Thayer students host astronomy fair
Under the direction of Upper School Science Faculty Jamison Smith, 32 students in the two sections of Smith’s astronomy course recently hosted an astronomy fair for roughly 40 students from Meeting House Montessori School in Braintree.
Initiated by Upper School Science Faculty Don Donovan P ‘10, ‘13, the current department chair, Smith has run the fair for roughly the past 10 years; however, due to the pandemic, the late April gathering was the first such event since 2019.
“Keep these elementary school students engaged and they’ll walk away learning something,” said Smith, who added that he now sees attendees of those past astronomy fairs walking the hallways of Thayer as high school students themselves.
Smith’s current Upper School students had been working on a variety of projects, he said, with topics ranging from compressed air rockets to the phases of the moon to the constellations. At the fair, the elementary school students from Meeting House Montessori toured the older students’ various project stations in Alumni Gym similar to a job fair, albeit a job fair complete with Thayer’s inflatable planetarium.
For the second hour of the fair, the Montessori students ventured outside where Thayer students had both an observatory station and a telescope station waiting for them. The children were then able to look at the sun using solar filters before the day wrapped up with a model rocket launch, one in which a one-foot-tall scale rocket soared approximately 1,000 feet into the sky.
“We went out with a bang,” said Smith, who noted that some of the younger students enjoyed shouting the countdown almost as much as the launch itself.
For the Montessori students, the takeaway of the fair is a positive feeling about science in general and astronomy in particular.
“They learned about the wonder of astronomy, the excitement of astronomy, and the enjoyment of astronomy,” Smith said.
As for his own students, the veteran teacher said there’s no better way to learn something than to have to teach it. He offered the example of two of his astronomy students who explored the Drake Equation — which estimates the odds of finding intelligent life in the universe — as their project. As the two students designed their project station and explained it to both their peers and the Montessori students, Smith couldn’t help but notice that the duo began to understand their subject at a deeper level.
Better yet, said Smith, his students learned responsibility, as in the responsibility to properly host more than three dozen youngsters who were counting on them.
“Our students learned about making and keeping deadlines, about project checkpoints, about follow-through,” he said. “They learned about holding a dress rehearsal to make sure everything goes as planned and, more importantly, about the flexibility needed when it inevitably doesn’t.”
Smith praised his students for taking on the various roles in the three weeks leading up to the fair to make it such a success. “They really stepped up,” he said.
He also said that the Thayer students loved the energy and enthusiasm brought by the Montessori students and that the astronomy fair tradition will continue next spring.