Have you ever met a kindergartner who can recite a monologue about the lifecycle of a red giant star? Maybe you personally know 130 elementary school rocket scientists. Perhaps 20 preschoolers have serenaded you with bilingual songs about the Sun. If this sounds familiar, you might be an outreach educator for the Adler Planetarium.
As the primary Adler outreach facilitator, I navigate Chicagoland, delivering programs for the most interesting, funny, and enthusiastic minds of our community. Usually these people are 3 to 10 years old. Often, they cannot enjoy a visit to the Adler, so imagine my pleasure in spending each week bringing the Adler to them!
Each workday is a new adventure. I began last week leading a three-day aerodynamics workshop at Mahalia Jackson Park. As a section of the Chicago Park District’s Park Voyagers series, students spent their final hour with Adler staff, working in teams to design, construct, test and redesign a rocket that could soar “into space” (the gymnasium ceiling) and safely land an “astronaut” (binder clip) back on earth. Through fun, creativity, confidence building, and exploration, Park Voyagers fosters positive attitudes in these kids for future science involvement.
Park Voyagers workshops segued into a full day with Elmo and 120 enthralled K-2nd grade students in Pilsen. Through our Early Childhood Traveling Science Outreach Program, underwritten by JP Morgan Chase, Big Bird inspired John Walsh Elementary students to draw their own constellations and observe a lunar environment inside our inflatable theater. In our final program, we reached a milestone for outreach, presenting One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure to over 2,000 participants! This session finished with an intense Q & A. Students challenged our wits, asking about the composition of Venus, how planets float in space, and why Uranus is upside-down.
If we aren’t leading early childhood or aerodynamics programs in the city, we are running moon phase relays in the suburbs, or at a girl scouts STEAM event, inspiring 400 girls to investigate what happens to shaving cream in the vacuum of outer space. However, young space explorers are not the only ones who awe me. My community colleagues are teachers, administrators, parents or librarians. Each collaborates with the Adler to achieve a unified set of education goals.
“What I like the most about the Adler Dome experience is that it is like being in the planetarium, full of magic and excitement,” was the response of a local teacher to her outreach encounter. Another educator emphasized the importance of outreach to her students, because they “don't get to go out and have museum days with their families as much as other families do.” Thanks to my position, I meet the incredible adults who work so hard on a daily basis to give their students a brighter future.
Written by Megan Connolly, assistant outreach coordinator at the Adler Planetarium.