FLORENCE---The Francis Marion University astronomy program is collaborating with regional school districts to enhance the quality of astronomy instruction in K-12 classrooms.
Called the Pee Dee Regional Astronomy Collaboration, the initiative is being led by FMU Professor John Mattox, director of FMU’s Observatory and the Dooley Planetarium.
To date, two school districts have joined the collaboration, Florence District One and Clarendon District Three. Three more districts are also considering participation.
The Dooley Planetarium has been providing planetarium shows for visiting school groups for the past 23 years. While thousands have benefited from planetarium shows during that period, Mattox said many more public school students in the region could be accommodated.
“We want to serve as many students as possible in the best way we can,” he said. “Our new initiative is intended to provide very high quality planetarium programs that enable teachers to rapidly give their students a comprehensive exposure to the astronomy content of the South Carolina Science Curriculum Standards. These standards are very demanding for South Carolina’s fourth- and eighth-graders.”
With the financial support the school districts are providing, Mattox expects to present more planetarium shows. That demand is expected to increase as teachers learn that they can make a field trip that is enjoyable for both teachers and students, while simultaneously boosting student achievement that is measured annually with the PACT test.
Mattox also has been helping to improve the educational use of other FMU resources, such as the former hewn timber houses that were formerly slave cabins and the Wallace Woods Nature Trail, for visiting student groups. He maintains a web page at http://astro.fmarion.edu/ with information about astronomy and K-12 student group attractions at FMU.
The Regional Astronomy Collaboration also plans to serve as a resource for teachers who wish to adopt astronomy curriculum that incorporates the use of telescopes. Many celestial objects, such as the moon and Venus, can be observed with telescopes during the day. Modern motorized telescopes are now available to educational institutions for less than $200 and are easy to use. FMU has obtained several of these telescopes to loan to school teachers in participating districts for evaluation purposes.
In addition, participating school districts will soon benefit from FMU’s access to a 50-inch diameter telescope located at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, the Robotically Controlled Telescope (RCT). FMU’s portion of the RCT operating costs for the RCT for the next five years will be funded by NASA through a $124,000 grant.
For more information, contact Mattox at 843-661-1441. The Internet site for the Regional Astronomy Collaboration is http://astro.fmarion.edu/rac/.
#31 / 9-14-01