The primary education mission of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is to optimize the contributions of the AAS and its members to ensure that undergraduate and graduate programs in astronomy and astrophysics prepare not only the next generation of professional astronomers but also broadly trained individuals with strong technical and scientific backgrounds; to provide encouragement and to broaden educational opportunities and enhance science literacy for all with particular attention to underserved groups in the physical sciences
Within the Society, and more widely in the astronomical community, the AAS advocates greater attention to, encouragement of and rewards for excellence in research on teaching and learning in astronomy and in astronomy education. Additionally, the AAS is an advocate for astronomy and astronomy education in national and state education forums, to funding agencies, and to the scientific and education communities.
The education activities of the AAS are thus geared toward meeting these goals – from the Bok Awards, which aim to encourage young scholars in the pursuit of a science career, to sponsoring workshops that enable new faculty to hone their teaching skills. Following is a description of some of the education programs of the Society.
The Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards and the Richard D. Lines Special Award
The Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards (First and Second Awards) are presented annually by the AAS and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) for outstanding astronomical research projects at the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for high school students. The Richard D. Lines Special Award is presented annually by the International Amateur-Professional Photoelectric Photometry (IAPPP) at the ISEF. These awards are administered by the AAS on behalf of the AAS, the ASP and the IAPPP, and are funded by the National Science Foundation’s Astronomy Division Special Programs. The main criterion for selecting the two Bok Awards is scientific merit. Observational, instrumental or theoretical projects are all eligible, as are interdisciplinary projects involving Physics, Math, Computer Sciences, Engineering, etc. Although scientific merit is the primary criterion for the Lines Award, a project is sought which best reflects both the mission of the IAPPP (collaboration between amateurs, students, and/or professionals) as well as excellence in observational and/or instrumental astronomy. Most of the young recipients of these awards go on to major in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics, and often obtain graduate degrees.
The Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships in Astronomy
The Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships provide any host undergraduate institution: community colleges, teacher colleges, liberal arts colleges and non-research universities, and institutions not offering an astronomical degree with a program of two day visits by professional astronomers. Visiting professors can contribute to the host institution's academic program and intellectual environment in many different ways from teaching a variety of classes in physical, mathematical and general sciences, as well as astronomy to giving popular public addresses. The level of these presentations range from the elementary and non-mathematical to the advanced and technical. In informal discussions, the visitors can advise students on possible future scientific careers and can discuss teaching and curriculum problems with faculty members, deans and administrators. Talks at local secondary schools are also encouraged as part of the visit.
Workshop for New Faculty in Physics and Astronomy
The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), in conjunction with the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the American Physical Society (APS), hold a workshop for new physics and astronomy faculty members in November each year at the American Center for Physics. Now in its eighth year, this annual conference helps new faculty understand how students learn physics and astronomy and suggests how this information can impact a new professor's teaching methods. The workshop is funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education. Department chairs submit nominations of faculty to attend the workshop.
ComPADRE (Communities for Physics and Astronomy Digital Resources in Education)
ComPADRE is a network of well-organized digital collections of high-quality educational materials in physics and astronomy. This project is the cooperative effort of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation as a part of the National Science Digital Library project.
ComPADRE currently houses six collections of materials, connecting a wide range of digital resources including curricular materials, digital libraries and online journals. These initial collections are the 1) PSRC (Physical Science Resource Center) which is the general or central collection for ComPADRE, 2) The Nucleus, a collection by and for the AIP/Society of Physics Students which provides physics and astronomy resources for undergraduates; 3) Physics to Go a library of informal science websites, 4) Quantum Exchange, a web-based repository of resources for teachers of quantum and modern physics, 5) Astronomy Center, a web-based repository of resources compiled to assist in the teaching of a collegiate level Introductory Astronomy course. The materials on this site are selected by the Editor and the Astronomy Center Editorial Board for being high quality educational resources and are peer reviewed for content, usability and quality, and 6) The Physics Front, a digital library for all secondary school physics teachers. ComPADRE collaborates with projects like MERLOT and groups like the Physics Education Research community to help create digital resources for those communities.
See the article by Bruce Mason and Warren Hein in this issue.
The AAS Education Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of the public, students and/or the next generation of professional astronomers. This prize superseded the Annenberg Prize in 2001 and is awarded annually. Recipients have been Frank D. Drake (2001), Michael Zeilik (2002), Jay M. Pasachoff (2003), and the most recent is Owen Gingerich (2004).
Additionally, the Society has several publications, all available on line. These include A New Universe to Explore: Careers in Astronomy for high school students and undergraduates, An Ancient Universe: How Astronomers Know the Vast Scale of Cosmic Time, a primer on cosmic evolution for pre-college science teachers and co-published with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and Goals For “Astro 101: Report On A Workshop For Astronomy Department Leaders, now published in the Astronomy Education Review at http://aer.noao.edu.
Further information about the AAS education projects can be found at http://education.aas.org, or contact Dr. Susana E. Deustua, Director of Educational Activities at email@example.com.