Most seventh-grade classrooms do not conduct class during the middle of the night to properly observe the night sky when they learn about astronomy, but seventh-graders at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School had the vast world of outer space come to their classrooms when the Starlab Portable Planetarium visited the school this week.

On loan from Arizona State University’s Mars Education Program, the portable planetarium is an inflatable dome that can hold a class of students as they explore the solar system and other galaxies. The planetarium’s interchangeable cylinders help teachers point out constellations students would have a hard time finding on their own.

“We’re borrowing the planetarium from ASU for about two weeks, and it only cost about $5 for us to use it,” seventh-grade science teacher Steve Reed said. “Anytime you can change things up a bit in the classroom it’s really good for the students.”

Reed went through a training program at ASU to learn how to properly set up and operate the planetarium.

“They put on an all-day conference to teach us how to use the planetarium, and they had NASA officials there to give us the latest space news,” Reed said. “The planetarium only takes about three minutes to inflate and then we’re ready to go.”

Student response to the planetarium has been encouraging. All of Akimel’s seventh-graders will go through the planetarium. Seventh-grade science teacher Tara Dale told her students that they would not be able to go to the planetarium unless they had turned in all of their work.

“Everyone turned in their missing assignments right away because they didn’t want to miss the planetarium,” Dale said.

Students in other grades walking by the planetarium in the hallway have been very curious about it.

“The sixth-graders walk by and can’t wait to see the dome when they’re seventh-graders, and the eighth-graders wish they could have seen it when they were in seventh grade,” Reed said.

According to Reed, the portable planetarium is especially useful because he often assigns homework to students to find certain stars at night, but he can never be sure if they have actually seen the stars or not.

“I can’t be at their houses at night to teach them where the stars are, so this is an easy way for me to point them out to the students,” he said.

Reed has already reserved two weeks for the portable planetarium to visit Akimel next year. Jon Hutman, a science teacher at Kyrene Centennial Middle School, has also been trained to operate the planetarium at his school.

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