Students may hate memorizing the order of the planets, but they LOVE black holes. They adore asteroids impacts. They cannot get enough of alien attacks. This is how you get middle-schoolers to buy-in to an astronomy class!
I need something explosive to crack their imaginations.
I've found it.
My students are 7th graders in Florida.
They are a nearly equal mix of demographics. We have a high percentage of free and reduced lunch students, and we bus kids in from all the way in the next county. We have a myriad of types, from inner-city to suburban children.
These kids can be inspired! An engineering program we ran on spit-and-bailing wire and candy sales from my pushcart made us second in District for the SECME Engineering Olympiad! A group of kids from mixed backgrounds earned medals competing is water rockets, mousetrap-powered cars, and balsa wood bridges.
These are kids who love science and don't know it. Their textbooks bore them, but they plead with me to show the entirety of Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking after a few tantalizing clips. I had a boy who can't stand school who begged me to see the Astronomy Picture of the Day website every class.
The children of today love the wonders & weirdness of the universe. It's my calling to get them there.
Next year I am running two sections of a class called "Starfleet Academy." Seventy of the kids who could best benefit from a science bump will get a hands-on, lab-intensive astronomy class filled with rocketry and community outreach.
But I need books.
I’m using the perfect book to get the kids’ interest: Phil Plait’s "Death From the Skies." In clear language, it teaches every major important astrophysics concept with the flashiness of the end of the world.
I have never seen a class so enraptured by astrophysics as when I worked through Plait's step by step description of the dinosaurs' killer on my SmartBoard.
12 wonderful donors have gotten me a class set of the books. Now, I’m shooting for enough copies to send all 70 students home a copy and make the educational opportunities expand.
I have enough to let them get a taste in class. This allows me to give the kids a high-interest book without them worrying about having to take it back to the shelf when the bell rings.
I have my autographed and battered copy of this book lying around in my classroom, and the result is always the same.
One child picks it up, flipping through the pictures. They start silently reading, sometimes even without sitting down. They are held spellbound by the destructive power of the Cosmos.
Then they put it down as they realize they have work to do. Immediately, another child who watched them read the book grabs for it.
This is what my kids need to reach the universe.
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