he Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has developed a three-year program to provide park rangers, nature center interpreters, and other educators from informal outdoor settings with the training and materials necessary to bring the excitement of astronomy and NASA science to their audiences. Many visitors to parks and nature centers express interest in observing the dark night skies in those settings, but the interpreters are often uncomfortable presenting astronomy content, since they lack the proper background and training. In cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), and the Association for Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the ASP had developed a program of in-person and online professional development and materials for these interpreters to meet their audiences' demands for more astronomy programming and to build capacity for participating parks and nature centers to continue to incorporate astronomy and space science into their interpretive programs.
The project team has the following goals for the Sky Rangers program:
- Provide training and materials to 240 interpreters from national, state and county parks and nature centers to enable them to make connections to NASA science and discoveries through interpretive programs under the real sky in park settings.
- Conduct regional workshops at Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, and Acadia National Parks on astronomy education, sky navigation, telescopic observation, and the latest NASA science.
- Conduct four six-week online workshops on astronomy education, sky navigation, and the latest NASA science.
- Conduct three two-week online follow-up workshops on seasonal skies.
- Create an Outdoor Educator Toolkit of activities and materials, based on NSN ToolKits, rich in NASA-related science, and appropriate to interpretive programs in outdoor settings.
- Build capacity of participating institutions by having each program participant train at least two apprentices at their home institutions to carry out astronomy programming on an ongoing basis, beyond the period of the grant.
- Expand the existing community of practice established through Astronomy from the Ground Up to over 500 informal science educators and interpreters in all fifty states and shape it toward a more self-sustaining community that will continue long after the period of the grant. The community is currently made up of 280 educators in 46 states, plus Washington, D.C.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP)
- National Park Service (NPS),
- National Association for Interpretation (NAI)
- Association for Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
SUMMARY OF PARTICIPANTS TRAINED:
Onsite Workshops = 85 participants + 51 apprentices = 136 total
Online Workshop 1 = 196 + 40 = 236 total
Effectiveness and Impact:
We are currently conducting a survey of all participants of past Sky Rangers workshops, as well as their “apprentices”, i.e. the colleagues that they trained on the Sky Rangers materials and techniques after participating in a workshop. The survey was sent to 246 participants with a completion deadline on June 2, 2013. As of May 28, the survey had 100 responses. This report partially summarizes those responses.
Responses came from participants of the following workshops described in Table 1.
Table 1: Responses from participants of past workshops
Workshop, Response Percent, Response Count
- Bryce Canyon NP, Fall 2009, 13%, 13
- Online Workshop, Winter 2010, 7%, 7
- Yosemite NP, Fall 2010, 10%, 10
- Online Workshop, Winter 2011, 28%, 28
- Acadia NP, Fall 2011, 11%, 11
- Online Workshop, Winter 2012, 21%, 21
- Online Workshop, Winter 2013, 17%, 17
- Apprentice (trained by workshop participant), 2%, 2
Participants were asked to rate how their participation in Sky Rangers influenced them in certain areas of their work, rating from 0 (no increase) to 6 (strong increase). Average ratings ranged from 3.48 to 4.89. The lowest ratings were for the two categories involving the operation of observing equipment, a topic only covered in the in-person workshops and not in the online workshops. When the responses for these two categories are filtered to only include the responses from participants of in-person workshops, those ratings jump from 3.48 and 3.49, respectively, to 4.53 and 4.53, respectively, which puts the range of average ratings at 4.07 to 4.89. The percent of ratings of 5 or 6 for each category ranged from 32% to 71%. Again, when the two categories involving observing equipment are filtered by responses from participants of in-person workshops, their percentage of ratings of 5 or 6 jump from 32% and 34%, respectively, to 62% and 59%, which puts the range of percentage of ratings of 5 or 6 at 43% to 71%. Below is a complete table (Table 2) of these ratings, including both filtered and non-filtered results for the categories involving observing equipment.
Table 2: The degree to which participation in Sky Rangers influenced participants in the following areas
0 - No increase 1 2 3 4 5 6 - Strong increase, Rating Average
- Comfort level using specific activities from the workshop(s ):
0.0% (0 ) 0.0% (0 ) 3.0% (3) 7.0% (7) 26.0% (26) 31.0% (31) 33.0% (33), 4.84
- Knowledge about doing specific activities from the workshop(s )
0.0% (0 ) 0.0% (0 ) 3.0% (3) 6.0% (6) 23.0% (23) 36.0% (36) 32.0% (32), 4.88
- Skills in using hands-on interpretive tools from the workshop(s )
0.0% (0 ) 1.0% (1) 1.0% (1) 7.0% (7) 23.0% (23) 36.0% (36) 32.0% (32), 4.88
- Comfort level teaching hands-on astronomy
1.0% (1) 1.0% (1) 3.0% (3) 8.0% (8 ) 16.0% (16) 44.0% (44) 27.0% (27), 4.77
- Knowledge about astrophysics/astronomy
0.0% (0 ) 0.0% (0 ) 9.0% (9) 10.0% (10) 22.0% (22) 35.0% (35) 24.0% (24) , 4.55
- Skills in expanding astronomy education at my institution
0.0% (0 ) 0.0% (0 ) 1.0% (1) 12.0% (12) 18.0% (18) 35.0% (35) 34.0% (34), 4.89
- Comfort level answering astronomy-related questions
0.0% (0 ) 1.0% (1) 6.0% (6) 20.0% (20) 25.0% (25) 29.0% (29) 19.0% (19), 4.32
- Skills in responding to audience questions
0.0% (0 ) 3.0% (3) 7.0% (7) 14.0% (14) 33.0% (33) 27.0% (27) 16.0% (16), 4.22
- Knowledge about hands-on teaching and interpretation
3.0% (3) 5.0% (5) 10.0% (10) 12.0% (12) 24.0% (24) 26.0% (26) 20.0% (20), 4.07
- Knowledge about organizing astronomy events
2.0% (2) 0.0% (0 ) 9.0% (9) 15.0% (15) 22.0% (22) 31.0% (31) 21.0% (21), 4.32
- Skills in operating observing equipment such as telescopes
12.0% (12) 4.0% (4) 9.0% (9) 24.0% (24) 19.0% (19) 14.0% (14) 18.0% (18), 3.48
- Comfort level in operating observing equipment
12.0% (12) 4.0% (4) 8.0% (8 ) 24.0% (24) 21.0% (21) 13.0% (13) 18.0% (18), 3.49
- Skills in operating observing equipment such as telescopes
(filtered to only show responses from participants of in-person workshops)
2.9% (1) 2.9% (1) 2.9% (1) 17.6% (6) 11.8% (4) 26.5% (9) 35.3% (12), 4.53
- Comfort level in operating observing equipment (filtered to only show responses from participants of in-person workshops)
2.9% (1) 2.9% (1) 2.9% (1) 11.8% (4) 20.6% (7) 26.5% (9) 32.4% (11), 4.53
Participants were asked how often they hosted astronomy events before and after their participation in Sky Rangers. Before participation in Sky Rangers, 33% of participants never hosted astronomy events, and only 22% reported hosting more than five astronomy events per year. After participation in Sky Rangers, only 2% of participants never hosted astronomy events, and 62% of participants hosted at least five events per year, with 19% hosting fifteen or more events per year. Results are summarized below in Tables 3a. and 3b.
Table 3a. Frequency of astronomy events hosted before participation in Sky Rangers
Response Frequency: Percent, Count
- 15 or more times a year: 11.0%, 11
- 5 – 14 times a year: 11.0%, 11
- 1 – 4 times a year: 35.0%, 35
- Less than once a year: 10.0%, 10
- Never: 33.0%, 33
Table 3b. Frequency of astronomy events hosted after participation in Sky Rangers
Response Frequency: Percent, Count
- 15 or more times a year: 19.0%, 19
- 5 – 14 times a year: 43.0%, 43
- 1 – 4 times a year: 34.0%, 34
- Less than once a year: 2.0%, 2
- Never: 2.0%, 2
Participants were asked to comment on how their participation in Sky Rangers has influenced their astronomy programs. The most common responses included a personal increase in knowledge and confidence, and an increase in the frequency and quality of astronomy programming. Here is a selection of responses:
- My knowledge base, my ability to answer questions and to go into further detail based on interest, has increased a lot, which enhances my programs. The toolkit comes with activities that have been very popular with visitors and coworkers. I have been able to train others to help lead astronomy programs.
- I never did astronomy programs before, so participation in the Sky Ranger program greatly influenced me. It gave me the groundwork to be able to do programs and the basic knowledge to feel comfortable talking about Astronomy.
- Can't even begin to say how important and helpful the training and participation has been!!!!! Before the training I knew very little, but now I can refer to myself as an astronomer!! Because of Sky Rangers and AFGU and ASP and all the training I added astronomy programs to our slate of education programs for schools. Before all I was doing was 2-3 evening stargazing programs. I am so thankful for the opportunities and connections!!!!!
- It has given me confidence to talk about, give programs of and discuss the night sky like I've never experienced before. Our park never had astronomy programs until we participated in the Sky Ranger program.
- I would not have given astronomy programs without the workshop. Between the hands on experience with the equipment and the examples of the activities, it made me believe I could give a program.
- Now, we have some! We do quarterly constellation hikes at my facility that are quite popular. We also usually do at least one hands-on activity before, after, or during each hike as well.
- The many options of activities allows me to pick and choose and truly customize each event based on the audience age and knowledge base. There are so many more hands-on activities that I can now offer.
Participants were also asked to comment on what was most useful about their participation in Sky Rangers and Astronomy from the Ground Up. Responses mentioned the toolkit of materials and hands-on activities, the hands-on training, the increased science knowledge and familiarity with the sky, and the connection to other astronomy interpreters through the AFGU online community. Here is a selection of responses:
- I have found the astronomy kit to be very helpful. It was great to have something to start with because it allowed me to get programs going right off the bat without having to locate all of the materials necessary. It also included information I would not have been able to obtain or produce.
- I LOVED the star hopping activities! The night sky has become so much more familiar to me, and I look forward to sharing that with visitors. The program gave us lots of practical advice about how to host a star party. THE HANDS ON TRAINING AT THE WORKSHOP WAS INCREDIBLE. It enabled me to understand more astronomy concepts and gave me the ability to share with others. The confidence-boost I now have in my ability to offer these programs--even though I am still learning. Seeing that people are excited to learn about the new discoveries I have made through this AFGU program and who also want to learn WITH me.
The two primary impacts from this program are increased astronomy programming in participating parks and increased skills and confidence in the interpretive rangers presenting those programs. See Tables 3a and 3b above.