Teachers Roles and Responsibilities

It's a good idea to be clear about roles and responsibilities of your partnership.

  • The teacher is responsible for student behaviour and classroom management. The astronomer should not be left alone to deal with students. He or she should be able to count on the teacher to help with classroom logistics or inattentive students. Be sure to let the astronomer know about classroom rules and routines.
  • Both the teacher and astronomer are responsible for getting in touch with their partner. Often partnerships end from lack of communication. Avoid this pitfall by initiating contact with your partner (even if you think it's the other person's turn) and returning any calls within two days.
  • The teacher should stay engaged and involved in the classroom. Takes notes, do the activities, and ask questions. This models curiosity and learning to students and it helps the astronomer. If it seems that the students do not understand the astronomer's explanation for something, you can help the astronomer to clarify by asking the question in another way.
  • Keep interruptions to a minimum during the astronomer's visits and if possible arrange for a longer class lesson for the visit.
  • Keep track of time during the visit (because astronomers can get excited and lose track of time!).
  • Coordinate logistics and equipment before the astronomer's visit (making copies, getting a slide projector, setting up the computer, etc.)
  • Arrange the details of any field trips or activities away from school; get help from the astronomer if necessary.
  • Express appreciation and thanks to the visiting astronomer and make your astronomer feel welcome (with the help of the students).
  • Make plans for the future visits.

Tips for Teachers

Here are some additional tips for teachers to help make your partnership go smoothly.

  • Prepare a welcome.
  • Select several students to greet the visiting astronomer.
  • Give your astronomer a chance to learn. Let the astronomer have time to develop his or her teaching skills and do what is interesting to the astronomer. However, do not leave him or her floundering.
  • Let your astronomer use his or her interests. Your astronomer will be more committed to you and your students if they can do something that is of particular interest to them.
  • Provide and request feedback. After the visit provide feedback to the astronomer and have them respond to your positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism. At the same time, ask your partner for feedback and input (new ideas, constructive suggestions, or areas where your help is needed).
  • Discuss the visit with your students. Build on their experience with follow-up activities.
  • Share your experience. Parents, colleagues, and school administrators benefit from hearing about the astronomers visits. Publicity in the community will gain support for your efforts, and for the school.
  • Keep a portfolio. Keep a record of the work done including photographs, students' work, curriculum outlines etc.
  • You never know which students will like astronomy. Don't make assumptions about which students will be interested, or which students will or won't connect with the astronomer.
  • Address the issue of women and minorities in astronomy. It's important to show students that there are female and minority astronomers. If your partner is a woman or a member of a minority group, ask them to talk about their own experiences. Otherwise the astronomer can talk directly about women and minorities in the field, or help find additional resources.
  • Think interdisciplinary. Incorporate interdisciplinary activities in writing, spelling, art, social studies, reading and mathematics.

Professional or Amateur Astronomers?

Some broad generalisations:

Professional Astronomers

Amateur Astronomers

They are more used to using large telescopes (with technical support staff) to get data from instruments in space and work with radiation that is not visible to the naked eye.

Familiar with small telescopes and observing constellations. They are often well informed about current ideas and developments in astronomy in general (from books and magazines)

Their experience offers exciting opportunities to expose students to the work of real scientists. Will often have very deep expertise in limited areas.

They can serve as valuable role models for students about how we can enjoy science in our everyday lives.

They might discuss what it is like to use large astronomical instruments at professional observatory sites in exotic locations, high speed computers, or working with scientists from around the world on space missions, instruments etc.

Many of them know about building or buying your own telescope and have great practical observational skills. They may have telescopes and other pieces of equipment (filters, CCD cameras, lens) that they can bring along to a "show and tell".

Finally, keep in mind that, while your partner astronomer may know more about astronomy than you do, he or she will not know about every aspect of astronomy. Most amateur and professional astronomers focus on one or two areas of astronomy, but may be able to discuss other aspects of the field if you give them advance warning.

More Ideas for Teachers

  • Create an "ask the astronomer" question box
  • Get a commitment of release time in advance for planning
  • Visit the astronomer's work place
  • Go to an astronomy club meeting
  • Let the astronomer know what will go on between visits
  • Use peer teaching (have your students teach other students)
  • Leave the class with a cliff hanger to ponder or investigate (Where do stars come from? What will you see tonight in the South at 7pm?)

What Do Students want to Know?

It is very helpful to start by finding out what students already know. To do this, you can simply ask students to tell you everything they know about a topic, say the moon. As the students say their ideas, write the ideas on the board. Another technique is to use a "KWL chart" (What I know. What I want to know. What I learned). Create a big chart with these headings and list the students' responses under each heading. Keep the chart displayed until you're done with the unit or topic, and fill in the last part.

Interdisciplinary Teaching Ideas

Let's say you are studying the planets and have been learning about Mars. You could tie in interdisciplinary activities by having students:
  • Write a story about what it would be like to be a tourist on Mars.
  • Design travel brochures for a tour of Mars.
  • Read and discuss science fiction about Mars written at different periods (reflecting our evolving understanding of the red planet).
  • Read (and watch the films?) - H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds".
  • Imagine they are visitors from Mars and discuss what would seem most alien to them about the Earth.
  • Read and discuss myths from different cultures about Mars.