Workshop Strengthens Astronomy Curriculum in Georgia

COLUMBUS, Ga. - High School science teachers from Columbus and around the state are participating in a June 21-30, NASA-funded workshop designed to produce an innovative and rigorous astronomy curriculum for Georgia high schools.

Columbus State University is partnering with Georgia Southern University and the Georgia Department of Education to deliver the project called GEARS (Georgians Experience Astronomy Research in Schools).

From CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center, selected teachers are learning to retrieve data from NASA missions such as SOHO, Hubble, Kepler, and Chandra and are being provided the tools to analyze the data. This data can be used to explore colliding galaxies, space weather, supernovae and planets outside the solar system.

CSU physics professor and workshop co-leader Zo Webster said the biggest challenge is to teach “so much material” in a two-week period. “We’re giving the teachers a fire hose approach to astronomy,” she said. “We’re trying to introduce them to as many technological tools as possible so that they can bring the real data into their classrooms.”

Among the registered participants representing the Muscogee County School District are Pamela Abell, Brenda Howell, Gary Lawhon, Luther Richardson, LaJoyce Sanders, Laura Solomons and Karen Stephenson. Others include Jeffrey Klotz from Pacelli, Brittany Moss from Harris County and Sudish Nair from Stewart County.

“The new astronomy curriculum developed as part of GEARS will help propel Georgia forward as an innovator in k-12 science education as it will meld the use of authentic data and technology in the classroom,” said Webster, who co-wrote a $1.4 million NASA grant to launch the project. “NASA resources are so varied that making interesting and relevant lessons should be relatively easy. We hope to have every high school in the state able to teach astronomy as a fourth (or elective) science by the end of the grant period (2012).”

A separate group of teachers recently completed the same workshop on the Georgia Southern campus, where Webster joined GSU physics professor Sarah Higdon in conducting the training. Higdon said another purpose of GEARS is to change the way astronomy is taught in Georgia’s high schools. “Instead of teaching out of a textbook, we wanted to teach the students how to do research and quality-based activities.”

Webster said future workshops for both sets of teachers will introduce black holes and relativity. For more information, contact Webster at webster_zodiac@ColumbusState.edu.