Thanks to Generous Donors, K-12 Teachers Strengthen Teaching Skills at McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory EOO
Each summer, Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway of The University of Texas at Austin Department of Astronomy (winner of the 2009 American Astronomical Society Education Prize), staff at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, and other UT Austin astronomers provide professional-development workshops for teachers at McDonald Observatory. Tours of the telescopes, discussions with the research astrophysicists in residence, and nighttime observations are an integral part of every workshop experience, as are inquiry-based activities aligned with the Texas-state-mandated standards called TEKS and TAKS for science and mathematics and the chance to practice astronomy skills under the Observatory's dark skies. Nearly 85 teachers are participating in workshops this summer, with more than 80 on waiting lists to take part.
For Summer 2011, workshops at the observatory include:
* "Gamma-ray Bursts, Progenitor Stars, and Relativistic
Jets," a workshop for UTeach Program Participants,
held June 9-11
* "Light and Optics," for teachers of grades 8 through 12,
held June 23-25,
* "From the Big Bang to Black Holes," for teachers of grades
8 through 12, held June 27-29,
* "Formation of Planetary Systems," for teachers of grades
6 through 12, held July 7-9,
* "Earth and Space Science," for teachers of grades 6
through 12, held July 11-15.
NASA and the National Science Foundation provided major funding for several of the observatory's Summer 2011 professional-development workshops for teachers.
Private donors who helped support preparations for and implementation of the 2011 workshops include The Amon G. Carter Foundation, The Fash Foundation, The Hillcrest Foundation, the Semmes Foundation, and anonymous donors in Dallas, along with Joe and Lucy Parsley for the Joe and Lucy Parsley Texas Galileo Teacher Training Program.
McDonald Observatory also continues to benefit from the foresight of donors who have created educational endowments that will help increase K-12 science literacy in perpetuity. Funding from these endowments help bring educators to professional development teacher workshops on scholarship, as well as to increase teacher and student access to K-12 science curricula, online resources, and more. The endowments providing funds for the 2011 teacher workshops and resources include: The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation Education Endowment, The Carolyn Keenan and Charlie Gaines Endowment for McDonald Observatory Education and Outreach, and The Hugh Gragg Educational Endowment.
This generous support provided full scholarships for U.S. participants in the Light and Optics, From the Big Bang to Black Holes, and Formation of Planetary Systems workshops, covering lodging, meals, program fees, and instructional materials. Beyond residential workshops, endowments and private donations also make it possible to reach out to teachers who can't travel to the observatory, providing programs at science-teacher conventions. In November 2010, for example, nearly 200 K-12 teachers took part in workshops presented by Drs. Mary Kay Hemenway and Judit Ries at the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) in Houston. Says Assistant Director for Education and Outreach Sandi Preston: "Such conferences are an effective outreach tool in which McDonald Observatory can train additional teachers who return to their home schools and share what they have learned with the rest of the teaching staff." [Suzanne Geiger]