Hiram College

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Hiram College students are teaching astronomy to fifth graders at two local schools with the help of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s STARLAB® Portable Planetarium this 3-Week term.

On Dec. 11, 2015 Hiram students in the course “Uncovering Earth and Space Science,” will use the portable planetarium to teach students from Crestwood Intermediate School. Later that day, the class will host a public “Astronomy Night,” from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Gerstacker Science Hall’s Coleman Room, where all members of the community can experience the blow-up planetarium. The evening event is free and open to all. Students from James A. Garfield Elementary School will visit the planetarium the following Monday.

“This class is a unique opportunity for my students to learn various astronomy objectives, and to practice planning and teaching children and adults about the night sky,” said Matt Sorrick, M.A., instructor of the course and co-director of Hiram College’s Northwoods Field Station in Michigan. “Winter is a wonderful time to look at stars because we have many clear nights and it gets dark so early in the evening.”

As part of Astronomy Night, attendees can enjoy the blow-up planetarium, participate in astronomy activities and, if the sky is clear, even do some stargazing through telescopes. The elementary students visiting the planetarium will learn how to locate common constellations in the winter night sky and will learn about some of the Greek and Native American mythology associated with the constellations.

“It is an exciting experience for all participants – children and adults,” said Sorrick, who worked as the director of the Science Resource Center at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for six years, where he trained teachers to use the portable planetarium. “The stars are projected onto the ceiling of the dome and the students will be amazed at how many stars are visible. They also really enjoy the storytelling portion about star myths and legends.”

Hiram College is currently in the midst of the 3-Week term of its unique semester format. Following 12 weeks of traditional courses, students immerse themselves in a single course for the last three weeks of the semester. This course and other 3-Week options provide students with hands-on learning opportunities that could be more difficult during traditional classes due to time constraints.

“In addition to our experiences with astronomy, one of the goals of this course is to provide students with experiences and an understanding of how to interpret the things they see around them, including the topography, erosion and weathering of the land, formation of soil and the local geology,” said Sorrick.

In addition to using the portable planetarium, students in Sorrick’s class spent a day at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and will be taking a class trip to Nelson Ledges State Park in Garretsville and Brugmann Sand and Gravel Quarry in Mantua to collect and classify rocks and to learn about gravel and sand as natural resources. Additional resources from CMNH, including kits about rocks and minerals, the solar system and erosion, will be used as part of the course, and a majority of the class meetings take place at the College’s 540-acre James H. Barrow Field Station.

“It is a great opportunity for my students – many of whom are teacher candidates or interested in environmental education – to see different approaches to teaching and learning important content,” said Sorrick.

Other 3-Week courses this semester have students keeping sleep journals as they examine “The Science and Culture of Sleep,” studying invasive species and cultures in Australia as part of “Invading Oz” and advising real start-up companies at Shaker Launch House Incubator in Shaker Heights, Ohio as part of “Integrative Entrepreneurship.”