UNION, NJ — Students from the Union school in kindergarten through fourth grade were treated to a “night sky” experience when Matthew Meyer visited the school with his Starlab Portable Planetarium System recently. He brought the universe to the students with an onsite fieldtrip, courtesy of the Battle Hill PTA.
Meyer, a Union resident and former educator, visits schools in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to share his passion for astronomy and space with his program, “What’s Out There.”
“I didn’t know you could see so much in the night sky with the naked eye,” Battle Hill Elementary School fourth-grader Aidan Nason said. “I thought I needed a telescope to see everything, but you can see planets with your own two eyes!”
According to Alison Brehm, a fourth-grade teacher at Battle Hill, students and teachers alike were mesmerized by the giant planetarium as they entered the school auditorium. It immediately grabbed their attention and the excitement in the room began to buzz. “What’s Out There” has three distinct phases to its program, Brehm said.
During Phase 1, Meyer provided PowerPoint presentations for the teachers, each developed for the different grade levels attending the presentation. These were provided with talking points, to give the students prior knowledge before visiting the planetarium.
For Phase 2, Meyer brought the giant dome to the school. Although Meyer has a smaller dome for smaller venues, the one he brought to Battle Hill has a diameter of 22 feet, stands almost 14 feet tall and can hold up to 60 people at a time, so two classes attended the 45-minute presentation during a two days period. Once inside the dome, the students were able to reinforce the concepts presented in the PowerPoint lesson. The presentation was interactive and the students had the opportunity to assist Meyer.
Phase 3 provided culminating activities that further enhanced the planetarium experience. The activities were fun and educational. Brehm said Meyer’s passion and enthusiasm was evident from the moment he began to speak to the students; he immediately engaged them by asking questions and listening to what they knew about the solar system and what they wanted to know. Students were engrossed once they entered the dome.
Inside the planetarium, students were shown the planets, moons, constellations and other celestial objects as they appear in the evening sky. Meyer pointed out Venus to the students and explained that it was the last week to see Venus at night. He also pointed out Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and taught them how to use the Big Dipper to find the North Star. For the older students he spoke about Greek mythology and the different animals that can be located in the night sky.
The students were captivated at the images projected in the planetarium.
“The presentation was very interesting,” fourth-grader Sophia Weiss said. “The constellations were the most interesting part. It was really cool that they form so many different animals and that the stars are so many different colors based on their age.”
The “What’s Out There” presentations also included Native American and African mythology. Native American mythology describes the perceptions of the origins of the Earth and sky, while African mythology focuses on the difference in the sky as seen in the northern hemisphere. Meyer selects his presentations for each venue based on grade level, curriculum support needs and student interest.
Meyer was inspired by his father to start his educational company and has had an enthusiasm for learning from a young age. With his presentations, he hopes to stimulate a love of learning for all subject matter, but especially for astronomy. Knowing students go home and are excited to share their day with their family is one of the most rewarding parts of his job, he said. His hope is to inspire children to be future astronomers, and to have an appreciation of astronomy and a genuine curiosity about the world around them.
“I learned so much about the solar system,” fourth grade student Samantha Dos Santos said. “I didn’t know that Jupiter was a gas planet.”
The students and staff were grateful that the PTA provided this wonderful experience for the Battle Hill Community and look forward to his Meyer’s future visits.