Astronomy campers get glimpse of space life _lowres

Advocate photos by C.J. FUTCH -- Campers at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum's Astronomy Camp practice their spacewalks by wheelbarrow walking across the field across the street from the museum, and crab-walking back.

Fourth-grader Avery Scott and her fellow classmates at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum’s Astronomy Camp spent the afternoon June 16 crab-walking up and down the grass across the street from the museum. The exercise was intended to simulate the difficulty of trying to maneuver in a weightless environment for the first time — or at least to get as close to space walking as possible with no space shuttle and no swimming pool.

This is Scott’s second year at camp, and she said she liked it so much, she told her friends about it, and they signed up, as well.

She’s also been learning about the stars in the night sky, Scott said.

“I learned how to find the Big Dipper,” she said.

Each day, camp director Nita Mitchell and fellow science educator Lisa Chumney choose a planetarium show for the campers, Mitchell said, and June 16’s show was the spring sky.

“We give them laser pointers — well, they’re not lasers, they’re actually just lights, but you still shouldn’t shine them in your eyes. We found the Big Dipper, and used that to follow the point to the North Star and then to the Little Dipper,” Mitchell said, and from there to all the constellations students recognized as astrology signs — Leo, Virgo the Maiden, and many others.

After each planetarium show, each student took a turn using the light to point to a constellation they’d learned about during the show.

Where there is science at the Art and Science Museum, there is usually art nearby.

Campers took their lessons into the art studio and recreated it with a craft, which is a great way to reinforce the lessons they’re learning, said Douglas Kennedy, which brings about a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

That came in particularly handy for the black holes lesson, said Mitchell, as it does with every other abstract concept. Mitchell walked from the planetarium into the classroom area, pointing to a big circular PVC pole frame at the center of the room covered with black, stretchy material.

Kennedy rolled a heavy ball into the center of the cloth, and when it came to rest, Mitchell tossed in a smaller, lighter ball, and watched it circle the center, gradually moving closer and closer to the heavy ball.

Once they saw it and understood the concept, they created their own representations of black holes with spin art.

“All of it together really adds to their understanding,” Mitchell said.

Campers, ages 7 to 10 years old, also made cardboard telescopes that really work and used dry ice, sand and dirt to simulate a comet, Mitchell said.