Planetarium creates innovative teaching methods

The dream of two men started unfolding at NKU when the Haile Digital Planetarium opened its doors helping students learn about the universe in a new way.

“It’s the perfect way to educate people about the cosmos,” said planetarium director Dan Spence. “Cosmos being everything, not just stars. We’re all part of the universe, so it seems like a good idea to teach people about it.”

In the Haile Digital Planetarium, located in the science building, there are various features that make it one of a kind.

For one, the room has a full-dome video projection, which is 4,096 by 4,096 pixels. The dome turns things shown on the screen into one, big seamless image, according to Spence.

“Anything we can put on a computer screen, can go on the dome screen overhead,” Spence said. “All of our intro astronomy classes are taught in the planetarium; so if you want to teach someone about astronomy, what better place to do it then in a planetarium, where you can show them astronomy.”

The planetarium also allows people to take virtual tours from tiny spaces within the human body to flying past vast galaxies.

“We have simulations that show things that have happened in the past, including the seven ancient wonders of the world as they looked when they were still here and things that are in the future,” Spence said.

Spence is involved with teaching biology to students from preschool to high school. About 8,000 students a year come to the Haile Digital Planetarium. He loves to work with school children.

“I love little kids because they jump up and down, excited and they never see anything like this,” Spence said. “I love to work with middle school because they’re a challenge.”

According to Spence, each semester, there are four sections of astronomy offered in the planetarium.

“When I use my slides, people can’t visualize. But when I project the sky from Cincinnati on the dome screen, I can show them what happens when the sky rotates,” said Chari Ramkumar, astronomy professor. “[It] helps to explain the difficult concepts in science, astronomy and physics in a much simpler way.”

However, there is a major disadvantage that Ramkumar and Spence agree on: the seating in the planetarium.

“The seats are comfortable and it makes it harder to stay awake,” Spence said.

Ramkumar said the seats are even tilted. He encourages his students to step outside the room, get some fresh air and get a cup of coffee so they can stay alert in the snug seats.

Another disadvantage with the planetarium that Spence sights is the fact that there are no blackboards or whiteboards for the professors to use.

“Faculty has to work a little harder to get everything on the dome,” Spence said.

Astronomy professor Wayne Bresser loves to challenge his students’ thinking when teaching in the planetarium. He feels that the planetarium helps his classes to be more interactive. The planetarium has software that helps the students see stars, the moon, the sun, planets and constellations.

According to Bresser, his classes have the students look at something and challenge what their misconceptions have been and discuss those concepts.

For more information on the Haile Digital Planetarium check out their main page.