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The LASeR Project: Learning Astronomy through Service and Research

Presentation #547.08 in the session “Education, Outreach, and Public Engagement”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
The LASeR Project: Learning Astronomy through Service and Research

The first-ever service learning astronomy course was recently taught at High Point University (HPU), a primarily undergraduate institution in High Point, NC. While the class covers all the topics in a typical introductory-level survey course, students must also spend 25 hours over the semester working with community members on some sort of service or outreach project. This past fall, the class teamed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Central Piedmont, an organization that “creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.” As part of their coursework, HPU students were trained by the course instructor on how to observe and carry out the project with Skynet, a network of robotic telescopes around the world that can be controlled through a simple web interface. The students were then assigned to work with a different Big/Little “match” in BBBS, whom they surprised with personal accounts and observing time on the Skynet system. Over the course of the semester, students met with their assigned Big/Little on a weekly basis, taught them how to observe with Skynet, and helped them carry out different observing challenges. Example projects included observing all visible planets and identifying some of their moons, imaging various deep sky objects, creating an RGB image of their favorite object, and sonifying all of their data to see if they could identify images from the sounds they produced. Upon completing certain challenges, participants in LASeR can earn observing “badges” and special prizes. Here, we present a breakdown of the program and showcase some of the incredible images the Bigs/Littles were able to obtain. Participants reported that LASeR not only improved their appreciation for astronomy but also strengthened the bond between BBBS Bigs and their Littles. This project was based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. AST-1812874.

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