar presentation called "Fun in the Sun" on Saturday, September 20 from 2:00-4:00pm for students 18 and younger.
I cover many topics in addition to the sun in other programs, ranging from Mars to comets and even to brackish water and plants. All the outreach and formal lesson plans I develop include real time missions with most having a hands- on component as well. All of my programming corresponds to the Core Curriculum Content Standards of New Jersey as well. I've found that It is easy to engage all people, young and old, with the sun.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACTIVITIES: If you use our SOHO images or movies, provide outreach and programs in the area of solar study, and would like to be considered for our Outreach Spotlight section, write to steele.hill[at]gsfc.nasa.gov with a brief overview of your efforts.If we think you'd make a good candidate, we will contact you.