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IfA, TMT, and SUPER-M Team Up for Kona Teacher Workshop

by Roy Gal, IfA Astronomer and Outreach Coordinator

J. D. Armstrong teaches about Faulkes Telescope at Kona workshop
J. D. Armstrong talks about the Faulkes Telescope. Photo by Roy Gal.

The Big Island of Hawai‘i is host to a variety of astronomy outreach events coordinated by the Mauna Kea Astronomy Outreach Committee, which includes the IfA. Since most of the observatories are headquartered in Hilo, many of the activities have focused on that side of the island. Seeing the need for better outreach to the Kona side of Hawai‘i Island, the IfA and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) organized a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education workshop in Kona for middle and high school teachers in late October. Nearly a dozen scientists came from the Big Island, IfA Maui, and UH Mānoa to conduct the workshop.

On the evening of October 26, about a dozen teachers and students gathered at Kealakehe High School to learn how to remotely operate the Faulkes Telescope on Haleakalā. The Faulkes Telescope Project is an educational partner of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Its aim is to “provide free access to robotic telescopes and a fully supported education program to encourage teachers and students to engage in research-based science education.” IfA Maui Technology Education and Outreach Specialist J. D. Armstrong demonstrated how easy it is to control this two-meter research-grade telescope and take data for classroom projects. Both teachers and students got to choose targets and take their own images. Meanwhile, the West Hawaii Astronomy Club and Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station provided hands-on experience with smaller telescopes and kept attendees’ families entertained.

The next day began with a breakfast and physics education activities for teachers led by Armstrong and IfA Education Specialist Mary Kadooka. Teachers learned about electricity and magnetism and its role in the Sun, and received hands-on experience with spectroscopy and electromagnetism demonstrations and lessons. They also lent the teachers a full kit of electricity, magnetism, and light classroom equipment. At the same time, the teachers’ children were entertained with Lego robotics courtesy of the SUPER-M group. After lunch, we switched it around, and SUPER-M provided math exercises for the teachers while their families built a scale model solar system and experienced the portable StarLab planetarium.

The teachers were beyond enthusiastic and gave the program a huge thumbs up. They felt that they learned a great deal, that they had plenty to take back to their classrooms, and they really appreciated the child care. All of us who led the workshop also had a great time and loved to see the teachers so excited about what we taught them. We will go back to Kona at least once a year to continue this educational program, with more teachers joining us and with new activities.

The workshop was funded by observatory funds, the TMT, an IfA heliophysics grant from NASA, and the UH Mānoa SUPER-M math education team, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.