Planetarium Director Derek Demeter will partner with Julie Gabrovic, a science lab teacher at Wekiva Elementary School in Longwood, in a weeklong internship at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland July 11-15.
The goal: To create a curriculum for the state’s new fifth-grade science standard related to the water cycle.
The internship, funded through NASA’s Terra Mission, emphasizes collaboration between educators and planetariums.
“Terra is a satellite that was launched in 1999 to study how different parts of the Earth work together to create the overall system,” says Holli Riebeek, education and public outreach specialist for the Terra Mission. “When you go to a planetarium, you see the Earth in a way you just can’t re-create in any other environment.”
In addition, digital technology has transformed planetariums, Riebeek says.
“In the past, they could put up the night sky, and that’s what planetariums were all about,” she says. “Now we have these really powerful computer programs that allow us to visualize a lot more. There are a lot of really fantastic things you can do with a digital planetarium that you couldn’t do 10 years ago, and we’re excited to take advantage of these new technologies.”
For instance, Seminole State’s Planetarium features live, interactive shows on topics ranging from alien sightings and Chinese astronomy to Maya culture and dinosaurs, all developed by planetarium staff.
“I like that innovative thinking,” Riebeek says.
While at Goddard, Demeter and Gabrovic will consult with NASA scientists and educators as they formulate the curriculum.
“I’ll develop some classroom activities to lead up to the planetarium experience,” Gabrovic explains. “Then we’ll have this planetarium experience, which would be a field trip, and then we’ll also have a follow-up activity when we get back to the classroom.”
Gabrovic and Demeter will have a year to develop and test their curriculum, including teaching it to Gabrovic’s fifth-graders. NASA analysts will evaluate the project and offer suggestions.
Once the curriculum gets the A-OK from NASA, it will be made available to planetariums throughout the country – and beyond.
“Planetariums around the world will be able to use the material in their facilities and to collaborate with their local school systems to include it in their science classes,” Demeter says.
The Seminole State planetarium holds public shows on Friday and Saturday evenings. Its weekday “Seminole Space Science” series makes the planetarium a popular field trip for elementary school students. Programs are also available for middle and high school students.