Fall 2018 First Light Highlights – by Stephanie Williams

The first few weeks of our First Light Saturday Science Program have been packed! Middle school students from public schools throughout Washington, DC, learned everything from what space really is, to how scientists study light. Each and every class has been filled with hands-on activities to encourage engagement and learning.

We started our term learning about how much empty space there actually is in our solar system (and space in general!) by creating our own scale models. First, the class worked together on a large model, guessing where planets should be, and then making their own pocket-sized scale models of our solar system to keep in their lab notebooks. Our students were very surprised to learn how close the first few planets were to the Sun, while the the last couple planets were so far away and so spread apart. At the end of class, students were assigned their term project topics which included black holes, exoplanets, telescopes, galaxies, supernovae and more.

During week two we learned all about the diversity of the electromagnetic spectrum! Students were introduced to the wide variety of wavelengths and their uses, then they learned how scientists use the electromagnetic spectrum to see things in space. Finally, each student made their very own spectroscope and used them to observe different elements and their diffraction patterns. Spectroscopes are a specific kind of scientific equipment used for observing the patterns light makes from different objects. These patterns are called spectra.

For week three, First Light took on the Air and Space Museum! Students were able to fully explore the Smithsonian — student groups completed a scavenger hunt for prizes, researched their topics, watched the “Journey to the Stars” planetarium show, and marveled at the airplane Amelia Earhart piloted.

The remainder of the term is sure to be exciting! We will finish up our projects, meet scientists, and learn all about stars and their role in sustaining life in the universe.

By Stephanie Williams
Stephanie Williams is the lead First Light instructor and is finishing her degree in astrophysics at the University of Maryland. After she graduates she plans to pursue a career in science education and outreach.

Be sure to check out other First Light blog posts here.

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