National Schools' Astronomer

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Following two successful PPARC National Award bids to support astronomy education in the UK, primarily through the role of 'National Schools' Astronomer' (NSA), I was awarded an SiS Fellowship in 2006. I now wish to continue and develop aspects of this work through an extension of my existing STFC SiS Fellowship, to run from 1st December 2009 for another 2 years. The key functions I envisage for continuing this role would be to maintain the existing networks of astronomers (professional and amateur, UK and overseas) and UK schools that can act as training sites and 'help desks' for schools involved (or who wish to become involved) with astronomy. In my current work, I have facilitated a great many collaborations, both within the UK and between UK and overseas institutes. Within the UK, I have helped many groups (including schools, amateur astronomy societies, science centres, science festivals, museums and universities) to initiate, expand and maintain educational projects, and have assisted with many STFC large, small and science centre awards. The main activities supported by this extension would be: i) Supporting astronomy education in the UK by acting as a 'point of contact' between researchers and educators. ii) Developing educational resources for schools, students and the general public, and giving talks and workshops supporting various educational programmes. iii) Training scientists to be better communicators, and teachers to be better astronomers. iv) Continuing to promote and extend use of the robotic/remote telescope facilities available to UK schools (primarily the Faulkes Telescope Project and National Schools' Observatory). The other continuing part of the NSA role would be the online element, based around the existing resource and news website, This site was originally established to support the Deep Impact UK small award project in 2005, but has proven very popular with UK teachers looking for a site that points them at suitable resources etc. Whilst not the one-stop-shop website that was recommended by the Barstow Report, it has certainly shown the potential to grow in use amongst the UK astronomy/space education community, particularly in support of the fast-growing GCSE Astronomy course. It currently receives ~9-10,000 unique hits a month, and I work closely with Astronomy Now magazine to ensure it is always up-to-date with interesting and curriculum-relevant News. These elements all link together to develop a mutual 'help and support' structure for UK educators and astronomers, and to a lesser extent students, within which many other STFC-supported initiatives gain great benefits. At the very least, the proposal would produce better-trained schools' speakers from within the astronomy/space science community, a tried-and-tested teacher training programme running at venues across the UK (and at which there are trained individuals who can assist schools in the local area) and a topical and targeted website supporting UK schools interests in astronomy/space.


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