Teacher Development Workshops

From 2006 to 2009, I was the senior scientist and co-facilitator of a professional development workshop for high school science teachers at McDonald Observatory, The Age of the Milky Way. My roles included creation of self-guided learning materials on data analysis, assistance with planning, the leading of science discussions, and leading an observing project on the McDonald 0.8-meter telescope.

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New Media Outreach

With the ascendancy of the Internet, a higher and higher fraction of the public obtains its astronomy information from the web. Unfortunately, like most topics on the Internet, the signal-to-noise ratio is pretty low. I therefore have decided to put my writing skills to use to try and boost the signal.

For five years, I have authored a regular blog (short for "weblog") called Professor Astronomy. My main goals of this blog are:

  • To write about how the science of astronomy is done in the modern day, since the common misconception is that we are all night creatures living on isolated mountains looking through eyepieces every night of the year. Misconceptions like these about the process of science lead many non-scientists to view science as a black box, and perhaps even seats of conspiracies and misanthropic projects. I therefore often write about my day-to-day research activities, trips to conferences, telescope runs, accomplishments of my friends and colleagues, and so on.
  • To discuss astronomy news from the viewpoint of the professional astronomer. Many websites and blogs provide astronomy news, so I do not try to compete there. What I attempt to do is discuss popular stories (or stories that have been misunderstood or overly hyped) from the standpoint of a professional scientist, including discussion of the truly novel portions of a story, how reliable and important the discovery may be, and any crucial or interesting facts and anecdotes that are be left out of the press releases.
  • To write at a level understandable by the general public. Many websites and periodicals either pitch their articles at a level appropriate for amateur astronomers or astronomy enthusiasts, or they simplify the material so much that the amount of content is miniscule. I try to write in between these levels, so that I can convey the newest interesting findings to those who may have little background in the science. Sometime it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I recently have started to also communicate through Twitter, a web medium where all comments must be 140 characters or less. This has proven ideal for posting links to interesting news and happenings that I do not have time to blog about, and for providing an even finer grid of information on the day-to-day workings of science.

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Other Activities

I also participate in numerous short-term outreach activities. In the past year, this has included:

  • Giving short talks on my research to donors and friends of the McDonald Observatory
  • Leading a human model of the Solar System as part of the University of Texas Library's International Year of Astronomy celebrations
  • Donating Galileoscopes to high school science teachers for use in the classroom
  • Speaking to high school astronomy classrooms in the Austin, TX area.
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