Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Good heavens! Astro Campers actually eager to study stars - By Peter Burkey

As a retired high school algebra teacher, I can remember sitting around the teachers' lounge wondering with my colleagues what it would be like to have a class full of wide-eyed students who actually wanted to learn. Two weeks ago I had he privilege of having just such an experience. I was guest instructor at Kids Astro Camp, a program offered at Camp Eberhart, a YMCA-sponsored camp just west of Three Rivers, Michigan.

Campers in the program came to us for three hours each afternoon plus several more hours of observing at night after stories and marshmallows around a campfire. What a joy it was to work with twelve enthusiastic young people (their ages ranged from 9 to 15) who were truly interested in what they were learning.

And learn they did! The afternoons were spent on astronomy activities such as making planispheres and water rockets. We had two beautiful, clear nights during which the kids identified stars and constellations and observed nebulae and galaxies through very nice 8-inch telescopes provided by the program. We also observed many satellites, meteors, and the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mercury.

Some of the campers became so advanced that they could find an object on their star chart, aim the telescope correctly, observe the object at different magnifications, and record their observation in their logbook.

But for me, the real satisfaction came from knowing that I was passing along to the next generation knowledge of the universe, some of which dates back to ancient times. If only a few of these youngsters become inspired to further their understanding, or take up astronomy as a hobby or even a career, my mission is complete. Interestingly, while I was there, I met a gentleman who was returning to camp for the first time in 20 or so years to thank the director of the Astro Camp program for his inspiration. The man went on to become a rocket scientist and currently works on the Space Shuttle main engine.

So, parents, take your kids out and show them the night sky, or learn about it together, even if it's simple things like the moon or a sunset. It's fun, inexpensive family entertainment and a rewarding experience as well.