Partner Highlight: Star Night's Annual Event Moves Indoors at White Mountain Nature Center in Pinetop, Arizona

Kalman Mannis, Arizona Science Center
Star Night picture

Star Night is an annual event at the White Mountain Nature Center in the alpine town of Pinetop, AZ, the region’s crowning informal learning site. The annual early Spring Astronomy Night was planned for mid-March 2020, the amateur astronomers were geared up for a star party, NISE Net's Explore Science: Earth & Space Toolkit and Arizona State University’s StarLab were on-hand, we were a go! The week prior to the event the Covid crisis erupted in the state’s media, then a late Spring storm was forecast with cold winds, sleet, and of course – the dreaded clouds – the classic dark and stormy night scenario. We needed to pivot.

So, ever ready for a challenge. The staff and volunteers redesigned the layout and set up everything inside. It was…cozy. We adjusted our attendance expectation with the rise in concern about the weather and the virus. Over the last four years this event attracted 60-80 people, we thought we’d see 30-40. On the evening of Friday, March 13 (the irony did not escape us), we put out the open sign and waited. The clouds were racing along the sky, and there were bouts of sleet, but we are hardy folk.

Over the three hours of the event we were visited by just over two dozen people – mainly mixed generation families and older couples. They all played with the NISE Net Earth and Space Orbiting Objects activity (one family worked on assembling the frame), the Space Guess Quest Game, and Mission to Space board game. The orbiting objects was a big hit once assembled. Fortunately, one of the amateur astronomers took it upon himself to explain the phenomena and play referee. The oohs and aahs were very uplifting.

While a number of factors pushed against a large crowd, the smiles, laughing, and excited sharing between young and old made the event a success in our minds. The evening was made even better with the addition of the NISE Net Earth & Space activities which were loaned to us by the Bisbee Science Lab.

We closed the evening with the realization reinforced that it really isn’t quantity that impacts learning, but quality.