Carla Brooks, a teacher at Roosevelt High School (left), and
Cindi Chambers, from Chattanooga, Tennessee (right), discuss
astronomical observations with TOPS Director Karen Meech.
The annual TOPS ("Towards Other Planetary Systems") teacher
enhancement program wrapped up another successful workshop at the
end of June. This year, 26 secondary education teachers from Hawaii,
the U.S.-affiliated Pacific entities, and the Mainland, and 20 high
school students from Hawaii and the Pacific participated.
The teachers spent four days on Oahu attending lectures and
visiting astronomy facilities, then spent the remainder of the three-week
program at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA) on the Big Island,
where they were joined by student participants. A highlight of the
workshop was a tour of Mauna Kea Observatories.
This year's workshop marked the third year of support by a five-year
grant from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Karen Meech originally
developed the program as a one-week workshop in 1993. Each workshop
is now three weeks of intensive astronomy training for teachers
and high school students.
TOPS emphasizes incorporating astronomy into physics, math, chemistry,
biology, and earth sciences classes. Teachers are introduced to
classroom tools, techniques, and hands-on activities they can employ
in their own classes. Computer skills development, and student assessment
and evaluation techniques are also emphasized in the classes for
Hands-on training is an important part of the program. Activities
range from archaeoastronomy to grinding telescope mirrors. During
every clear night, small telescopes are used to observe the sky.
Observing projects vary from simple visual observations of the Moon,
planets, and nebulae, to deep-sky astrophotography and sophisticated
variable star observations using a CCD camera.
The workshops have a profound affect on many of the participants.
As one noted in an evaluation report, "Before the workshop,
politics [and the lack of] administration support, broke my spirit
for teaching and having expectations. This time at TOPS has reestablished
and renewed my passion to continue my professional growth.
I am ready to attack the school year with vigor."
Members of the IfA faculty are frequent lecturers for the TOPS
program. This year Jim Heasley, Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, Jeff Kuhn,
Bob Joseph, Barry LaBonte, Haoshing Lin, and Alan Tokunaga made
presentations to the TOPS teachers.
TOPS participants prepare for a night of observing.
TOPS also benefits from a core of volunteers assisting with the
workshops. Scott Roland from the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics
and Planetology and Mike Shanahan of the Bishop Museum both volunteered
to work with the TOPS teachers this year. Not all of the volunteers
are professional astronomers. Amateur astronomers Jim Bedient, Forrest
Luke, and Bryant Webster-Schulz of the Hawaiian Astronomical Society
have been regular TOPS participants. They assist the students and
teachers with the observing projects.
Support for the TOPS workshops also comes from private donations
and in-kind support from both the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility
and the NASA Ames Research Center. For the second year in a row,
three staff members from the Astrobiology Institute at Ames worked,
at NASA's expense, with the teachers and students at HPA. Gretchen
Walker (University of Maryland), the outreach coordinator for NASA's
"Deep Impact" mission to comet Tempel 1 worked with the
teachers on demonstrations of cratering processes.
Another long-standing supporter of TOPS is Janet Mattei, the director
of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).
Dr. Mattei spends two weeks each summer working with the TOPS teachers
and students. She lectures on variable stars, introduces them to
the Hands-on Astrophysics exercises that AAVSO has developed, and
assists with observing projects.
At the annual TOPS banquet Nainoa Thompson, executive director
of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a former UH Regent, spoke
about Polynesian voyaging.
Additional information about TOPS is available on the IfA's Web
site at http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/tops.
Caleb Parsons and Victor Kim grind dry ice to make a "comet."