Kickstarting the Youngest Astronomers with “Universe in a Box”

Most children are naturally interested in science. And if you’ve ever heard a five-year-old recite complicated dinosaur names, or all the planets in the Solar System (possibly with a passionate plea on behalf of poor Pluto!), you will know that when it comes to children and science, dinosaurs and astronomy lead the field.

I don’t know about paleontologists, but astronomers are investing serious time and effort to build on children’s fascination with the universe. Probably the most successful program of this kind is “Universe Awareness” (UNAWE), aimed at bringing astronomy to children aged 4 to 10 – and in particular to children in underprivileged communities. To help teachers and educators bring astronomy to their kindergarten and elementary school classrooms, UNAWE created a teaching kit: “Universe in a Box,” with materials for over 40 age-appropriate astronomy-related activities.

UNAWE has built 1,000 of these boxes, subjected them to intensive field-testing in classrooms around the world, and have now begun a kickstarter campaign to raise (at least) $15,000 to ship many of the boxes to underprivileged communities around the world, and to provide training for teachers and educators on how to use the boxes to maximum effect. Here’s what they have to say:

I freely admit to being biased – I work at Haus der Astronomie, a center for astronomy education and outreach in Germany, where Cecilia Scorza and Natalie Fischer, two astronomers-turned-outreach-scientists, developed the precursor for “Universe in a box”, including many of the hands-on activities (in cooperation with the local volunteer association Astronomieschule e.V., to give credit where it’s due). And I’m proud that George Miley, Pedro Russo and the UNAWE team (which includes Cecilia and Natalie) have taken this idea and turned it into a truly global resource. I’ve seen the “Universe in a box” work its magic (pardon: its science) on numerous children who’ve come to visit our center – and have heard many good things from educators around the world who are using the box.

So please help the UNAWE team to get the boxes where they belong – out into the classrooms! Also, help them help teachers and educators to make optimal use of the boxes.

The kickstarter currently stands at a bit over $8,000 of their $15,000 goal. It runs until Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at 5 am EDT.

Here’s the kickstarter link again.

Markus Pössel

Markus Pössel is a theoretical physicist turned astronomical outreach scientist. He is the managing scientist at the Centre for Astronomy Education and Outreach Haus der Astronomie in Heidelberg, Germany.

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