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Geekinthegarden
2012-Nov-12, 04:20 PM
First, hello! My first post here. Now, a bit of context. I'm based in rural Missouri, Madison County to be more specific. My thoughts here are not just about Astronomy outreach but science outreach as well. What I'm discovering is that there is a general lack of science literacy here (I'd guess it is common in rural areas). I'm sure that is not a big surprise to folks on this forum. Unfortunately it seems to be a general trend in the U.S. My main question, is there any organized effort to get folks out into communities? While this website and other related sites are a fantastic resource I can't help but think that some sort of real life community based action is needed? I have a history in community activism so that may be why I'm looking at it this way.

Here's what I've got going on as a sort of example of what I am proposing. We have a group that meets in town once a week, we call it the Geek Parade. Started as a general sort of discussion group covering all sorts of things. This past fall we centered it on science with a loose structure. We're all non-scientists taking turns researching different areas and reporting back to the group. More recently a couple of us have been focused on astronomy. I purchased my first scope since the 9th grade (I'm 42) and have spent the past 3 months learning the night sky in search of Messier objects and the Herschel 400, etc as well as exploring the science of Astronomy. In fact we're meeting more often outside of town at my place because of the dark skies, often 2-3 times a week. As word get's out about us and our scopes we're getting some interest from outside of the group. A friend at the library has now started directing homeschoolers to me and I had my first session this past Saturday with 7 kids and their parents! I've got others coming soon.

My intent is to continue as I have and to do a bit of outreach. I'll be contacting the teacher responsible for the science club at each of the local schools and have also considered how we might organize an ongoing series of in-town discussions/presentations covering a range of topics fundamental to the different sciences. The idea would be to introduce some of the basic concepts in geology, astronomy, biology as we also introduce people to (remind them of what they hopefully learned in HS) the scientific method, skepticism and critical thinking in general. The audience would depend on the specifics of the activities.

In my mind I'm thinking of this as a sort of organized community/citizen science outreach which could happen in local libraries and which might hopefully draw upon the services of educators from local schools when needed and available. Is there anything like this happening? If not is it something that should be developed? Might there be interest for that here?

Thanks!

Denny Henke
Fredericktown, MO

kmasterdo
2012-Nov-14, 07:59 AM
Welcome to the forum, Denny! I alerted the science/education team to this thread. :) Thank you for sharing!

NoisyAstronomer
2012-Nov-14, 11:19 PM
This is a GREAT idea.

When I was in central Virginia, I was part of an effort to bring science clubs to the local schools in rural areas. We called it "Dark Skies, Bright Kids," taking advantage of the fact that they had super nighttime skies with which we could hold star parties. It's still being run (mostly) by astronomy grad students at UVa: https://www.astro.virginia.edu/dsbk/ I'm hoping sometime in the near future to put together a "kit" of some sort for groups anywhere who want to start doing outreach like that in their community. Some of the activities are already posted on the website. But that targets school-age children, primarily.

Getting together like this, the Geek Parade you mentioned, is something that I've seen happen in larger towns and cities, but I don't know how much in small towns. But it looks like you have a core group already doing that, and that's great. There is the Science Cafe model, where a group meets in a coffee shop or library, often to hear a talk by a friendly local (or visiting scientist.) Or it could be a discussion on a general topic. There is some info, as well as resources, how to start, etc. here: http://www.sciencecafes.org/

So I'd say there is a grassroots effort, but not a terribly organized one. The general feeling is that science literacy is poor BUT that people are interested in science when presented in an interesting and relevant way. I'd be happy to help share science resources to you or anyone interested in getting this rolling in their community. Personally, I'm rubbish at actually organizing local events and groups, but people with that know-how can be pulled in to share from their talents and resources.

Geekinthegarden
2012-Nov-16, 09:46 PM
I like the look of the Science Cafe as that is similar to what I'm thinking. Will check it out further...