SOCORRO, N.M., July 1, 2002 - Seven teachers from around New Mexico were participants in a new summer course offered by New Mexico Tech, "Astronomy for Teachers." The two-week class, which was held in early June and was funded by the New Mexico Tech Research and Economic Development office (R&ED), is a unique course that is designed to instruct teachers on how to use special software that is required to remotely operate New Mexico Tech's Etscorn Campus Observatory telescope.
Dan Klinglesmith, an adjunct member of the New Mexico Tech physics department, instructs the Master of Science Teaching (MST) course, which was first offered during the summer of 2001.
The main part of the class is held during the day, and during this time the teachers learn how to use the software. After a week of training, the class uses a computer on the New Mexico Tech campus to control the telescope at the Powerhouse Museum Observatory located half-a-world-away in Sydney, Australia (courtesy of Nick Lomb, director of the Powerhouse Observatory).
The telescope in Sydney is operated by the same software that the Etscorn Observatory uses for its telescope. This international arrangement allows the teachers to make live observations of the night sky in Sydney during their daytime classes in Socorro. During the evenings, the class goes to the Etscorn Observatory to control the telescope and view the skies over Socorro.
The main purpose of the course is for teachers to use the software and the observatory to guide their own students on how to fact-find and use the scientific method for experimentation. Upon completion of the course, the teachers receive personal copies of the telescope-controlling software to use with their respective students. The students then learn to use the software to control "virtual telescopes," which give the students accurate astrological data from actual observatory databases without actually having to use observatory time.
After the students learn to use the software, they will have to form an experiment using the scientific method that requires real observation time from the telescope-this includes making observations, forming a hypothesis, and writing a proposal for conducting the experiment. Once the proposal is approved by their teacher and by the staff at the Etscorn Campus Observatory, the student may make remote observations using the real telescope for the experiment.
The students may continue using the observatory on the condition that their previous work gets published. The teachers and observatory staff assist in helping students get their work published. This gives students the opportunity to conduct further independent research in astronomy and possibly develop a future career.
Lisa Foley, a participant in this year's course, feels that the astronomy class was a fun experience and the software will be an invaluable tool to help teach students.
"Once they [the students] see how easy it is to operate the telescope and take an image-all you have to do is point and click-I think their own enthusiasm will motivate them to move on to bigger things," Foley said. She is currently a Data Analyst for National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and she teaches "Backyard Astronomy," a non-credit community college course offered at New Mexico Tech.
Any teacher or instructor who is interested in taking the MST 562 course next summer should send inquiries to Dan Klinglesmith at firstname.lastname@example.org.