Almanac

Schools - September 25, 2013

School is launch pad for science project

by Renee Batti

A newly installed telescope was the star of a community event at Ormondale School in Portola Valley on Sept. 20, when it was introduced by representatives of the organization that provided it: the Cork Institute of Technology's Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, Ireland.

Acquisition of the telescope is the result of a partnership that includes the observatory, the Portola Valley School District, and scientists and educators from the Center for Science Education at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory.

Ormondale School is California's launch pad for the collaborative science and technology project, known as TARA. Astronomers and school children in both Cork and Portola Valley will be able to remotely use each other's telescopes to view the night skies above their partner institutions.

The robotic astronomical telescope, which according to the observatory can be controlled either directly by observers or can work without human control, has been installed on a school building roof; images are accessible through the Internet.

The school is developing ways to integrate use of the telescope into the curriculum, according to John Dean, the school district's director of learning and media. Literature about the telescope notes that the TARA project is designed "to inspire and educate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through investigative learning."

Solar physicist Claire Raftery, a Dublin scientist now working at the UC Berkeley center, said in a press release: "Helping students to make personal connections to science in the context of their own culture is vitally important for maintaining relevance and engagement in science careers later in life. Project TARA will help both Irish and American students realize the importance of looking to the sky, both in today's world and historically."

During last week's Friday night event, Blackrock astronomers gave an overview of the telescopes and sampled images from the devices, according to Ormondale Principal Kevin Keegan.

Niall Smith, head of research of the Cork Institute of Technology and founding director of the observatory, was part of the Cork contingent of Ormondale School visitors, and held a Q&A session with children during a morning assembly on the day of the community event. Scientists Claire McSweeney and Alan Giltinan were also among the Cork observatory ambassadors who introduced the telescope.

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