Astronomy 101

The FFL's Telescope

Last summer, the Fayetteville Free Library acquired a telescope: a Celestron NexStar 8 SE. We used the telescope once during the summer for a program called Daytime Astronomy which unfortunately happened on a rainy day so we weren’t able to view the sun through the solar filter. For the rest of the summer and into the fall, I eagerly anticipated that days when the sun would set early enough I could run a night-time astronomy program during library hours.

On January 20th, 2015 I finally began a 5-part Astronomy series for teens and families at the library. The purpose of this program was to introduce members of our community to the technology available in the library and to give them an introductory understanding of astronomy. I began each meeting by introducing a concept in astronomy. At the first meeting it was the names and orders of planets in our solar system followed by a description of how telescopes work. We were favored with a clear sky so we took the telescope outside to look at the stars despite the bitter cold. For every day that we had clear skies, we took the telescope outside for at least half an hour. That was usually enough time to set it up, focus on something, view it for 10 minutes, and then go back inside because our fingers were numb and our noses frozen (the average temperature was around 10 F). We got some very nice views of Jupiter and counted at least 5 of Jupiter’s moons.

Here are some of the activities we did:Measuring Craters

Observing Jupiter through the FFL TelescopeThere were at least 9 and as many as 19 participants at each meeting. Everyone participated with enthusiasm and curiosity and worked together for the activities. They all asked questions that I answered as best as I was able, sometimes writing them down so I could research the answer and give it to them at the next meeting. All of the parents who came were just as interested in the activities as their children, participating alongside them instead of the usual passive observation that you get from parents in most family library programs.

Because of the interest in and success of this program, I will be running it again in late October when there is at least an hour and a half of night before the library closes.

Advertisements

STEAMPunk Club!

Steampunk Digital Sign

The inspiration for this club is an indirect demand in our community for more STEM subject programming for teens. The community that supports us is home to one of the highest scoring school districts in the state for the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects and we have seen a push to promote STEM subjects through the adoption of Common Core standards in schools New York. In the Fayetteville Free Library, we like to add the A for art and make it STEAM instead. We have had success with programming for teens based around our maker culture and using the materials for our Fab Lab. We have also had outstanding response to our LEGO robotics programs. So, we decided to put some of those ideas together to create an ongoing afterschool club that will touch on all of these things while still involving literacy and reading.

The STEAMPunk Club gets its name from the steampunk YA genre and from STEAM subjects. STEAMPunk Club meets twice a month and every month is inspired by a steampunk YA novel. There are discussions relating to the book and then there are hands-on projects based on the book.

For example, our first month is inspired by Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld:

Description from Goodreads: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

In Leviathan, there is a girl masquerading as a boy so that she can be an airman and you have a princeling who has lost his kingdom. You also have world powers who use Darwin’s theories of evolution to engineer living creatures who can be used as war machines (Darwinists) and you have world powers who rely on engineering and physics to build mechanical wonders that are used as war machines (Clankers).

In our first meeting, we examined the creations of the Darwinists, specifically Leviathan itself, a massive air-beast that is reminiscent of a whale but flies through the air like a zeppelin. Obviously, we are unable to genetically engineer a Leviathan for ourselves in the library in 90 minutes, we we did discuss how it is that Leviathan and other flying ships work. After doing an experiment with water to illustrate clearly how hot water/air rises and cold water/air sinks, we then applied this principle to making hot air balloons from tissue paper. Unfortunately our hot air balloons were less airworthy than Leviathan, but we did enjoy making them nonetheless. My coworker and I had so much fun trying out the water experiment in advance, if you have any jars, I highly recommend it.

In our next meeting, we will discuss the meaning of bravery and compare Deryn’s definition with our own. And then we will go the Clanker route and build mechanical Walkers using LEGO Mindstorms. Our walkers will have four legs instead of two, but they will still give the club members an opportunity to understand how a simple walking machine works to give them an appreciation for the engineering involved.

So far, we have met only once and there were 4 teens who showed up. I hope that those who come will have so much fun they will spread the word among their friends and classmates. My goal is to have a core group of more than 10 teens show up to each meeting by May.