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HI STAR 2007: Summer Camp Meets the IfA

by Mary Kadooka and Catherine Garland

Project reports

Lauren Inaba (Hawaii), Asha Francisco (Maui), Jen and Shayne Rasay (Oahu), and Breanna Asuncion and James Mattos (Maui) presented their research projects. Photo by Karen Teramura. For more pictures, see HI STAR 2007 photos.

Astronomers at the University of Hawaii looked a little younger than usual this summer, as the IfA hosted HI STAR 2007 (Hawaii Student/Teacher Astronomy Research), a program for precollege students, June 17-23.

The 19 students, aged 12 to 18, were chosen from schools on Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu based on their interest and involvement in astronomy activities in their communities. Two teachers who serve as astronomy club advisors accompanied the Maui and Molokai students.

During the program, students embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Universe. They began by building a Universe timeline and then learned more about each portion of it: the evolution of stars and galaxies, the origin of comets, the inner workings of our Sun. Along with gaining background knowledge, students began learning the skills that will allow them to perform original research. For example, one group of students learned how to measure and plot the brightness of a variable star, while another learned how to calculate the mass of a galaxy from observations of hydrogen gas.

Inspired by the latest research showing the effectiveness of teaching astronomy in an interactive, learner-centered environment, the HI STAR instructors included a wide variety of activities and field trips in the week's schedule. Highlights included a Polynesian Voyaging show at the Bishop Museum's Planetarium, a tour of the Institute for Astronomy, lectures and impromptu talks by Institute astronomers, two nights of observing in Kapiolani Park with telescopes and binoculars, and two nights of remote observing on research-class telescopes, the Faulkes Telescope North (on Haleakala, Maui) and the DeKalb Observatory telescope in Indiana. The time difference meant the students could start observing at 4 p.m. Hawaii time. They did not waste a second, thanks to HI STAR instructor Mike Nassir, who usually teaches the UH Manoa Astronomy 110 laboratory course.

The main goal of the HI STAR program is to equip interested and talented students and their teachers with sufficient skills and knowledge so that they may pursue astronomy research during the school year. Asha Francisco, a student from King Kekaulike High School on Maui, for example, has already begun studying variable star X Cygnus with the assistance of mentor Donn Starkey of the DeKalb Observatory.

All who came in contact with the HI STAR students were wowed by their enthusiasm and dedication. Students expressed their happiness to be "learning all day." The only complaints heard all week were that the students wished for "longer days," "more lectures," and to "come back next year!" One student, Melody Lindsay, was chosen as a finalist in the American Harp Society Competition in Chicago this summer, but forfeited her spot to attend HI STAR. Did she think it was worth it? Melody writes, "On the first night of HI STAR, I looked up to the heavens and was overcome by a sense of awe, wonder, and MUSIC!" Inspired by her HI STAR experience, Melody composed two new astronomy-themed harp pieces and is delighted to have been able to combine her passions.

In conjunction with HI STAR 2007, Catherine Garland conducted a mentoring workshop on Oahu for IfA astronomers, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students who may be advising HI STAR students. In addition, Donn Starkey led a mentoring workshop on Maui for amateur astronomers and astronomy teachers.

While we work on pairing all HI STAR students with professional astronomer mentors, we are also planning HI STAR 2008. Look for more young faces, big smiles, and enthusiasm around the Institute next summer!

IfA education specialist Mary Kadooka organized and led HI STAR 2007. Catherine Garland, a UH astronomy graduate who now teaches at Castleton State College in Vermont, was a HI STAR 2007 instructor. HI STAR is funded mainly by a NASA IDEAS grant, with partial support from the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.       

For more information about past and future workshops for secondary teachers and precollege students, see www.ifa.hawaii.edu/workshops.