General Information

The Scopes for Schools program is a low-cost, field-tested model for professional astronomers to conduct outreach, curriculum development, and teacher professional development in astronomy. The program is aimed at minority and other underserved students (but all students may participate), with an emphasis on curriculum development and on professional development for teachers.

Teacher participants benefit from:

  • inservice workshops which enhance astronomy content, and pedagogical content knowledge;
  • curriculum materials (activities) and hardware (telescopes and digital cameras) for bringing hands-on astronomy to the classroom; and
  • a long-term partnership with University scientists for ongoing curriculum and pedagogical development.

Student participants benefit from astronomy activities that are inquiry- and standards-based, and from a hands-on experience building and using telescopes and digital cameras.

A significant factor in the under-representation of minorities in science is the lack of adequate exposure during the K-12 years to meaningful (i.e. "real") experiences in science. In astronomy, this results from a combination of little-to-no teacher training in basic astronomy, and from lack of curricular and other resources. Another important factor is the lack of interaction between practicing scientists and schools with under-served populations.

Scopes for Schools addresses these problems by (1) providing students with fun, collaborative, inquiry-based astronomy activities, (2) providing teachers with training and materials to better incorporate astronomy into the standards-based science curriculum, and (3) bringing professional and amateur astronomers in direct contact with students and teachers.

Scopes for Schools was designed to be a model that other astronomers and space-scientists can replicate easily, at relatively little cost of time and money. The model centers around the implementation of inquiry-based classroom curriculum using telescopes and digital cameras, and an in-service training activity for participating teachers.


  • Teacher professional development: Scopes for Schools provides an inservice workshop for all participating teachers. This workshop exposes teachers to inquiry-based, standards-based, age-appropriate classroom activities for astronomy. Teachers also learn how to use reference texts and sky software, and learn how to make observations with telescopes like those they will eventually build. Teachers receive memberships in the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and receive ASP materials and newsletters, as a way of connecting them to a larger pool of teaching and support resources.
  • Telescope building: Working in teams, participating students construct 4.5-inch and 6-inch Dobsonian telescopes. Students learn about basic optics and develop a sense of ownership over "their" telescopes. In partnership with a local amateur group, students learn how to plan sky observations (via software) and how to use their telescopes in the field to conduct night-time "star parties". Students also construct simple digital cameras, allowing them to collect real data and, if desired, to carry out extracurricular research projects. Telescopes and digital cameras become the property of the teacher.
  • Curriculum development: Tapping extant astronomy curricula developed by NASA, Scopes for Schools is developing inquiry- and standards-based classroom activities. These activities center on observations of the Sun, as this allows teachers and students to conduct observations with their telescopes during the school day. One activity involves students determining the rotation period of the Sun, by obtaining multiple images of the Sun and following the movement of sunspots. Another activity involves students in determining whether sunspots are "really black", using digital imaging software to plot intensity profiles across sunspots.

Getting Involved:
Scopes for Schools is always interested in establishing new partnerships with schools and teachers who want to bring the excitement of astronomy into the classroom. Want to join the Scopes for Schools family? Just contact us by clicking on the link below!

Dissemination Kit:
We are developing a kit so that other astronomers and educators can easily replicate the Scopes for Schools program in their own community. Check back soon! In the meantime, see this poster presentation from a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society.



Scopes for Schools is administered by Dr. Keivan Stassun, and is made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation and the Vanderbilt University Department of Physics & Astronomy.