JULY 15-19, 2002

The Educator Ambassador program at Sonoma State University consists of ten top-notch educators who assist in the development, testing, assessment and dissemination of NASA space-based educational materials. The Educator Ambassadors (EAs) represent the Swift and Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) satellites and NASA’s Structure and Evolution of the Universe (SEU) theme area which itself consists of 16 astronomy satellite missions. These EAs were chosen through a nation-wide application process. From this large pool of applicants, the few who were selected are at the top of their field; most have won national recognition for their abilities and efforts to teach science. Many reach out to underserved communities, and have special abilities to disseminate the NASA materials.
The Educator Ambassador Summer Institute was a one-week training seminar for the EAs held in the summer of 2002. During their week-long stay with the Education and Public Outreach group at Sonoma State University (SSU) the EAs were submersed in a content-rich experience in SEU science, instrumentation, and mission operations. The EAs used and reviewed the current educational materials associated with each SEU mission. Special emphasis was placed on Swift and GLAST activities for their respective EAs.
Throughout the week the EAs were visited by scientists and educators affiliated GLAST and SEU missions. The guests included Nahide Craig with the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer (CHIPS), Shannon Range and Jennifer Mullins with Gravity Probe B, Tory Brady with the San Francisco Exploratorium Teacher Institute, Ron Marson with TOPS! Learning Systems, and guest lecturer Gerson Goldhaber with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The group took a tour of SLAC, including a personal tour of the GLAST Large Area Telescope (with lecture by Gary Godfrey) and Gravity Probe B facilities.
Assessment of the week’s events was done by Ted Britton from WestEd for GLAST and Sarah Connolly from the Lesley University Program Evaluation Research Group (PERG) for SEU.
What follows below is a detailed itinerary of the summer institute including summaries of the activities, reports from the EAs, and images from the various workshops and talks.


Itinerary for the Educator Ambassadors week:

Monday, July 15th

Registration Sarah Silva
Seeing and Exploring the Universe – Meet the SEU Missions Lynn Cominsky and Phil Plait

SEU Activities in small groups rotating between:

a) Swift- Spin a Spectrum
b) GLAST- Build your own Active Galactic Nuclei
c) Chandra- Spectrum Scaling
d) CHIPS- local bubble activity
e) XMM-Newton- Seeing the Universe Through X-Ray Eyes

Lynn, Phil, Sarah and Lynda Williams

Nahide Craig with CHIPS

Ambassador Activity: Starlab Planetarium Show Phil, Sharon Janulaw and GLAST EA Mike Ford

Tuesday, July 16th

Online tools to look at space observatory data Swift EA Rob Sparks
Training other teachers Tory Brady-Exploratorium Teacher Institute
GEMS: Invisible Light Sources and Detectors Lynn and Tim Graves
Activities from Gravity Probe-B- Examining Space-time with Gyroscopes Shannon Range and Jennifer Mullins
Evening at the Observatory and intro to the GTN Gordon Spear

Wednesday, July 17th

GLAST TOPS Learning Systems Inc. Lessons Ron Marson
TOPS Activities Ron, Phil, Lynda, and Lynn
HOT TOPICS! Gamma-Ray Bursts/ Super Novae/ Black Holes Phil
Activities: Anatomy of a Black Hole Sarah and Lynda
EM Spectrum, Powers of Ten SEU EA Christine Royce
Ways of Seeing GLAST EA Tim Brennan
Space Mysteries Demo! Phil and Tim Graves

Thursday, July 18th

Leave for SLAC  
Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) tour  
GLAST tour Gary Godfrey
Drive to Stanford campus  
GPB Facilities Tour Jennifer Mullins and Shannon Range

Friday, July 19th

Michigan Virtual High School and an online human space exploration class SEU EA Mary Garrett
Wal-Mart Physics GLAST EA Daryl Taylor
Classroom Karaoke Lynda
Magic tricks to show how gravity works GLAST EA Teena Della
HOT TOPICS! Dark Matter/ Dark Energy/ Cosmic Microwave Background Gerson Goldhaber
Activities: MAP- Geometry in Space & Cosmic Survey Lynn, Phil and Lynda
Closing and Assessment Ted Britton and Sarah Connolly

Monday, July 15th:

Seeing and Exploring the Universe – Meet the SEU Missions

To start off the week, Dr. Lynn Cominsky gave a presentation giving the EAs an overview of the SEU missions. The presentation introduced the EAs to the structure of NASA and the SEU, and gave them a tour of the various missions, the instrumentation involved, and the science they return.
Next, Dr. Phil Plait gave a presentation about the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the scientific underpinning of all the SEU research areas.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent doing and evaluating SEU mission education activities.
NASA Overview Presentation

The evaluation sheet for all of the activities was the same, and is presented here:

Activity Evaluation
In order to make our classroom materials as effective as possible and meet the expectations of our sponsor, NASA, we ask that you complete this questionnaire.
For the following list of statements about the activities you reviewed, please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each (circle one number on each line). Please comment where appropriate.
Activity Name Here
Strongly Disagree
Not Sure
Strongly Agree
a. This activity is developmentally appropriate for my students.
b. I believe my students will find this activity interesting.
c. I believe my students will find this activity fun.
d. I believe my students will learn from this activity.
e. This activity added to my knowledge of space science.
f. I plan to implement this activity in my classroom.
g. This activity will be easy to implement in my classroom.
4. What resources would help you implement these materials in your classroom?
5. In what ways could we improve these materials? Please be specific.


Spin A Spectrum

Teena Della and Mike Ford Rob Sparks and Paula Garrett
Figure 1: Michiel Ford and Teena Della
Figure 2: Rob Sparks, Mary and Paula Garrett
Rob Sparks and Paula Garrett
Figure 3: Rob Sparks, Mary and Paula Garrett

Spin A Spectrum Activity Review:

See the Activity

The Swift spin a spectrum received an overall “unsure” as to whether or not it could be really useful for the teachers. The EAs felt that the overall idea of the activity was promising. The current state of the activity made it not as easy to implement in the classroom. Further working of the materials may in fact make it useable. Only two out of the six felt they would use it in their classroom.



Making Active Galaxy Models

Daryl Taylor and Jason Smith Tom Estill and Tim Brennan and their coneheads
Figure 4: Jason Smith and Daryl Taylor
Figure 5: Tom Estill and Tim Brennan and their cone heads
Figure 6: Tom Estill and Tim Brennan, showing off their finished products
Figure 6: Tom Estill and Tim Brennan, showing off their finished products

AGN Activity Review:

This evaluation was the first of many to come for this activity. For a previously untested product it received excellent reviews. The EAs agreed that it was a good activity and with a little more work it has the potential to be an excellent classroom activity. From the pictures, it can be seen that the EAs had fun completing this activity, which implies that the students will too.


Spectrum Scaling

Spectrum Scaling Activity Review:

See the Activity (word doc)

Since there were only three evaluations submitted, the overall rating of this activity is not quite as accurate or thorough as the others. The largest concern for the activity was that it is very time consuming, which is a concern given classroom constraints.


The Local Bubble

Connecting the Bubble dots

Figure 7: Connecting the Bubble dots

Local Bubble Activity Review:

See the Activity

The CHIPS activity still needs work. The background info is not included and some of the EAs claimed that they didn’t need the activity information to answer its questions. Only one of the teachers felt they would use this activity in their classroom.


Seeing the Universe Through X-Ray Eyes

Daryl Taylor coloring Rae McEntyre and Christine Royce
Figure 8: Daryl Taylor coloring
Figure 9: Rae McEntyre and Christine Royce
Michiel Ford and Teena Della
Figure 10: Michiel Ford and Teena Della

X-ray Eyes Activity Review:

See the Activity

This activity had been used previously by one EA in his classroom, and he gave it an overall good rating. The EAs pointed out that one strength of this activity is that it teaches useful information about image processing. Rewording of the first and second questions was suggested in order to make it more inquiry-driven. Attached is a more in-depth evaluation by Ted Britton.

Star lab Planetarium

Educator Ambassador group in front of Starlab
Figure 11: The Educator Ambassador group in front of the Star lab.
A Starlab is a portable, inflatable planetarium used by schools around the country to present the skies to schoolchildren. The E/PO group at SSU has a Starlab, and plans on creating a high-energy planetarium show as part of the XMM-Newton project. EA Michael Ford, our Starlab expert, gave an exciting presentation on the constellations to the group using the SSU Starlab.

Tuesday, July 16th:

Tory Brady’s Activity: How we define objects.

Mary and Paula Garrett and Rob Sparks Rob Sparks, Mary Garrett, and Paula Garret on SSU lawn
Figure 12: Mary and Paula Garrett and Rob Sparks Figure 13: Rob Sparks, Mary Garrett, and Paula Garret on SSU lawn


Tory Brady, from the San Francisco Exploratorium Teacher Institute, specializes in training teachers. She gave the EAs an excellent presentation on how humans define objects as simple as a pear, and how it actually appears to us. She also made a device out of simple household materials to measure the angular diameter of the Sun. Tory also informed the EAs of the many opportunities available to educators at the Exploratorium Teacher Institute.


GEMS: Invisible Light Sources and Detectors

Mary Garrett, Paula Garrett, Rob Sparks, and Tim Graves infront of the infrared detector Tim Graves and Mike Ford
Figure 14: Mary Garrett, Paula Garrett, Rob Sparks, and Tim Graves in front of the infrared detector. Figure 15: Tim Graves, Mike Ford and Teena Della in front of the light shields.

Invisible Light Sources and Detectors Activity Review:

The GEMS activity received an overall good rating. It is obvious that this activity has been thoroughly tested. Many of the EAs felt that this activity was appropriate for their classrooms. The main suggestion was to better relate how Swift applies to this activity. Attached is a more in-depth evaluation by Ted Britton.


Gravity Probe-B: Examining Space-time with Gyroscopes

Space Time Demonstration Frame Dragging Demonstration
Figure 16: Paula Garret and Shannon Range demonstrating space time. Figure 17: Demonstration of frame dragging.

Examining Space-time with Gyroscopes Activity Review:

Many of the EAs felt that this activity would not necessarily apply for their level of students, but instead could be used for Honors high school students and college entry-level students. The space-time topic is a daunting one, which is why many of the EAs felt it would only be useful for the upper level students. A suggestion from one EA was to add misconceptions of space-time to the activity. Gyroscopes, however, are a relevant topic in the course of physics study and some slight reworking of this activity may make it a bit more comprehensible for the average student.

View the presentation given by GPB


Wednesday, July 17th:

TOPS! With Ron Marson

Ron Marson with TOPS Ambassadors working on TOPS activities
Figure 18: Ron Marson talking to Daryl Taylor and Jason Smith Figure 19: Tom Estill, Tim Brennan, Christine Royce making slide rules

Tops Activity Review:

This activity is math-based and therefore aligned better with math rather than science standards. The reviews reflected this concern, with the highest rating from the one EA who has a math background. The most common suggestion was the need to make it more relevant to the GLAST mission, which is funding the activity. Also brought to the attention of Ron Marson, the activity’s creator, was the need for an explanation as to why the students should use slide rules or even learn to use them. The SSU E/PO group has already revised the GLAST mission sections of this activity, and these changes have been submitted to Mr. Marson.


HOT TOPICS! Gamma-Ray Bursts/ Super Novae/ Black Holes

Phil Plait gave a “Hot Topic” lecture about astronomers’ understanding of the enigmatic gamma ray bursts (GRBs), and how they tie in with supernovae and black holes. Several SEU missions will target GRBs for study, in general, the public is interested in exotic phenomena such as black holes and titanic cosmic explosions. The EAs are now familiar with these topics, and have resources to find more information should they need it. Gamma-Ray Bursts/ Super Novae/ Black Holes Intro Slide

Imagine the Universe! Anatomy of a Black hole

Activity Review:

The EAs were very happy with this activity and booklet. They made the general comment that an activity needs to list specifically data such as how long the work takes, what standards are met, and for what grade level it is designed. The Black Hole activity had all that information. In addition the EAs suggested a page with equations on it to help the students, and to arrange the activity in the booklet so that the directions are listed before the data table. The EAs had fun doing this exercise and felt that the students would learn from it as well.

LEARNERS Space Mystery

Phil Plait and Tim Graves gave a presentation about LEARNERS Space Mysteries. Space Mysteries are web-based, inquiry-driven games where the student is the detective and must solve an astronomy-based mystery. The EAs were encouraged to test the games in their classrooms and assess them. Space Mysteries Intro Slide

Thursday, July 18th:

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Tour

Ambassador Group at Stanford

Figure 20: The Educator Ambassador group in front of the cafeteria on the SLAC grounds.

The EA group started off the day at SLAC with a general tour of the facilities. They were then taken to see BaBar. The group was given a personal presentation about the GLAST mission by Gary Godfrey and then shown a wooden scale model of the GLAST LAT. After the GLAST tour, the group went on to the Stanford campus where they were given a tour of the Gravity Probe-B facilities, which included a Q&A session in the GP-B mission control room, hosted by Jennifer Mullins.The visit was featured in the first online SLAC newsletter The Interaction Point (
Rob Sparks GLAST wood LAT
Figure 21: Rob Sparks analyzing the GLAST silicon layers in the LAT
Figure 22: Gary Godfrey and the wood LAT model
GLAST LAT diagram
GPB Tour
Figure 23: The GLAST LAT
Figure 24: GPB Tour

Friday, July 19th:

Classroom Karaoke

Lynda WilliamsFigure 25: Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams is physics professor and physics entertainer; she excels at teaching through tunes. She supplied the EAs with songs that she sings to use in their classrooms, as well as instructions on how to create their own classroom karaoke.

Teaching with Magic

Teena Della doing Magic

Figure 26: Teena Della

The EAs were asked to give a thirty-minute presentation of classroom activities they have used in the past. The purpose of this exercise was to see what the EAs themselves have used to teach students, and to see if we can use these methods and topics in future Swift, GLAST and SEU materials. GLAST EA Teena Della gave one such presentation on using “magic” as a method for teaching physics. In the itinerary are titles of the other presentations that were given throughout the week by the EAs.

The week’s conclusion:

The week with the Educator Ambassadors was educational both for them and for our group here. They learned about space science, NASA and what it takes to create a space-based mission, and in turn we received useful input about our activities and our approach at designing them.
We found that our main problem with our approach was the lack of Instructional Design. All of our activities need a common template that (among other things) clearly states the time required to do them, the standards covered, and the appropriate grade levels. The EAs also expressed the need for activities that used more common (i.e. household) materials, and which took less time to do in the classroom. They did express a lot of support for the activities as well, and an eagerness to try many of them out in their classrooms.
Luckily throughout the week we received many new resources that will help us with our instructional design process. Helpful tools include the Challenger Center’s Instructional Design Guide (courtesy of GLAST EA Jason Smith) and SEU EA Mary Garrett’s web sites. Overall the week went very well, and we consider it a success. When we have the next summer institute in 2004, we’ll make some changes including the length of the training and more extensive evaluations of the materials. The week was certainly an eye-opener for us, and a great experience for the Educator Ambassadors.