Use for astronomers: Skype a Scientist and Dark Skies, Bright Kids – Astrobites | Team Cansler

This post is part of our series designed to showcase the different types of outreach activities you can do as a graduate student, undergraduate, or as an astronomer at any stage in your career! In each post we focus on one national organization and one local group.

Skype a scientist logo. Image from Skype a Scientist.

National: Skype a Scientist (by Briley Lewis)

What is Skype a Scientist?

Skype a Scientist is a program that connects scientists of all kinds with classrooms and other groups, created by Dr. Sarah McAnulty, the extraordinary squid scientist, and staff. Their goal is to “give students the opportunity to meet a real scientist and get the answers to their questions straight from the source.” Scientists can subscribe to be matched with groups, teachers and families who speak to them want, and vice versa (e.g. teachers can sign up to be matched with a scientist). And to be clear, if you are a graduate student – ​​YES, you are a scientist! Not only do you want volunteers from different scientific fields, but you may also be at different career stages. Skype a Scientist has recently expanded to also host a few other events such as weekly science quizzes (for adults) and Skype a Scientist Live sessions for everyone to tune in to!

Why did you join Skype a Scientist?

I’ve always loved sharing science with people who don’t normally get to see it up close. I’m the only professional scientist in my family, and I find that the real day-to-day reality of how science works and what scientists do is very poorly understood. 81% of Americans can’t name a living scientist, and Skype a Scientist is a great way to put faces and personalities to the current scientific endeavors they hear about and help bridge that gap.

What do you do in Skype a Scientist?

As a scientist, schedule a time to skype/zoom with a class and then show up! It’s up to you and the teacher you’re working with to decide whether you want to give students a short presentation or just give Q&A. I have personally found that students usually have LOTS of questions (especially the younger ones) and this can easily take up all of our time! It’s really great to feel the students’ energy and enthusiasm for your field of science, and they often ask really interesting and creative questions too.

A class of young elementary school students staring at a large screen on which scientist/author Briley Lewis is explaining about space via Zoom
Astrobites author Briley Lewis speaks to classes on Skype a Scientist. Pictures of teacher Natalie Cravens.
A classroom with roughly high school age students Students waving with Briley on a laptop at the front of the classroom wave back.
Astrobites author Briley Lewis speaks to classes on Skype a Scientist. Pictures of teacher Sara Morrison.

That sounds interesting! How can I get involved?

On the scientist’s page you can register to be matched with this form. If you’re a teacher or anyone else interested in getting a scientist to speak to your group, check out their other ways to get involved and request a scientist! If you’re not really interested in participating but it sounds like an effort you’d like to support, they accept donations, have a Patreon, and even sell cool merch.

Four people stand outside at night with starry sky and letters "DSBK" written in light in a long exposure image
Dark sky bright kids logo light painting. Image by Abby Wagoner.

Local: Dark Skies, Bright Kids (by Abby Waggoner)

What is Dark Skies, Bright Kids?

Dark Skies, Bright Kids (DSBK) is a volunteer organization run primarily by astronomy students at the University of Virginia. DSBK’s mission is to “encourage the natural curiosity of children in the community [particularly in underserved areas] by helping them explore the universe in a social setting with fun, hands-on activities.” While DSBK interacts with the community through a variety of events, such as: B. Volunteering at the local Discovery Museum and hosting an annual star party with telescopes and constellation tours, our primary function is to host after-school and summer clubs. During the clubs, children are introduced to a range of astronomical topics ranging from the solar system to astrobiology and the electromagnetic spectrum. To ensure our classes are accessible to all children, every DSBK event is completely free.

In a previous piece, I covered DSBK’s mission in more detail, along with the organization’s transition to a virtual world in 2020-2021, but here I want to highlight a few ways that DSBK’s developed resources and experiences can be applied to your own can be used municipality.

Young students sit in a circle and play with modeling clay to create planets
Here our 2022 summer campers learn about the proportions of planets. The goal is to create all of the planets (plus the Moon and Pluto) to an exact scale using 3 pounds of playdough or clay. In case you’re wondering: yes. Pluto is very hard to do. Image by DSBK.

Why did you register for the DSBK?

The majority of astronomers identify as white males, while women and other genders and minorities are drastically underrepresented in the field. DSBK’s mission is to bring science closer to underserved and underrepresented individuals in the STEM field who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to experience a “Science Camp.” The ideals of DSBK are very close to my heart as I come from an area where there are very few opportunities to explore science (my high school didn’t even offer a physics course for example). When I volunteer at DSBK, I often see myself in the excited kids learning science concepts they might not otherwise have been exposed to. We have reached over 24,000 children in 12 years and I can’t help but wonder which of them may become scientists in the years to come.

A person looks through a telescope at a field
S and several DSBK volunteers set up telescopes for a public observing night called the “Star Party”. Image by DSBK

How can I introduce astronomy to my local community?

Unfortunately, each community has different resources and experiences, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Setting up or organizing an outreach program can be a challenge (or even a full-time job). So if you are interested in scientific outreach, it may be easier to join already established programs.

Below I’ve included a small list of places where DSBK has had the most success in connecting with our community. Note that this list is not exhaustive and your success in finding events or making connections will depend heavily on your region.

  1. Check with local museums or libraries. These places are often looking for organizations to teach or volunteer at camps and events. Organizations like this are also likely to host larger events where you could potentially volunteer without having to organize anything.
  2. Contact a local after-school program. After school clubs are a very popular place to volunteer and many have even established events for you to attend. Some great examples of extracurricular organizations (at least in the United States) are the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.
  3. Find out if your community has a local astronomy club. Many cities may have a club for amateur astronomers, and these clubs can be a good resource for making connections in your community.

I would like to note that I have not included schools in this list as there are often many regulations governing working with schools and it can be difficult to volunteer in a school system unless you are already part of an established organisation.

Are there any tools I can use to teach astronomy?

Yes! There are a variety of resources, lesson plans, and even YouTube tutorials on astronomy and science activities for kids, including activity sheets created by DSBK volunteers. In my personal experience, many adults enjoy the activities as much as the children. If you are interested in leading astronomy activities, the DSBK activity sheets are a great free resource as they provide step-by-step instructions on concepts such as rockets, the solar system, stars, galaxies and more. Some of our activities are also available in Spanish and we are in the process of translating more resources. All activities can be done at home with everyday essentials, so you don’t need any special equipment or tools to do them.

Astrobite edited by: Katya Gozman

Photo credit: Skype a Scientist

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