This article first appeared in the Winter Solstice, 1999/2000 issue of the HORIZON newsletter of the WCAC. 

TWC Astronomy Programs For Kids: A History
By Joann Ballbach


Thanks to the WCAC, The Wilderness Center does lots of astronomy programming for kids!

When I first arrived in 1988, at my first Wilderness Center Annual Dinner (before I had even "officially" started work here) the first person Gordon (the boss) introduced me to was Robin Gill. She greeted me with "We're so glad you're here! Now we can get astronomy education programs going." (Sorry, Robin. That's not a direct quote--I was too startled to remember exactly--but it is an exact rendering of the way I heard it.) So, with lots of help from the WCAC, we started astronomy programs for kids.

The Club had done a very successful Comet Haley outreach a few years before. Based on that success, the WCAC purchased First Light (1988), The Mars Show (1988), The Little Star That Could (1989), The Voyager Encounters (1990), Life Beyond Earth (1991), and Follow the Drinking Gourd (1995), slide/tape programs the Club purchased, produced, and made available. The Club designed The Comet Hale-Bopp Show (1996), which was very popular with schools that year. TWC purchased Worlds To Explore (1999) slide show. Club members took the shows to evening groups; staff took them to schools, camps, Ys, etc. Although we've retired some because of dated material, we're still offering 5 slide/tape programs to schools and other groups. Through the years, we've shown these slide programs to over 13,477 students.

Astronomy programming for kids took a major leap forward when we started the school Star Party (1989), since renamed Star Watch. Astronomy Club members take telescopes to schools and camps-as "hands-on" as astronomy can be! Approximately 4,055 students have looked through our telescopes.

After years of working with me, with much hand-holding and confidence-building, the Club helped me design our first planetarium show for school groups, Stars In Our Eyes (1990). It was joined by Star Stories (1992), What's Up? (1993), The Big Dipper & Me (1996), and Reasons For Seasons (1999). Although most of our planetarium shows are done here in TWC's planetarium, even these have been outreaches-we've offered them in school-supplied StarLabs. We have given over 4,047 students a planetarium  experience.

We also offer non-planetarium astronomy programs to schools: Moon Madness (1993), Space Day (1994), and Hello, Sunshine (1995). These can go to the schools as an outreach or are offered here at TWC. About 2,299 kids have learned in "other" astronomy settings.

Astronomy education at TWC made another inroad when we integrated astronomy into non-astronomy nature programs, Winter Wondering (1997) and Winter Extravaganza (1997). About 2,300 children have been exposed to astronomy as part of a nature program.

We have also always included astronomy as part of our "package" of offerings for contract district outdoor education programs which, over the years, have served about 3,650 students. 

And, of course, Astronomy Club members have always been a part of the 5th grade overnight in Summer Days Enrichment (1988-present). We also included an astronomy day for families in Environment Investigators (1998-present). We estimate that those 2 programs have reached about another 330 children, with their families.

And, let's not forget the Space Day Event! The WCAC event for the "other" years (opposite Astronomy Day), we offered Space Day in 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999. About 40 high schoolers and 300 grade schoolers participated each time, for a total of 1,680 students.

Smaller audiences are the Girl Scouts and TWC birthday parties. Girl Scouts ask for help with the "Sky Search" badge--we do about 4 each year. TWC offers birthday parties and, although we only do 1-2 each
year, star parties are the most popular. I estimate we've reached 150 more kids through these 2 programs.

Let's see, that's over 31,988 kids we reached directly! I know these numbers are low--they don't include some students that had multiple programs and most of my computer records before 1990 were lost. But, we reached many more kids we can't count. Under Dave Ross's leadership, the WCAC and Canton City Schools have been working together to bring astronomy to schoolchildren. In 1995, his team worked with 1-2 teachers from every Canton City school to build a telescope for their school's programs! He and his team have also worked with the Canton City administration to keep the telescopes in good working order. Hundreds of Canton City children.

In summer of 1990, Dave Gill and I launched the first astronomy teacher course, Astronomy For Educators. We offered Astronomy For Educators in 1992, 1994, and 1996. In 1997, we tried a new course, Astronomy For Educators II: The New Solar System." These are 15-hour, graduate-level college courses, offered through Ashland University. We estimate we taught about 75 teachers, but, since each teacher reaches many students, we feel our efforts are multiplied--we reached hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kids through their teachers.

It'd take hours to go back through my records to look at all the astronomy teacher workshops we've done! Dave and Jeanne Bishop taught astronomy as part of our Science Spectrum (1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1997). I've offered astronomy workshops for teachers at the Environmental Education Council of Ohio Annual Conferences every year (I think) since the early '90s. I've also presented astronomy workshops for teachers at EECO regional conferences; once as a keynote speaker with the WCAC's Comet Hale-Bopp program. I've given astronomy workshops for Grassroots Science teachers in Canton City Schools, SEEDS program teachers throughout Stark and Wayne Counties, Science Education Council of Ohio Annual Conferences, and even at the NASA Educational Workshop I was fortunate to attend in 1996. A very rough, conservative guess would be that we teach an additional 50 teachers each year in astronomy education, and have been doing that for about 9 years. 450 teachers reach a lot of students!

The Wilderness Center Astronomy Club and the Center's education staff have worked hand-in-hand to make this level of astronomy education available for students and their teachers, kids and their families. We have programs for all ages, at their sites or here at the Center. This is a BIG accomplishment, and we should congratulate ourselves! Congratulations!

(Well, Robin, whaddya think? I "blame" you for starting most of this. And, I always find it a sort of poetic justice to visit with you at the Annual Dinner!)

Joann Ballbach, Education Director

TWC School Programs

The Wilderness Center
Alabama Ave.
P.O. Box 202
Wilmot, OH 44689
(877) 359-5235 (Ohio only)
(330) 359-5235 (Outside Ohio)

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