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What’s that in the gym?
StarLab--a twenty-foot-wide inflated planetarium!
Meadow Pond Elementary School's second and fourth graders visited StarLab this week for a tour of the nighttime sky with scientist and award-winning author Steve Tomecek as their guide.
The children crawled through StarLab's three-foot wide tunnel, and entered a dimly lit dome. They sat in a circle, with their backs against the round walls, looked up, and the night sky appeared.
“This is what you can see from Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, where there is no light pollution,” said Mr. Tomecek. “I live in the city. This is what I see.” He turned a dial and the vivid night sky washed away.
Mr. Tomecek de-mystifies science while making it fun and engaging; a skill honed as a writer for "Newton’s Apple" and "Magic School Bus." He’s just published his 50th book for kids, Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth, with National Geographic Kids.
“I find out what students already know, and build on that,” says Mr. Tomecek. At Meadow Pond Elementary School, the students know a lot!
“These children love to read and love to learn,” said Mrs. Masi, a fourth grade teacher, as her students visited StarLab.
“How many planets are in our solar system?” asked Mr. Tomecek. This question led to a discussion of Pluto, at one time the ninth planet, now reclassified to dwarf planet because it shares its orbital neighborhood with other small, icy bodies.
“What is the brightest star in our night sky?” Students knew it was not the North Star, Polaris, but needed a hint to come up with Sirius, also known as the Dog Star. Mr. Tomacek used his pointer to show its location in the constellation Canis Major.
Mr. Tomecek pointed out Betelgeuse (pronounced Beetle Juice), a bright red star, and reinforced the connection between color and temperature. "Think of your stove's flame. Blue hot is hotter than red hot."
“Betelgeuse is from an ancient Arabic phrase that means 'armpit of the great one.’ Look where it is located,” he said, pointing with his red laser. “It is in the armpit of the hunter, in the constellation we call Orion."
After a brief trip to the sky over the North Pole, students returned to New York, and crawled out of StarLab and back into their school’s gym.
Being in StarLab is like sitting around a campfire in the woods, with the stars shining brightly above you.
It is like being in a tent; cozy and dark, separated from the everyday, a place for telling stories and sharing knowledge.