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March 24, 2006 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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Yerkes Observatory to highlight active astronomy for Illinois schools at March 29 Capitol Showcase in Springfield

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Sharon Thacher of Joliet School District No. 86 and Charles Simer of Grand Prairie School District in Centralia, Ill., working with an eight-inch telescope on the grounds of Yerkes Observatory. Thacher and Simer are among 30 Illinois teachers who are participating in the Astronomy Resources Connecting Schools program at Yerkes, which is made possible by funding from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Photos courtesy of Yerkes Observatory.

Educators from the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory will share some of their best practices for bringing hands-on astronomy into Illinois schools—even in broad daylight—at a March 29 showcase in Springfield.

Participating in the Capitol Showcase for the Illinois Mathematics and Science Partnerships program will be classroom teachers, scientists, mathematicians, engineers and university educators from 24 such partnerships throughout the state. The showcase will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Illinois Capitol Building, at Second and Capitol streets in Springfield.

The Yerkes component of the program, titled Astronomy Resources Connecting Schools (ARCS), is now in its second of three years. The program is funded by grants of $245,000 annually, allocated by the Illinois Board of Education through appropriations from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Last summer the funding enabled the Yerkes ARCS program to provide astronomy training and support last summer for 24 educators from Coulterville in downstate Illinois, to Woodstock near the Wisconsin boarder, and many other schools in between. About half the teachers work in Will County schools in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. Next summer, the number of participating teachers will increase to 30.

“Through this funding, teachers have telescopes to use for their own observing projects, as well as for star parties they hold for their students and schools,” said Vivian Hoette, Yerkes Education and Outreach Coordinator. Many teachers choose equipment that permits safe viewing of the sun. “Solar observing allows the teachers to bring astronomy into the daytime curriculum by studying the sun, our closest star and around which Earth, the planets, asteroids and comets revolve.”

Among other lessons in the ARCS program, teachers have learned how to observe the planet Venus during the day. “If you know exactly where to look, you can see Venus with the naked eye on a very clear day,” said Yerkes Director Kyle Cudworth. “It’s what you would normally think of as nighttime astronomy, except that it can be done in the daytime when they’ve got their students at school.”

Teachers Kathleen Roper (left) and Suzanne Rensing of Hoyleton Grade School practice a classroom exercise that demonstrates the properties of the light spectrum. They are using equipment from the Active Astronomy Kit from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) project.
Elizabeth Ramseyer of Niles West High School creates a light spectrum with the Active Astronomy Kit.

Photos by Vivian Hoette.

And through Yerkes’ collaboration with the Japan Science Foundation and the Science Museum in Tokyo, teachers can view constellations anytime by tapping into the i-CAN network consisting of six locations worldwide. “One of these systems is located on the roof at Yerkes Observatory. The only technology needed is the Internet and Real Player,” Hoette said.

The teachers spend two weeks at Yerkes in Williams Bay, Wisc., during the summers and two weekends during the school year. Nearby Aurora University provides lodging for the teachers and graduate credit for the instruction they receive from University of Chicago astronomy and astrophysics professors Richard Kron, Doyal Harper and Kyle Cudworth.

The residential aspect of the program helps create a professional development network for the teachers that can be difficult to forge during the school year, Hoette said. “They don’t have a lot of time to meet other people who have the same interests and goals that they do. This allows people to gather who are interested in doing active astronomy with their students,” she said.

Kron shows the teachers how to incorporate Sloan Digital Sky Survey data into their class lessons. The Sloan Survey is a collaboration of more than 20 institutions worldwide to map approximately a million galaxies and many other celestial objects in three dimensions. Kron directs the survey, which is based at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

Harper familiarizes teachers with NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and the characteristics of invisible light. Infrared light is used in many consumer products, including television remote controls and car-locking systems. Harper built the high-resolution camera for SOFIA’s 2.5-meter telescope, which detects light that is invisible to human eyes.


Two views of the historic 40-inch refracting telescope at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. The telescope, which has been used for more than a century at Yerkes, is the world’s largest refracting telescope, one that uses lenses rather than mirrors to collect light. The 40-inch refractor is one of the telescopes that Illinois teachers use as part of the Astronomy Resources Connecting Schools program at Yerkes.

Photos by Kaoru Kimura, Science Museum, Tokyo, Japan Science Foundation

Cudworth briefs the teachers on the history of Yerkes, where Hubble Space Telescope namesake Edwin Hubble once worked, as did Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Cudworth also provides the opportunity for teachers to use the Yerkes 40-inch refractor, the world’s largest telescope that uses lenses instead of mirrors to gather light.

Teachers participating in the ARCS program must have the support of their school administrations, agree to participate in the evaluation portions of the program and complete an action research project. Interested teachers may contact Vivian Hoette at Yerkes Observatory, (262) 245-5555.

The educators and schools participating in the Yerkes program are as follows:

  • Coulterville United District No. 1: Louis Obernuefemann and Tracy Wolf.
  • Eisenhower Academy, Joliet: Sharilyn Markese.
  • Grand Prairie Grade School, Centralia: Charles Simer.
  • Hinsdale South High School: David Stimpson.
  • Hoyleton Grade School: Suzanne Rensing and Kathleen Roper.
  • Jay Stream Middle School, Carol Stream: Kathy Schmidt.
  • Joliet School District No. 86: Sharon Thacher.
  • Liberty Junior High, New Lenox: Karen Sestak.
  • Lincoln School, River Forest: Sharon Carr.
  • A.O. Marshall, Joliet: Jim Fitzgerald, Patricia McReynolds and Megan Smith.
  • A. Vito Martinez Middle School, Romeoville: Raymond Moland.
  • New Trier Township High School: Elizabeth Druger.
  • Niles West High School: Richard DeCoster and Elizabeth Ramseyer.
  • Oak Park and River Forest High School: Kevin McCarron.
  • River View Elementary, Plainfield: Jane Matlock.
  • L.J. Stevens Middle School, Wilmington: Sherry Shelley.
  • Troy Middle School, Plainfield: Mary Barrett, Margie Corp, Ruth Juhant and Susan Raslowsky.
  • Will County Regional Office of Education, Joliet: Rich Duran.
  • Woodstock High School: Allen Williams.
Last modified at 06:20 PM CST on Monday, March 27, 2006.

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