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Building Future Scientists: Partnerships, Planets and Parties!

Sixth grade classroom, Salt Lake Center for Science Education.
What: Community Kick-off and Star Party


Salt Lake Center for Science Education

1400 W. Goodwin Ave.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


February 23, 2012—How do we build the next generation of scientists? That’s a question the Honors College at the University of Utah hopes to answer as it launches an innovative program with the Salt Lake City School District and Clark Planetarium. This spring, with the help of a generous grant from the Willard L. Eccles Foundation, Honors College students will become teaching mentors to 6th graders at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) and Rose Park Elementary School.

In celebration of the community connection between these organizations, teachers, students and their families from participating schools are invited to a community Fiesta de Estrellas (star party) on Tuesday, February 28th from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Guests will be treated to a fun-filled evening featuring delicious food, cool projects and even live animals! Families can build and launch their own rocket, view the stars in a blow-up planetarium, or participate in activities provided by the Living Planet Aquarium, Natural History Museum of Utah, Red Butte Gardens, The Leonardo, REI and Hawk Watch International.

“I’m excited for the students to attend the Fiesta de Estrellas with their families and have exposure to community resources that they may or may not otherwise be able to access,” says Nicole Warren, principal at Rose Park Elementary School.

“Through this Honors College program, I’m learning how to be an effective teacher and I am really looking forward to having the chance to be out in the community as a partner in science education,“ adds Brendan Willis, a student participating in the program . “Once I have a working knowledge of the public education system, I can be a more effective agent for change in the future.”

The program is an outgrowth of an Honors College think tank on astronomy and will provide a viable educational channel between the University of Utah and local communities.

“We wanted to build something that would last and be sustainable once the program was up and running,” says Greg Varanese, one of the initial creators of the program and Honors College think tank student. “The goal is to facilitate astronomy specific learning activities that allows 6th grade students to think of themselves as scientists and explorers through hands-on learning and experiments.”

Dr. Sylvia Torti, Honors College dean, explains that while Honors students teach basic astronomy concepts, they will also foster a lifelong joy of star gazing, a wonder for the mysteries of the universe and promote the excitement of scientific investigation.

Teachers and administrators at SLCSE and Rose Park Elementary share in the excitement surrounding the program. “Teachers will receive an infusion of excitement and energy about astronomy that they can transfer to their students, and in turn, our 6th graders can make the connection about the future education opportunities and programs at a college or university,” says Ken O’Brien, coordinator of curriculum and professional development at SLCE, and co-teacher of the Honors College program.

Principal Warren agrees that the program will make a big impact. “Some Rose Park students talk about college but don’t have any context for it. I know that if they see college students and get a “big picture” about possibilities for their future, it could be a motivating factor in their decision to stay in school.  Kids need to know, not just hear what they can do.  While they learn science in a meaningful way, they also interact with students who are attending college, who have made it and who are making it work.”