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Astronomy is the most accessible science. The movements of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars can be observed simply by looking up into the sky. Comet Hale-Bopp reminded us that the heavens can still surprise and delight the unaided eye. Discoveries made with the Hubble Space Telescope regularly receive prominent coverage by the press. During the summer of 1997, you could look at Mars in the evening sky as you entered your home, then view hours-old Pathfinder images from the surface of Mars on your TV or computer.

In spite of this, public understanding of simple astronomical facts remains unacceptably low. Much has been written on the subject of science literacy and how it might be improved. The most often heard recommendation is that science must be presented to the public, and especially school students, as an integral part of daily life, rather than an esoteric specialty unrelated to their post-graduation lives.

The Clark Foundation’s mission is to encourage informal science education in Utah in an effort to improve public science literacy. Although Project ASTRO involves the formal science education of students, it results in a significant humanization of students’ exposure to science and a greater integration of astronomy into their science education.

Multiple visits from a teacher’s astronomer-partner give students a chance to know their astronomer as a whole person. Project ASTRO’s enhancement of the astronomy curriculum is certainly valuable, but the opportunity for students get to know an astronomer as more than a one-time visiting lecturer, and learn why and how a scientific discipline can become a vocation or an avocation may be even more valuable.

Astronomy dominates the core science curriculum for sixth graders developed by the Utah State Office of Education. In this grade level Utah students receive their first in-depth instruction on the components and scale of the solar system, the solar system’s relationship to the galaxy, and the relationship of galaxies to the universe. Students also study the scientific principles and technology that make it possible to know about distant objects and the historical and contemporary scientists who have contributed to astronomy.

During this first year of operation, Project ASTRO UTAH directly involved approximately 800 sixth grade students in eleven Utah school districts. In its second year of operation the number of Utah school districts with teacher/astronomer partners has expanded to fourteen. Through this web site we hope to share the strategies and experiences of Project ASTRO UTAH participants among a significantly larger number of teachers and students.

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