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The Stars Behind Bars: Teaching Astronomy & Physics in a Prison Classroom

Presentation #508.02 in the session Education and Outreach.

Published onOct 20, 2022
The Stars Behind Bars: Teaching Astronomy & Physics in a Prison Classroom

The Princeton Prison Teaching Initiative was founded in 2005 by members of the Astrophysical Sciences Department led by Mark Krumholz (‘98), Prof. Jenny Greene, and Prof. Jill Knapp. Our mission is to ensure that justice-impacted members in New Jersey have access to an exceptional education. With our community college partners, we offer a wide range of accredited courses for incarcerated individuals to obtain an Associates Degree.

Teaching STEM in any setting is already difficult, but there are unique challenges and opportunities when teaching college-level physics and astronomy courses inside of a prison classroom. Some of these challenges are logistical, such as the limits we have on time, space, and the lab materials we are permitted to bring inside. Others are pedagogical, such as the fact that all of our students have different histories and relationships with the educational system. Physics and astronomy in particular are uniquely at the intersection of challenge and wonder. While students might have some trepidation about courses that require more advanced math than they are used to, they are naturally curious and motivated to learn about topics in physics and astronomy. As such, we have developed a lab-based physics course — the first of its kind nationally — and both lab-based and lecture-only astronomy courses that can be taught inside. We present methods and resources for designing similar courses for prison classrooms.

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