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Monte Vista sixth-graders view night skies

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Monte Vista hosted a star party for sixth graders and their families with telescopes provided by volunteers from the SLAS (City Journals)

About 80 sixth-graders and their families gathered around telescopes set up by the Salt Lake Astronomical Society on their playground.

It was an effort by teacher Alicia Rasmussen and the sixth-grade team of teachers to introduce students to the night skies before they begin learning about space.

“We saw Saturn, which was super cool, and galaxies and double stars,” Rasmussen said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity for our students and their families to see what is up in the night sky.”

For two hours, students had the chance to step up to the seven or eight telescopes to witness what the astronomers had visible in their scopes.

“The astronomers talked to the students as they came up to the telescopes, explaining what they were seeing in the telescopes and how the constellations that are visible change according to the season,” she said.

Rasmussen said when students learn about the night skies this winter, they also will learn about the moon and its phases. On that night, Sept. 12, the moon wasn’t visible.

“We can use this firsthand experience to understand the concepts of what we’ll be studying better,” she said. “When they read it in a book, most don’t understand it as well as when they internalize it by doing it.” 

With the sixth-grade curriculum, students also will learn about gravity, scale of the solar system, constellations and more.

“We talked about what we saw the following day and shared with other students who weren’t able to make it,” she said. “We’ll pull in our experiences again when we study it.”

Rasmussen got the idea to bring in the Salt Lake Astronomic Society last year after seeing a flier about star parties at the Clark Planetarium.

“Last year, students loved it, and it was a fun, different experience,” she said. “I received positive feedback from parents as well. We love it when community members can bring something into our schools and teach it to students.”

Because it was such a hit with students then, Rasmussen decided to repeat it this year. She anticipates it will be an annual event.

“This year, the students were really excited,” she said. “I heard them talking with parents about what they were seeing while waiting to look into another telescope. Some parents who were there got information about how to hold their own star parties. This was the first time some kids had looked through a telescope. They’ve been telling me what they learned and how cool this was. For some, it’s been their favorite school activity in elementary school.” 

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