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Journey through the Universe

Stephanie Slater teaches class about solar system.

At Keaukaha Elementary School, Stephanie Slater taught a class about the solar system. Photo by Inge Heyer.

Journey through the Universe, a national program that uses the Earth and space sciences to engage entire communities--students, teachers, families, and the public--in sustained science, math, and technology education activities, came to the Hilo area for the fourth straight year February 1-8. Scientists and educators from IfA, many of the observatories on Mauna Kea, `Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, the state Department of Education, UH Hilo, and Journey's National Science Team, as well as volunteers from the community, participated.

Journey through the Universe (JTTU) has been developed by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. Hilo is one of 10 communities around the nation that is designated as a Journey through the Universe site. In fact, Hilo's JTTU is considered the flagship program and is used as an example of how to run a community-wide astronomy education initiative. JTTU's goals are to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through interactions with current ones, give teachers the tools and training they need to teach dynamic science lessons, and provide opportunities for parents and their children to learn together.

Activities during the week-long program took place mainly at the `Imiloa Astronomy Center and in the classrooms of the North Hilo/Laupahoehoe/Waiakea public school complex. Five people from IfA—astronomers Paul Coleman and Colin Aspin, graduate student Joseph Masiero, and Gary Fujihara and Kenyan Beals from IfA's Office of Science Education and Public Outreach—brought astronomy to K-12 students with PowerPoint presentations and activities such as assembling cardboard telescopes to observe pictures of celestial objects that were hung on the walls.

This year's topic was energy, and the speakers were encouraged to include this topic in their talks. When Masiero spoke to second- and third-grade classes at Kapiolani Elementary School in Hilo, he showed them the scale of the brightness of objects, from light bulbs and people to galaxy clusters and gamma-ray bursts. Masiero notes, "The students in my classes got a kick out of the number of times I needed to say 'billion' to describe how many light bulbs would be needed to shine as brightly as a supernova."

One of the highlights of Journey Week was the Family Science Night at the `Imiloa Astronomy Center, where students and their families could mingle with the various presenters and look at the scientific and cultural exhibits on display there. The night was capped by a series of public talks from four of the presenters.