Resources For Parents … so families can explore together

 Copyright 2009 | About this blog



History is not ancient.  It is alive and well.  There goes another second.

 And at any moment one can choose to jump into history and take

the entire world where we have never been.  The power of ‘one’ is astounding.

Our children need to know that.

—Dr. Jeff


Learning as a family is so important for so many reasons—parents are powerful role models for learning, and heroes to their children; it embraces the notion that learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom; it reinforces that learning is life-long; and the one-to-one learning experience between parent and child is something precious. My open letter to President Obama touches upon the many facets of learning, including family learning,  Back in 1993 I even created a school field trip designed for family learning, which has been going at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum ever since.

In fact, a great deal of this Blog on the Universe grows from family learning in my own family. Driving with Jordi is something special I share with my son, and through this Blog I share with you.

So it’s fitting that I created this resource page dedicated to family learning. Hug your son or daughter, invite them on a learning adventure with you, and revel in the experience. And if you come across web sites that have good family activities on the subjects of Earth and space—even general science and math—let me know and I’ll add them to this page! 






Blog on the Universe

Here are some ideas for how to put the Blog on the Universe Resource Pages to work at home with your child—

The Nature of Our Existence provides a short trip from Earth to the outer reaches of the observable Universe, with a focus on our capabilities as a species of explorers. Read this page together a few times. Then reflect on Earth’s place in a greater space, and explore whether your child’s (and your) sense of “home” has been altered and how. What words come to mind after reading this story? How is Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss more than a children’s book? (If you’ve never read it with your children, get it from the library this week!) Is exploration something we’ve been doing for a very long time? Why? And here’s the personal connection to the future—discuss with your child that he or she can choose to be the next generation of explorer in this adventure! 


Favorite Quotes for an interdisciplinary connection between science, human exploration, and literature. As a family, research the authors and discuss the meaning of each quote to gain new—even profound—insights into our world and ourselves. But go further. See if you and your child have new questions that flow from these insights, and whether the questions reflect a broad range of topics. Then step back, look at what just happened, and realize that this is the nature of exploration. New insights are always gleaned in the context of natural curiosity, which leads to more questions, and defines exploration as a journey. You might also want to extend the experience with my own Jeffisms page, which is my humble attempt to also say some meaningful things.


The National Air and Space Museum for a powerful window on the history of flight. The hope is that when you read this together, you’ll feel pride in America, and more generally pride in the human capacity to explore—maybe your child might even be inspired a little.


The Power of Models for a remarkable look at models and modeling in the science classroom, in the research laboratory, and in our personal world around us. This page is too difficult for elementary school children to read. But it is great for opening up the world of models to parents and older students. My recommendation is for parents to read this page first, and then explore with your children all the different flavors of models that pervade our lives. Challenge them to come up with lots of examples. Elementary school children can explore examples of physical models. Older children can expand their thinking to the more abstract forms of models described on the page.


Now for something way cool. You can set up a scale model Solar System in your local park on the same scale as the Voyage model Solar System we permanently installed on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The real Solar System is exactly 10 billion times larger than this model. Just download the Family and Home Activity created for our Voyage National Program. You might also want to consider the following:   


• Before laying out your model Solar System, read with your child the “IMAGINE” section on the page The Story of Voyage, to get a sense of the experience you are about to have. 

• After you lay out your model, as a parent you might want to read the Voyage web-page describing the problems with building a scale model of the Solar System, and why a one to 10-billion scale works well. It’s pretty informative. You can then explore with your child the challenges involved by putting them in the shoes of the model builder, and, e.g., asking them what would happen to the size of the Sun and planets if we shrink the entire Solar System down to fit as a drawing on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.   


• You might want to tell your child’s teacher about the grade K-2, 3-4, 5-8, and 9-12 lessons created for the Voyage model Solar System. They address the curriculum through the National Science Education Standards. They are described and are downloadable free at:


• Other Voyage web pages of possible interest address the different flavors of models, and how we used them for the Voyage exhibition: physical modelsconceptual models, and numerical models.

• For the advanced student with a background or interest in basic astronomy, read about the The Accuracy Possible with a Scale Model Solar System.


Finally, YOUR community might be interested in permanently installing a replica of the Voyage exhibition. If so, CONTACT me. We’ve been very successful helping other communities get underwriting. You can also direct your community leaders to the For Community Leaders Resource Page.  

Check out Voyage already installed in Houston, Kansas City, and Corpus Christi in the photoalbums on the Voyage Facebook Page:

Become a fan, and follow along as Voyage is installed in communities across the nation! 



Family Science Night at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space MuseumA family at the Museum looking at an engineering backup for the Viking 1 and 2 landers that touched down on Mars in 1976.

The Center’s Family Science Night program takes place at the most visited museum on the planet. Millions of visitors a year come to the National Air and Space Museum to see the machines that gave life to human dreams of flight in air and space.

Designed for family learning, Family Science Night is held after hours so that hundreds of students, parents, and teachers from area schools may have the museum to themselves. Attendees explore galleries, experience the universe through IMAX® films, and hear a presentation by a dynamic space scientist. The presentation is the program’s centerpiece, providing a very personal view of exploration on the frontier and the spellbinding, wondrously human stories behind the machines that changed the world.

The Opportunity: If you live in the Washington, DC, or Baltimore metro areas, and you think your child’s school might like a program, contact Dr. Harri Vanhala, the program manager at We have 12 evenings per year, each for up to 450 attendees, at the Museum on the Mall and at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport. And it’s free!






Astronomy Picture of the Day: This one is my all time favorite site. Bob Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell have been faithfully keeping this updated daily since 1995 (that’s 365 x 14 = over 5,000 posts!!) Its legion of followers just call it APOD. You can project it on your classroom screen and conduct a lesson by walking through the cool image description and links.


Cool note—Bob and I went to graduate school together at Penn, and were housemates. We both taught undergraduate classes, and he always used my killer 35-mm slide collection, which I updated frequently. I’m pretty sure he told me that having all those images available led to the idea of APOD. Hey Bob did I remember that right?



GeoEye: Explore Earth from space in stunning clarity, from the GeoEye-1, IKONOS, and OrbView-2 spacecraft. One image is of the National Mall in Washington, DC, and includes the Voyage scale model Solar System Exhibition.


Apollo 11 on the Moon: On July 20th, 2009, it will be the 40th anniversary of the first human footprints on another world. Get comfortable in front of your computer, with some appropriate background music, and open the Apollo 11 photo album. It’s July 1969 all over again, and the 70 mm Hasselblad color photos are stunning.


Spirit and Opportunity Rovers on Mars: Right now you can go to the surface of Mars. Visit the Spirit rover on Gusev Crater and the Opportunity rover on Meridiani Planum. As of early April 2009, these robot geologists had explored 4.8 and 9.3 miles (7.7 and 15 Km) of martian terrain since landing in January 2003.


Cassini at Saturn: Visit the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn, nearly a billion miles away. See new images arriving regularly here on Earth … from the outer Solar System.


Spectacular Images from the Hubble Space Telescope: Let the good folks at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore show you the majesty of the Universe, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around the Earth.


Our Solar System:


Stars of our Milky Way Galaxy:


The Nebulae: clouds of gas and dust in our Milky Way galaxy from which stars are born, and formed by the death of stars.


Other Galaxies: stunning images of galaxies beyond our own.



visit Store Galactica, supporting programs of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education

Leave a Reply