December 6, 2017
The St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium reopened to record crowds with help from NISE Net's Explore Science: Earth & Space toolkit. Since reopening, our staff has integrated the kit’s activities into our curriculum and improved upon them. Our facility even received a little media attention along the way.
After a year of renovations, our small planetarium reopened along with the public library to which it is attached. Library and planetarium staff setup booths for our grand reopening. During the event, patrons were encouraged to visit the booths, learn about library resources and visit the planetarium for special presentations. Planetarium Supervisor Jason Talley also set up three activities from the Earth & Space toolkit: Investigating Clouds, Ice Orbs, and Orbiting Objects. Patrons, young and old, enjoyed these activities. The loud pops from the cloud-in-a-bottle demonstrations even caught the attention of some local teachers.
The teachers asked Talley to speak during a local elementary school’s “Student Appreciation Week.” He created a short presentation about observing the sky. The presentation included the Investigating Clouds activity, a demonstration with milky water to show Rayleigh scattering, and a portable star projector. Each grade level, PreK through 2nd grade, participated with nearly 500 students in total. The students enjoyed the demonstrations, but using milky water to model a blue sky might have reinforced misconceptions about the oceans causing our blue skies. More research is needed on this topic.
Our planetarium is a small facility with only 42 seats. Large groups often visit for field trips. Our staff divides large groups in two, hosting one in the planetarium and one in the library. The library staff has integrated two of the Earth & Space toolkit activities into our curriculum. Bear’s Shadow works well with our PreK and kindergarten groups and ties into the subjects covered in our planetarium presentation. The Pocket Solar System activity works well for older elementary students. However, 1st and 2nd graders need extra attention when working through the activity.
The Orbiting Objects activity has become a semi-permanent exhibit in the planetarium. It draws attention from patrons interested in learning about gravity both before and after planetarium shows. However, the PVC frame often falls apart when moved, lifted, or generally looked at the wrong way. To solve this problem, our planetarium staff added nine-inch rubber bands around the top and bottom of the frame. Two bands for each of the eight sections help hold the frame together. The sturdier frame has helped when the activity needed to be relocated, like during our solar eclipse event.
Since St. Charles Parish was not in the path of totality, our staff did not expect the fantastic attendance our “Great American Eclipse” event received. Hundreds of patrons visited our library and planetarium during the hours of the eclipse. A local news program, “News with a Twist,” even covered the event with a live reporter. The Earth & Space toolkit’s inflatable Earth and toy Moon also received a little air time during a news segment leading up to the eclipse. The event was a great success with the help of our staff, our amateur astronomer volunteer Shawn Pitz, and all the useful resources from the NISE Network.
To learn more about St. Charles Parish Library and Planetarium activities, please contact Jason Talley, Planetarium Supervisor, at [email protected].