Solar Observing in Schools

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation though grant AST-1351222


  1. to provide teacher professional development in astronomy, including exposure to 'state of the art' research
  2. to provide access to solar telescopes for schools.  We have 10 Coronado Personal Solar Telescopes to be loaned out to Detroit schools.

Credit: NASA/SDO









2017 Astronomy Teacher Professional Development Day

The 2017 Astronomy Teacher Professional Development Day will take place on Saturday, May 13 at the Wayne State University Planetarium.  Two previous days were held on April 16, 2016 and April 18, 2015.

  • A one-day teacher professional development session broadly covering astronomy and highlighting current interesting areas of research related to the school curriculum
  • The session includes training in using the solar telescopes, and classroom exercises that go along with them.
  • To be eligible to borrow the solar telescopes teachers must have taken part in the training.
  • For more on the program see the Rationale below

Program and associated materials:

9:00 - 9:30 Introduction and entrance survey PDF
9:30 - 10:30 The Sun & the lifecycle of stars PDF
10:30 - 10:45 Break  
10:45 - 11:00 In-class solar activities and exercises

Class exercises intro

Solar observing intro

Solar rotation class exercise

11:00 - 12:00 Observing with solar telescopes

Equipment checklist

Telescope setup guide

Basic solar observing and photography

12:00 - 1:00 Lunch  
1:00 - 1:30 Formation and evolution of solar systems PDF
1:30 - 2:00 Formation and evolution of the Universe PDF
2:00 - 3:00 Introduction to the Zooniverse PDF
3:15 - 3:45 Wonders of the Universe  
3:45 - 4:15 Stellar death: white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes PDF
4:15 - 4:45 Black Holes: the other side of infinity  
4:45 - 5:00 Concluding remarks and exit survey Useful resources









Solar Telescopes:

Please contact Joy Reynolds at Detroit Public Schools on how to borrow the solar telescopes.

After borrowing the solar telescopes, we ask that teachers fill in details of the use of the telescopes, and upload any good pictures here

Teachers are also asked to complete a feedback survey about their experience using the telescopes, which can be found here


About Ed Cackett:

Ed obtained his PhD from the University of St Andrews in Scotland where his thesis looked at 'Accretion onto Compact Objects in Active Galactic Nuclei and X-ray binaries', in other words how stuff gets pulled onto black holes and neutron stars, an area which remains his main interest.  After his PhD, Ed was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan where he was awarded a prestigious NASA Chandra Postdoctoral Fellow.  After 4 years at the University of Michigan, Ed moved back to his native England, to work at the University of Cambridge where he spent 18 months at the Institute of Astronomy.   In January 2012 he moved back to Michigan to Wayne State University as an Assistant Professor.  He was recently awarded an NSF Early Career award which is the agency's most prestigious award for up-and-coming researchers in science and engineering.



Program Rationale:

One of the major education related issues facing the United States is maintaining a science-educated work force.   This issue is highlighted by the fact that the percentage of bachelor's degrees conferred in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the United States was lower in 2008–09 (24.2%) than it was in 1998–99 (25.6 %) (Source: US Department of Education). This issue has been recognized by the US Department of Education who have made it one of their goals to 'Restore and sustain Americas lead in the modern knowledge economy, by improving the participation and performance of Americas students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and fields.'  

Astronomy has an important role to play in increasing participation in STEM fields. Astronomy is often highlighted in the media, and it is rare to find someone who has not been inspired by simply looking up at the stars, wondering where we came from and our place in the Universe. Astronomy can therefore have a broad impact, reaching out to a large number of students and helping to excite them about science and a career in a STEM field.

Laboratory experiments and activities play a central role in much of science teaching and effectively enhance intended learning outcomes (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2003, Science Education, 88, 28). But, while many sciences such as biology, chemistry and physics allow for laboratory experiments, astronomy differs in that it is an observational science – space is our laboratory and we can do nothing but observe it as best we can. While awe-inspiring to look up at the stars, it is generally not practical for classroom teaching. Both teachers and students have to go way above and beyond in order to do night time observing through a telescope. Even then, poor weather conditions or light pollution (particularly in an urban environment such as metro Detroit) can cause big problems that make running evening observing sessions tough, and often unsuccessful. Night-time observing cannot easily be an integral part of high school astronomy education. However, the experience of looking through a telescope, especially for the first time, is exciting and memorable, and a clear way to inspire students in science. The Solar Observing in Schools program bring the excitement of looking through a telescope to the all students in the classroom, with little extra burden on teachers. Our set of ten solar telescopes are available to be loaned out to local middle schools and high schools in Detroit, providing students the exciting experience of using solar telescopes in the classroom to observe sunspots, solar prominences and other features on the Sun.

A recent national survey of astronomy teachers by Krumenaker (2009, Astronomy Education Review, 8, 010109) highlights many clear issues. For instance, only 12–13% of high schools nationally offer a dedicated astronomy course, and those that do are generally large, suburban high schools. Moreover, only 8% of those teaching astronomy have an astronomy major (compare this with 33% for Physics and 61% for Bioscience). Most of those teaching astronomy come from geoscience (70% have an Earth science certification). In fact, most teachers have taken only one to two astronomy courses at either undergraduate or graduate level, and a large minority (28%) did not take any course during their Bachelor program. Even more worrying is that 15% have never taken an astronomy course at any level.  An important part of the Solar Observing in Schools program is therefore to offer professional development to teachers in astronomy, with an emphasis on contemporary material and cutting-edge research.