FMHS astronomy students bring star constellations to life for elementary students

“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of…”

Old Settlers and Forest Vista Elementary schools, thanks to Flower Mound High School students in Dixie Westbrook’s Astronomy classes, recently shared their mobile planetariums.

For the project-based learning (PBL) opportunity, students designed and built their own planetarium in one week based on a star map. First, students researched star distances, sizes and the constellations.

Then, students broke into different “crews” to execute different tasks such as: construction, constellation placement, logistics, documentation and education – a new addition this school year.

Versus holding a showcase at FMHS like the classes have done in years past, Westbrook thought it would be a great idea for students to share their knowledge with 3rd graders at Old Settlers and Forest Vista Elementary schools.

“It was really cool to put this together and share with students, because for those who live in Flower Mound and the Dallas area, it’s really bright and hard to see the stars that we can show them in our planetarium,” FMHS student Ryan Hanrahan said. “Overall, this gives them a nice visual to see and understand what’s up there.”

Old Settlers students enjoyed the experience.

“I liked the planetarium because they showed us the Big and Little Dipper and many other constellations that I didn’t even know about,” 3rd grader Ryan Murray said. “I think we are pretty lucky to have them come here and do this for us.”

The challenge for FMHS students was not only to blow up a star chart by 18 feet, but to create a planetarium on square sheets of plastic, because planetariums needs to be circular. Then to ensure stars were placed correctly, students multiplied their distances by 18.75 centimeters.

Westbrook hopes the assignment will make a lasting impression on students.

“My class not only gets something out of this by learning about the constellations, but it really takes hold when they take the knowledge they know and share it with the younger students,” Westbrook said.

Old Settlers teacher Sarah Fuller appreciates how the planetarium projected created an educational opportunity for her students.

“We do a big project in the spring semester to learn about the order of planets and stars, and this will be a great preview for that,” Fuller said. “Also, it is great for our students to become the audience for a PBL, which will give them insight for any future PBLs we will do here at Old Settlers.”

See more planetarium photos here.

Liz Haas is the west zone communications coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District.

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