Press Release

Project ASTRO Celebrates 10 Years of Helping Kids Set Their Sights on the Stars

By SpaceRef Editor
April 15, 2004
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National astronomy education program has reached over 100,000 students during the last decade

This spring marks the 10th year of
Project ASTRO, an innovative program from the Astronomical Society of
the Pacific (ASP) that partners amateur and professional astronomers
with teachers around the country to give students a hands-on
introduction to astronomy. Since the program started in San
Francisco and Los Angeles classrooms in 1994, it has directly reached
more than 103,000 students, helping them enjoy and participate in the
excitement of scientific discovery. Project ASTRO is currently
operating through 12 regional sites across the nation.

Close to 2000 scientists, graduate students, and amateur astronomers
have been trained in 1-on-1 partnerships with local teachers since
the program began. Many of them report that going into their local
school has been the most satisfying volunteer experience of their
lives and has given them a new appreciation of the challenges all
teachers face in conveying science effectively. Each astronomer
adopts one classroom and visits at least four times during the school
year–but a few have become so involved they have gone back ten times
in a single semester! A key element in the success of the program is
that astronomers and teachers are first trained together at summer
workshops that guide them through teaching space science using a
variety of hands-on, inquiry-based activities. These include such
fun projects as “Toilet Paper Solar System,” “Invent an Alien,” and
“The Reasons for the Seasons Symposium.”

“When we began, there was a lot of concern whether we would find
enough volunteer astronomers who would take the time to visit a class
more than once,” says Andrew Fraknoi, the project’s founder and
director; “But we’ve seen that helping to turn kids on to science is
something to which both professional and amateur astronomers are
willing to give time and energy.” Fraknoi came up with the idea of
Project ASTRO in the early 1990’s when teachers at the Society’s
education workshops kept describing their fear of teaching astronomy.

The project began with support from the National Science Foundation
and NASA’s Office of Space Science, although since 1999, all the
regional sites – – from Boston to San Diego – have found their own
funding from local and national sources. Each site is supported by a
coalition of educational and scientific organizations in its
community, with a local “lead institution” coordinating the project.
These lead institutions vary from a community college in New Jersey
to a university in Seattle and even include the National Optical
Astronomy Observatories in Tucson (see full list below). The leaders
of the Project ASTRO regional sites have formed a “national network”
to exchange ideas and seek solutions to the challenges of running the
project on a shoestring. At this year’s network meeting, to be held
May 21-22 at the University of Washington in Seattle, they will
celebrate the project’s 10th anniversary and plan for new ways of
expanding the program.

The effect of the project is not limited to the regional sites and
schools that have astronomer-teacher partnerships. Project ASTRO
materials (particularly its manuals of classroom-tested astronomy
activities in English and in Spanish) are now in independent use in
tens of thousands of school districts, museums, and planetaria around
the world.

“One of the best things about Project ASTRO is that it shows students
that astronomy can be interesting, interactive, and within the grasp
of everyone,” said Cathy Clemens, the project’s site coordinator in
Boston. “Working in a hands-on environment, students are put in the
role of being scientists, so it becomes the children’s questions that
drive their own inquiry and help them find answers.”

In 2001, the ASP branched out in a new direction with “Family ASTRO”
(also supported by the National Science Foundation), developing
special hands-on astronomy events, games and kits for family groups.
Family ASTRO is currently being tested in eight sites around the

* For downloadable Project ASTRO images, visit:

* For additional participant quotes and a list of Project ASTRO FAQs, contact
Kirsten Maynard at 415-350-4147 or

* For more general information about Project ASTRO, visit the program
web site at:

About the Astronomical Society of the Pacific:
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is the oldest and
largest general astronomy organization in the U.S., with members in
all 50 states and in more than 70 other nations. The ASP is a
recognized leader in the field of astronomy education, with programs
and materials for students and educators from elementary school to
the university level, as well as for the public at large. The
Society publishes a respected monthly scientific journal, a free
web-based teacher’s newsletter, and a popular magazine. For more
information about the ASP and its programs, visit or phone 415-337-1100 x 121.

The Project ASTRO National Network:

1. Boston, Massachusetts

Lead Institutions: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and
Boston Museum of Science

2. Connecticut

Lead Institution: Wesleyan University

3. Inland Northwest (E. Washington, Idaho)

Lead Institution: Washington State University

4. Nevada

Lead Institution: Space Science for Schools and Sierra Nevada College

5. New Jersey

Lead Institution: Raritan Valley Community College

6. New Mexico

Lead Institution: New Mexico Museum of Space History

7. Northwestern Michigan

Lead Institution: Northwestern Michigan College

8. Ohio

Lead Institution: Ohio Space Grant Consortium

9. San Francisco Bay Area, California

Lead Institution: Astronomical Society of the Pacific

10. San Diego, California

Lead Institution: San Diego State University

11. Seattle, Washington

Lead Institution: University of Washington

12. Tucson, Arizona

Lead Institution: National Optical Astronomy Observatory

**Network “Satellite”

Hawaii (offering Family ASTRO only)

Lead Institutions: Gemini and W.M. Keck Observatories

SpaceRef staff editor.