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 Copyright 2009 | About this blog



Inspire … then Educate.

—Dr. Jeff






Blog on the Universe

Here are some ideas for how to put the Blog on the Universe Resource Pages to work in your classroom—

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. Invite your students to read the page a couple of times. Then as a class have them reflect on Earth’s place in a greater space, and explore whether their 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? Is exploration something we’ve been doing for a very long time? Why? Do they see themselves as the next generation in this adventure?

Favorite Quotes for an interdisciplinary connection between science, human exploration, and literature. Students can research the authors, then discuss as a class the meaning of each quote to gain new—even profound—insights into our world and ourselves. But push them further. See if they have new questions that flow from these insights, and whether the questions reflect a broad range of topics. Then have them 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 your students will feel pride in America, and more generally pride in the human capacity to explore—maybe even be inspired a little.


The Power of Models for a look at models and modeling in the science classroom, in the research laboratory, and in our personal world around us. You might want to put modeling to work in your classroom using the grade K-12 inquiry-based lessons developed for the Voyage exhibition (grade level units for: K-2, 3-4, 5-8, and 9-12). These lessons use models for Solar System exploration, are designed with a deep commitment to conceptual understanding, are developed from National Science Education Standards and AAAS Benchmarks, and can be downloaded free at:


Stay tuned for more pages. The next will be on Climate Change, and how to address it in the classroom.



Some other Blog on the Universe Resource Pages:

The Art of Teaching provides my sense of what teaching is about. It reflects my background as a student, a teacher, a research scientist, a curriculum and science exhibition writer, a developer of national science education programs, and most importantly—someone who has been talking and listening carefully to thousands of teachers for over two decades. You may not agree with my views, but it should be an interesting read. Let me know what you think by submitting a comment!

Visit the Where in the Universe is Dr. Jeff? page if your school district might be interested in a presentation to teachers district-wide, or a professional development workshop from either me or staff of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. Visit the Professional Development page at the Journey through the Universe website to explore the wide range of workshop and institute options.



Voyage National Program and Journey Through the Universehouston-for-blog2

There are lots of free resources for teachers available through these two programs.

First Some Background: The Voyage model Solar System is permanently installed on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Voyage is a one to 10-billion scale model spanning 2,000 feet from the National Air and Space Museum to the Smithsonian Castle. Voyage was created in partnership with Challenger Center for Space Science Education, the Smithsonian Institution, and NASA, and was approved by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission. I had the privilege of leading the Team that made Voyage a reality.

The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education is now making replicas of Voyage available for permanent installation in communities across the U.S. through the Voyage National ProgramVoyage is currently installed in Houston and  Kansas City, in summer/fall 2009 it will be installed in Corpus Christi and Des Moines, and it is approved for installation in Baltimore and Orlando. In 2009 we’ll also launch the Voyage International Program, making the exhibition available world-wide given that the visitor experience—an understanding of Earth’s place in space, and a celebration that we can know it—is something shared by all humanity.

Voyage is also more than an exhibition. Grade K-12 lessons on Solar System science and exploration, tours, professional development for teachers, a National Team of planetary scientists and engineers visiting thousands of students in a community—one classroom at a time, and family and public programs, place the exhibition at the center of a sustainable community-wide learning experience. This programming is deliverable through the Center’s Journey through the Universe initiative. It is a Learning Community Model for science education.


Here are links to teacher resources for the programs:


Community photoalbums on the Voyage Facebook Page—check out the Voyage exhibition installed in communities across the nation.

And there’s a photoalbum for the Grade K-12 Lessons—see them in action!

Become a fan of the page. In fact, I dare you to become a fan!



The Grade K-12 Education Modules (Compendia of Lessons)

Design of a Module

Design of a Lesson (a PDF Document: 490 KB)

Lessons quick links:

Solar System Science and Exploration (the Voyage Lessons)

Earth Systems Science

Engineering Spacecraft for Inter-planetary Travel (the Staying Cool MESSENGER Mission Module)

Building a Permanent Presence in Space

Searching for Abodes of Life in the Universe



More on Models

Building a Scale Model Solar System

The Accuracy Possible with a Scale Model Solar System

Physical Models

Conceptual Models

Numerical Models




MESSENGER Educator Fellowship Programmessengerforblog

On August 3, 2004, NASA launched the MESSENGER spacecraft to Mercury, the second mission to the planet. Unlike its predecessor Mariner 10, which flew by Mercury in 1973 and 1974, MESSENGER will enter orbit in 2011 and begin a full year of observations. MESSENGER is destined to change our view of Mercury—and how our Solar System was born.

A Team of national organizations oversees MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach programming to take the nation along for the ride. As a member of the Team, the Center recruits, trains, and maintains a corps of 30 of some of the best science educators in the nation—the MESSENGER Fellows—which in turn train 3,000 teachers a year on grade K-12 lessons addressing Solar System science and engineering. As of May 1, 2009, 12,470 grade K-12 teachers have been trained at 539 workshops and briefings by the Fellows. The Fellows also help deliver the Center’s Journey through the Universe programming to communities.


The Opportunity: apply to become a MESSENGER Educator Fellow! The new announcement of opportunity will be available January 2010, for selection in March 2010 for the 2011-13 Fellowship Corps. It will be an exciting time—MESSENGER goes into orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011 and begins at least a one year study of the planet. Each Fellow receives an all expenses paid week of training in Washington, DC, business cards designating them as a MESSENGER Fellow, a press release for their local media outlets, and a wealth of content.




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 are a teacher in the Washington, DC, or Baltimore metro areas, and you’d like to bring your school down for 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.





NSTA’s New Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Educator Award

$3,000 Award, plus $2,000 in travel to NSTA National Conference


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