Dyer Observatory Inspires Bellevue Middle School 8th Graders to Reach for the Stars


Many students are told that the sky is the limit and to reach for the stars, and recently, that is exactly what 8th-grade science students at Bellevue Middle did. Through a partnership with the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory, Dr. William Teets visited two of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s science classes had been studying the formation of the universe, focusing on our solar system. Dr. Teets has been with Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory as a staff astronomer since 2012. Prior to that, he worked at Dyer part-time during his graduate studies from 2006 to 2012.

Dr. Teets set up a solar telescope for students to view the sun, another telescope that projected the image of the sun and a sundial to help students see real-life applications of what they had been studying. Student were able to ask Dr. Teets questions as they gazed through the telescope at the sun to see a sunspot and well-formed prominences. He also shared with the students how the sundial worked and about what they would see and some of the behaviors that astronomers observe when studying the sun. The students learned that the sun was not the largest star in the Milky Way galaxy and that the stars that are significantly larger like Betelgeuse and can be seen when gazing up in the night sky.

“The kids loved it and I was really impressed with how well they stayed engaged,” science teacher, Aprele Fitzgerald said. “Dyer observatory was amazing with their presentation and equipment. If we could do it again next year, I would be thrilled!”

After students were able to work with the telescope, Dr, Teets shared with them meteorites that he had in his collection, one of which was a fragment from a meteor that soared over Russia in 2013. Experiences like the one with community partners are a great way to bring the learning to life for students. Many students did not even know there was an observatory in their own back yard. This experience connected the science standards to the real world for the students and helps them see the “why” in their learning and possible careers they can pursue.

(Article written by Kate Finn, M.Ed. District Lead STEAM Coach)