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Teens and Telescopes

30 Jun

Yes, I know, no Ursa Minor update, bad Myriad. Also no more writing on my novel. I would feel guilty, except I spent the last three hours teaching optics to 8th-graders. You spend three hours with thirty-three rowdy thirteen-year-olds and see how you feel (certainly tired of the number three, if nothing else…).

I complain, but it was fun. I love introducing people to science. Probably the best part of the evening was when the kids were building their own telescopes (cardboard tubes and cheap lenses, but good enough for a quick project) and discovered that when they looked at things through the telescope, they were upside-down and backwards. Needless to say, they found this very frustrating. Being the inquiry-based devotee that I am, I answered all of their questions of, “What if I flipped this lens around?” “What if I took out this part?” etc. with, “Try it and see.” It’s so much more fun for the kids to figure things out for themselves (and much more fun for me to watch them construct knowledge. And, yeah, a small part of me finds it terribly amusing when they indignantly declare, “It didn’t work!” Welcome to the world of scientific research, my young friends…).

One girl was determined to “fix” hers and was definitely on the right track–she showed me a sketch with some mirrors augmenting the optics–by the time we headed to the observatory. I hope she’ll keep at it and figure it out! Nothing makes me happier than a young girl who’s enthusiastic about science.

The inherent pleasure of teaching aside, this also means I have made inroads in the local ed/outreach community, which will a) get me more experience with kids, b) look good on my resume/give me another reference, and c) give me something to keep me occupied… It would be nicer to be paid, of course, but I’m not complaining (much). And I may get checked out for the big refracting ‘scope at the observatory, which would be really cool. I’m enough of an engineer’s daughter to enjoy knowing how things work 🙂

Now, if only I could figure out a better way of presenting the telescope exercise…optics is a hard enough subject to teach to undergrads, let alone middle schoolers…

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