Heliophysics: Extending Curriculum in Targeted Educational Settings (Heliophysics: ExCITES)

Project Name:
Heliophysics: Extending Curriculum in Targeted Educational Settings (Heliophysics: ExCITES)

Project Description:
The project leverages three successful informal education networks to extend NASA-funded Heliophysics curriculum from the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) program at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) into afterschool venues, science museums, and planetaria. Heliophysics: ExCITES will extend the field-tested, NASA-funded Heliophysics GEMS curriculum, Living with a Star, The Real Reasons for Seasons, Invisible Universe, and the Space Science Sequence, by using the embedded STEM learning concepts and high-quality activities as the core components of one new afterschool kit and supporting professional development material, two additional NOAA Science on a Sphere interactive learning modules, and three updated full-dome planetarium shows. Through established networks associated with each of the three platforms, project deliverables, enhanced with the latest NASA Heliophysics content, have the potential to reach a substantial audience of informal educators including: over 4200 afterschool sites using the Developmental Studies Center line of educational materials, 35 institutions with an SOS exhibit, and over 300 planetaria using LHS Planetarium Activities for Student Success resources or Sky-Skan equipment.

After three years the project has successfully completed the:

1) Afterschool Sunlight Science kit, available for educators from the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, California (http://www.devstu.org/product/ks-ss). In the Sunlight Science kit, the children do investigations right outside their door and discover that sunlight is made up of more than just visible light. The learning goal for the Sunlight Science kit is for children to understand that sunlight is made of both light we can see and light we can’t see—such as ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light— and that we can detect invisible light with instruments that extend our senses. Through cooperative activities they investigate the warmth in sunlight, see the rainbow of colors that makes up visible light, detect invisible ultraviolet (UV) light with UV-sensitive paper and color-changing “UV beads,” and investigate which materials best protect us from the harmful effects of too much of the Sun’s UV light. The Sunlight Science Session Guides were refined through field testing in afterschool settings by afterschool instructors to ensure that the activities were engaging for students and manageable for instructors, and that the instructions were clear.


Three updated planetarium shows for LHS Planetarium Activities for Student Success (PASS) network and Sky-Skan Inc., a leader in the planetarium field for decades and most recently in development of digital planetarium projector systems. Sky-Skan is highly respected in this field and has major installations in over 120 planetariums around the world and has sold some 4000 special effect projectors in nearly 300 planetariums and museums worldwide. LHS has made revisions to three Heliophysics planetarium shows:

  • Colors from Space, the importance of light spectra and color in astronomical studies,
  • Northern Lights, where students learn about the terrestrial effects of the magnetic Sun,
  • Our Very Own Star, students compare models of Earth and Sun magnetic fields to see the evidence for a dynamic Sun, based on input from Heliophysics scientists.

Revisions include technical updates to a new full-dome projection format and insertion of new NASA Heliophysics-mission related multimedia. All revised shows were tested with 14 families in the San Francisco Bay Area with parents and youth, in a focus group style session using established evaluation instruments.

Work continues on the SOS module and associated online multimedia resources.

Lead Institution:
Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley


Space Science Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Effectiveness and Impact:
Evaluation findings and impact statements:

At this point, much of the evaluation on the project has been formative. LHS staff conducted two pilot tests of the activities in winter 2011-12, and then field tested the Sunlight Science kit in Spring 2012 at 16 sites around the country. This included feedback from a variety of out-of-school venues in 5 states (CA, TX, WY, OH, GA) helped shape the final form. Revision of the materials in Summer 2012 was based on careful analysis by LHS staff of data from the field tests and an evaluation conducted by REA, resulting in materials that will be more practical and effective for use in afterschool settings. The print materials were further edited and refined during fall and Winter 2012-- about 15 drafts went back and forth from LHS to DSC staff before the final version was completed in early 2013.