A School in the Sky

Moira Hough (third from left, in green), a doctoral candidate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, guides students through activities as they make their way up Mt. Lemmon from the city of Tucson, measuring elevation and temperature along the way. (Photo by Alan Strauss/UA Science: Sky School)
Moira Hough (third from left, in green), a doctoral candidate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, guides students through activities as they make their way up Mt. Lemmon from the city of Tucson, measuring elevation and temperature along the way. (Photo by Alan Strauss/UA Science: Sky School)

Seven-thousand feet above Tucson, and surrounded by the horizons, K-12 students are learning about the natural world and the night sky at the University of Arizona's UAScience Sky School at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.

Led by Alan Straus, director of the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, and the UA College of Science, the Sky School program brings students out of the city and onto the mountaintop, where they explore, learn about science and the natural world, design their own experiments and interact with UA graduate student scientists.

"Students from public schools gain exposure to science content including geoscience, astronomy and ecology," Strauss said, "and at the same time they're interacting with a graduate student scientist who's challenging them to explore their preconceived notions of what it means to engage in a process of scientific inquiry."

The K-12 students get exposure to scientific concepts and processes – and a chance to run around in the woods – while UA graduate students receive a valuable teaching and mentoring experience. And the teachers who accompany school groups gain cutting-edge scientific content to take back to the classroom.

"It's been a win-win-win for everybody," Strauss said. "These kinds of opportunities haven't existed locally for students in the past."

"Science should be more than just a classroom experience," said Larry Speta, principal of the Academy of Tucson Middle School, who brought his fourth- and fifth-grade students to the SkySchool.

"In our school we believe in the Socratic teaching method, which is teaching them to think: Why is that correct? How can you support it? Where’s the evidence? Does anybody disagree?" Speta said

Thinking is exactly what students participating in the Sky School's flagship multi-day program do, designing their own science experiment and working with a UA graduate student mentor to do research and present their findings to their peers, as if they were scientists at a symposium.

Read more from this November 27 UANews article at the link below. Moira Hough (pictured above) is also finishing a Master of Science degree in our School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Date released: 
Dec 3 2013
Contact: 
Alan Strauss