Afterschool Universe is a hands-on astronomy program targeted at middle school children in out-of-school-time settings. It explores basic astronomy concepts through engaging hands-on activities, and focuses on the Universe outside the solar system. Afterschool Universe is available to out-of-school-time program providers who are looking to include engaging and high-quality science programming in their organization's portfolio.
Afterschool Universe consists of 12 sessions. Each session typically requires 45-60 minutes for implementation. The program is flexibly structured and can be implemented on a schedule that best suits your programming needs. It can be run in a variety of settings that include astronomy days, summer camps, or year-long afterschool programming. Although many sessions build on previous ones, each session is intended to be free-standing, as not all children will attend every session. Explore the outline of the sessions to see a list of topics covered and how the program is structured.
Each session usually begins with a brief discussion led by the program facilitator, then moves into a hands-on activity that children participate in, either individually or as part of a group. It then wraps up with a discussion of what was learned through the activity. All the activities are done in the real world and do not require the use of a computer. Suggestions for optional Web-based activities are provided for locations with computer access or for at-home extensions.
Resources and Materials
A comprehensive manual for the program facilitators provides background information and detailed recipes for running program sessions. The manual has been written at a level that is appropriate for facilitators with little science background. It has passed the rigorous NASA Product Review and is approved for wide-spread dissemination.
The program sessions utilize easily available materials. The Materials List lists the different types of materials needed. Each program is responsible for obtaining the basic materials needed to implement Afterschool Universe.
The Afterschool Universe team has held many training workshops around the country since 2008 and trained hundreds of afterschool program staff to implement the program. We also have certified trainers around the country so that training workshops are more accessible to a variety of communities. Check out our list of partners to find out what networks are near you, or check out our live website to learn about upcoming training workshops.
Activities for this program were developed by drawing from a wide array of existing resources and adapting them for the out-of-school-time environment. The pilot programs received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students and leaders alike — the students enjoyed the informal, hands-on style of the program, and leaders found their own understanding and enjoyment of astronomy enhanced by their participation. [Learn more about our program history and pilot testing.]
Afterschool Universe is an education/outreach program of the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. It was originally sponsored by NASA's Beyond Einstein program (now called Physics of the Cosmos) and was developed in partnership with the Imagine the Universe! EPO program. The most recent phase of this program is funded by a NASA EPOESS grant NNX10AV22G. We also gratefully acknowledge funding from the Chandra EPO small grants program under grant TN78009X in 2007-2008.
The Physics of the Cosmos program consists of a series of missions focused on answering questions about black holes, the origin of the Universe, and dark energy. Afterschool Universe was developed to serve as an introduction to the basics of astronomy to help students explore their interest in these topics.