Planetarium fosters learning for people of all ages

BY ALISON SMITH
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It’s a brisk Saturday morning, and the empty halls in Bridges are bustling with miniature voices, filled with excitement for the out-of-this-world experience they are about to embark on.

The MSUM planetarium has started their series of winter shows, providing education for children of all ages about the sky above us, as well as an indispensible learning experience for MSUM students.

Community support

Thanks to a couple generous grants from the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation and Midcontinent Communications, children in the F-M area are able to spend the weekend with their favorite Sesame Street characters, learning about the sky above us.

This isn’t the first time that the planetarium has offered a show geared toward a younger audience. Last year the Sky Zoo presentation, produced locally in cooperation with the Red River Zoo, incorporated basic astronomy lessons with the animals at the local zoo.

This show is different in a couple ways. Rather than focusing on the connection between the constellations and the animals they represent, “One World, One Sky – Big Bird’s Adventure” focuses on the interconnectedness of people around the world.

“People in China see the same stars that we see, so it fosters that idea,” said David Weinrich, planetarium coordinator, “and they have some fun as they learn about science and the world around them.”

Another, much more expensive, difference is the cost of the show. “One World, One Sky” is a multi-million dollar production developed by the Adler Planetarium and the Beijing Planetarium.

“The zoo one was a local production that we spent a few hundred dollars on,” Weinrich said. “These programs (One World, One Sky), since they cost millions of dollars to produce, are quite expensive to purchase … This particular one for us was $7,000.”

FMAF had provided previous support for the planetarium with a grant that helped with the purchase of the digital projector system. Sara Schultz, MSUM instructor and assistant director for College for Kids, knew of their financial support and, after writing a grant, received $3,150 for the show. Schultz was made aware of the Midcontinent grant from another faculty member and received $1,000 from them as well.

“We have a very limited budget for purchasing new shows each year,” Schultz said. “This grant support allows us to grow the available offerings much more quickly so we can have a larger catalog of shows to offer school and public groups.”

Schultz said that without the support of these local organizations it would have taken two years to save enough money to purchase the Sesame Street show.

Education for all ages

Elementary age children aren’t the only ones who benefit from what the planetarium has to offer. Another show running through March is oriented more toward upper elementary and above.

“IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System” is about the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite that is exploring an invisible boundary between our solar system and the rest of the galaxy called the heliopause.

Different from the gravitational boundary, the heliopause measures as far as the solar winds travel and offers a different way to look at the question, “How big is our solar system?”

But the learning doesn’t stop there. Not only are local elementary, middle and high school students able to take something away from these planetarium shows, but also students at MSUM looking to get involved with the planetarium receive a different type of learning experience.

Student workers are responsible for running the shows, along with Weinrich. “One of the purposes of education at MSUM, besides the academics, is the chance for students to gain experience,” Weinrich said. “In this case, they are learning how to present before others … it helps them develop poise and communication skills.”

Tyler Lane, senior physics major, astronomy minor and self-proclaimed “teaching entertainer,” is one of the student workers who present the shows to the public.

“I’ve grown adapt, growing up myself, speaking to audiences,” Lane said. “Now it helps me actually develop a rhythm and a flow, the more advanced part of actually presenting something.”

Weinrich and Lane both spoke of the importance in gaining experience in public speaking and presenting. “Almost every job involved presentation, giving talks or speaking in some way,” Weinrich said, “if nothing else, going in to your boss and asking for a raise.”

“All these sciences have to present something sometime in their career,” Lane said. “It’s when you finally get that moment to shine, you’ll actually be able to shine even brighter than the ones who haven’t had those courses.”

“One World, One Sky” shows at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays until March 9. “IBEX” shows at 7 p.m. on Mondays until March 10 In Bridges 167. Admission is $5 for the general public or $2.50 for children 12 and under, seniors 62 and over and Tri-College students.

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