01/06/12 — UNC planetarium makes stops at local schools

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UNC planetarium makes stops at local schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 6, 2012 1:46 PM

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UNC Morehead Planetarium Science Education Specialist Elysa Corin calls on a Dillard Middle School fifth-grader to answer the question, "Are there storms on other places besides Earth?" before the students stepped into a portable planetarium Thursday.

Dillard Middle School students visited Morehead Planetarium Thursday without leaving school grounds.

Thanks to PLANETS -- Portable Learning for All North Carolina's Elementary Teachers and Students -- a 20-foot inflatable dome was set up in the school gymnasium, allowing two groups of students the chance to take a close-up view of programs typically presented at the Chapel Hill location.

"We travel all over the state. We actually visit about three schools a week," said Elysa Corin, science education specialist at UNC. "The goal is to reach schools that are more than two hours away, that would have trouble going on a field trip. So we bring the planetarium to them."

The pilot program began in 2009 and has previously been brought to Wayne County. This year's featured sessions were on "Wildest Weather in the Solar System," about powerful and mysterious phenomena among the planets, and "Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown," exploring the realm of invisible astronomical objects in the universe.

Dillard was among the schools visited this week, where fifth- through eighth-graders enjoyed the two shows.

This year the UNC staff coordinated the program through the district AIG programs, for academically and intellectually gifted students, Ms. Corin said.

"These kids, especially here, don't always get the opportunity to travel and it gives them the exposure," said Elfreda Robinson, AIG specialist at the school. "Even at Greenwood (Wednesday), these kids are just in awe of the information."

The multimedia show replicated the traditional planetarium experience, projecting a National Geographic production onto the interior of the inflatable dome. Before and afterward, Ms. Corin explained about the different weather patterns and answered student questions.

"To look at the kids' faces, they see all of this in the presentation and it's well done at their level," Ms. Robinson said. "Even the gifted kids who have these questions that are out of the box, Elysa can answer."

Following the session on weather, fifth-graders said they enjoyed the planetarium show.

"You feel like you're in there -- the colors and the pictures," Emmanuel Artis said. "It tells us a lot of information about it."

"I learned that different planets have different weathers and different things and they're just wild," Tanesha Mitchell added.

Rebecca Eliassaint said she enjoyed "everything" about the experience.

"I liked the parts when you could actually feel you were inside the planetarium," she said. "It felt like I was in space."

"I liked how it looked 3-D and it was wild and when the screen moved, it was like you were moving," said Allissa Hatch.

Classmate Aalyiah Lee was impressed by how realistically things played out on the screen, from the thunderstorms and ice volcanoes to the diamond rain and winds.

"I liked the wild weather. I felt like I was in it, how the lightning struck and the planets coming down," she said.

Alonzo Stephens Jr., one of the sixth-graders in the group, had his own favorite parts.

"I liked how the thunderstorms, how the lightning came down, how the wind kept on going at Neptune," he said. "I didn't know that Neptune was the windiest planet and Venus is the hottest planet."