Last Friday night, 27 Sept 2013, was another session in the regular series of the SJAA Beginner Astronomy Class. There is usually a free, public star party happening at the same time, right outside during these classes.
During this session, we were given advance notice that two third grade classes, and their families, would be coming to both the class as well as the star party. These classes came from one of the schools that is part of Rocketship Education, a charter school system operating in less affluent areas of San Jose.
We’re not entirely sure if we did the math beforehand or not, but if we were to take the 30 to 40 third graders, then multiply that by, say, a family of four, we would get… well, one HUGE beginner class! And that’s exactly what showed up: Attendance estimates were up to 160 people of students, younger siblings, older siblings, moms, dads and even a grandma or two. They showed up not in individual automobiles, but a charter bus. Yes, that’s right not a yellow school bus, but a full size, dual axle charter bus. These families were here on a mission, a mission to get some exposure to astronomy science. And that’s exactly what we gave them.
Our regular beginner class instructor, Mark Wagner, became unavailable for personal reasons at the last minute. That left myself and Greg Claytor, another SJAA board member, to cover for him. Neither Greg nor I have ever led a beginner class before, but there was no way we could let these families down. We worked together earlier in the day to develop a game plan. What we came up with was a two-fold plan to first cover the basics of looking through a telescope, and second, what was up in the fall night sky. Greg did a great job of explaining how to approach a telescope, which end to look through and how to make sure that people were able to see something through the eyepiece. I proceeded to hand out a printout of the September Sky, that I downloaded from the Skymaps site.
After the class was finished, the teacher instructed the families on how to proceed to the telescopes, set up outside. He split them into two groups, the first would go straight over to the scopes, while the other group would hang out at the playground until about 30 or 45 minutes had passed. He was good enough to recognize that over 150 people lining up at only a dozen (or less! We didn’t know what the turnout would be) telescopes would not make for a pleasant experience.
The call for scopes I had put out the night before was a success. I counted at least thirteen scopes and binoculars lined up at ‘telescope row’. Though there were lines during some points that night, they were manageable and everyone seemed to have a great time. As I had noted in the call out for scopes, there were plenty of oohs and ahhs from people who had never looked through a telescope before. And that’s what many of these amateur astronomers like to do: We love to share the beautiful views of the night sky and the wondrous objects they contain. That makes it all worth it.
Big thanks go out to those SJAA Members and Friends who heeded the call. Without them, we would not have been able to make this evening a success.