It’s been a while since we did an overhaul on the moreheadplanetarium.org web site. In fact, the last time we rebuilt the website was 2003. In web time, that’s back in the middle ages. So we’ve decided it’s about time. We want to do two main things, modernize it visually and technologically, allowing us to utilize social media more and make it much more intuitive to use and to find information.

So, first step is that we’re going to “reskin” the homepage, which means that we’re going to keep the majority of the elements, but give it a new modern look. The second step is to take that new look to test with our users and then rebuild guts of the site from the ground up.

Here’s a first version mock-up of the reskinning of the homepage. If you have any thoughts, concerns, complains, compliments, or rants, please leave a comment and let us know. What would you want to see in a new Morehead Planetarium and Science Center website? More education? More information? More videos? Lay it on me.

moreheadweb_v1_091609

Jay Heinz is Morehead's digital production manager.

caiusIf you’ve ever visited Morehead, you’ve learned something new about science and the world in which we live.

What may be less obvious is that Morehead is a rich learning ground for UNC students, too.  There have always been student employees at Morehead.  However, in 2001, the organization made a bold and purposeful decision to strengthen the experience for student employees by aligning its staffing strategy to the academic mission of the University.  Now, over sixty UNC students work at Morehead, and they take center stage in our organization. It is the job of our full-time staff to mentor, nurture and support them as they learn skills related to teaching, nonprofit management and communications.

Students can be found in every aspect of our operations.  In addition to serving as the “public face” of the organization – giving shows, teaching in our programs and selling tickets and merchandise in our gift shop – students work behind the scenes designing curriculum, writing for our publications and planning events.  They learn to communicate complex ideas, manage projects and reflect on their successes (and occasional failures).

In addition, many of our more experienced student employees train and support their newer colleagues.  For example, Mallory and Eryn held a training session over the weekend for our exhibit facilitators.  They planned the agenda, prepared the materials and presented the information to our staff. They will then follow up with their colleagues, answering their questions and providing additional support.  This is just one example of a leadership role available to student employees through our organization.

For sixty years, Morehead has provided high quality science education to more than seven million people – schoolchildren, teachers, families and others. Now we’re also preparing the next generation of science educators, communicators and business people, too.  We are a learning organization through and through.

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning.

Io passing in front of  Jupiter. (Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, Cassini Project, NASA)

Io passing in front of Jupiter. (Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, Cassini Project, NASA)

In the Science 360 program “Bring the Universe to Light,” MPSC educators tell the story of Galileo Galilei’s surprising observations of the planet Jupiter.

With a telescope or even just a decent pair of binoculars, you can discover what Galileo did 400 years ago: Jupiter has moons that orbit it. This observation contradicted a commonly held view that everything revolved around Earth.

Tonight, something special happens with these dancing points of light that Galileo observed. Two moons, Ganymede and Europa, will appear to cast dark shadows on Jupiter as they pass in front of the planet. And Io will disappear as it passes behind.

The Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society invites the public to join them for an informal telescope viewing of this moon dance after 9 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, Aug. 26, at Farrington Point, Jordan Lake. (Please note this is not the same place where the regular Morehead skywatching sessions meet.)

Amy Sayle is Morehead's Science 360 manager.

When I was a young girl, I remember rationing the pages of the last book in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I read only five pages a day because I just didn’t want that story to end! Unfortunately, it did end, but the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder started and sealed my passion for adventure stories – a passion that continues to this day. From this experience, I also learned about the power of a good story to engage, inspire, motivate and educate. My colleagues and I often talk about “the power of the story” and aim to share science through stories in our programs, exhibits and shows.

An obvious example is Magic Tree House Space Mission, our planetarium show based on the popular book series by Mary Pope Osborne. In this original story, Jack and Annie go on wondrous adventures – to an observatory, a Moon colony and even a black hole – as they try to complete a task for the mysterious “M.” We, as audience members, travel with them and learn about stars, the Moon and space travel along the way.

Similarly, we integrate myths and legends of the night sky in our live Carolina Skies programs. And Morehead programs like Meet-A-Scientist and Current Science Forum offer firsthand accounts of UNC scientists’ quests to understand our world better. In addition to sharing their research findings, the scientists treat us to behind-the-scenes stories.

Why the emphasis on story in our science education programs? Many reasons. First, good stories are captivating. They are powerful hooks for learning. They capture our minds and our hearts. And, once minds and hearts are opened, our ability to learn science is a snap!

Good stories can also provide context – making something difficult, foreign, scary or dry feel accessible and doable and exciting and real. For example, in our DESTINY curriculum module called Brand Name Genes, rather than giving the textbook lesson about genetics and heredity, our educators developed a scenario whereby the participating students must role-play insurance company employees who are deciding whether or not to provide coverage to particular clients, some who may have the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. Of course, the high school students involved in the role-play must learn about genetics and heredity, but they do so for a purpose and in a context which may have some familiarity for them.

And, a really good story leaves us wanting more – just like my experience with the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. Our staff hopes that sharing science through stories inspires our visitors to become more interested in science, both while at Morehead and after going home.

So, what’s your favorite science story? Feel free to share it here. And, if you’re looking for a good source for high-quality science books for children (and adults who love them!), try Esme Raji Codell’s web site, PlanetEsme.com. Ms. Codell is an award-winning educator and an advocate for sharing excellent stories with children. Fiction and non-fiction science stories are regularly featured on her blog.

Happy reading!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She is currently reading Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them and Grossology.

The production team is hard at work putting the finishing touches on the new digital version of one of Morehead’s most popular planetarium shows, “Magic Tree House: Space Mission.” We’re set to wrap our seven month production at the end of September when it will be mixed in 5.1 surround sound. The story and even the audio from the original show is almost exactly the same, except for one change – the voice of Jack. We worked with new voice over actor Blake Pierce (seen here with writer Will Osborne) to record a slightly older sounding Jack voice.

But the majority of our time has been spent using 3D animation and modeling to create more realistic and immersive environments for Jack and Annie to explore. Check out this still from a reimagined scene below!

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

We’ve been conducting a survey of our Morehead members recently and one of the open-ended comments caught my eye. Someone commented that our schedules seem erratic. And they’re right — sort of.

Here’s the scoop to deciphering our scheduling patterns. There’s very little mystery to nights, weekends and summers. We change show schedules in January, June, September and November to provide guests with a variety of shows. The schedules are usually published about three to six weeks in advance of the start date and don’t change except for the occasional special event.

Amazing field tripsOn weekdays between September and May, our schedule is a bit trickier because it’s designed around school field trips. Basically, we only run shows on weekdays during that time if a group has scheduled a show. If seats remain, we open up the show to the general public. We try our very best to verify that the group is coming and how many seats they need before posting these shows on our Web site. That’s why we usually don’t post these shows to our Web site until just a few days in advance and why the schedule seems to always be changing.

However, we’ve found this method to be the best way to offer programming for the general public on weekdays during the school year. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be cost-effective for us to offer any programming for the general public during that period.

We try to offer a lot of flexibility to school groups for scheduling; but, if you want to get an idea about how our weekday schedule will look in 2009-2010, check out the PDF of our field trip planning guide

I hope this post clears up some of the mystery to Morehead’s scheduling practices. If you have questions or any ideas about better scheduling patterns, we’d love to hear them.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Welcome Morehead Director Todd Boyette to the blogosphere. He’ll begin writing in this spot as soon as we can get him set up on the system. Todd will be able to offer insights into the vision for Morehead and its future direction.

Make sure to check out Todd’s bio on the Morehead Web site.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Nellis AFB Solar PanelsThis Thursday night’s current science forum, “Powering Our Way to 2050,” is shaping up to be a good one. Dr. John Papanikolas, UNC chemist and featured presenter, frames it like this, “We’re not going to run out of energy. There’s like 20,000 years worth of coal. The question is: would you want to live on the planet then?” Based on findings provided by climate change scientists, the answer appears to be a resounding no.

So what do we do? Cover the equator in solar panels? Line every street in Chicago with wind mills? Finding realistic and creative solutions to our energy problems is one of the foremost scientific challengers of our time. Whether you’re in the “Drill, baby, drill!” camp or interested in other options, please join us for what is sure to be a stimulating discussion.

For inspiration, check out Megawatt Solar, a local company with a big idea.

– Jonathan

Dr. John Papanikolas will be leading the discussion at this Thursday’s (8/6/09) current science forum entitled “The Future of Energy: Powering Our Way to 2050.” The program begins at 7pm in the Morehead Banquet Hall. Light refreshments are served.

Jonathan Frederick is Morehead's science program manager. He likes bagels.

Tom MarshburnI’ve got to admit it. I meet some pretty cool people in my job. About three years ago, we hosted Tom Marshburn as a guest speaker during the “Destination: Space” premiere weekend activities. Tom is a NASA astronaut who happens to be a North Carolinian. He’s a Statesville native and a Davidson graduate.

I remember thinking at the time what a great role model Tom is for kids. As well as being an astronaut, he’s a medical doctor and seems like an all-around nice guy. He was unfailingly gracious — even as the kids in the audience grilled him about going to the bathroom in space!

Well, yesterday on the 40th anniversary on the moon landing, Tom was living his dream and making headlines. He went space walking as part of current shuttle mission. Way to go, Tom!

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

Here’s your hot travel tip for the summer. Membership. Most museum and science center visitors don’t even consider membership as an option unless the ticket seller mentions it, but membership really is one of the best bargains around at most museums and science centers. Consider Morehead for example. A tax-deductible Morehead family membership costs $60 and gets you free admission for an entire year. In comparison, if a family of four (two adults, two kids) visits, they’re going to pay $22 for admission. If they want to see a second show, add another $8. Considering tax benefits, that family more than breaks even on just two visits.

Association of Science-Technology CentersAnd the savings don’t stop there. One of the best parts is the reciprocal agreement that a lot of museums and science centers have for each other’s members: free general admission to participating museums. Morehead participates in a reciprocal agreement with other science centers through the ASTC Passport Program (one big caveat: the reciprocal agreement does not apply to science centers and museums within 90 miles of Morehead). That means you can become a member at Morehead and visit science centers free across the country. I’m sure you’re thinking that it’s a limited number of science centers that participates. Nope. Check out the list for yourself on th ASTC Web site. Most of the biggest and most well-known science centers in the world are on the list. Exploratorium in San Franciso. Yes. The Franklin Insitute in Philadelphia. Check. The Field Museum in Chicago. You bet. Check out the admission prices for some of the science centers, and you’ll figure out in a hurry that membership is a great value.

So why do science centers offer such a bargain? It’s simple really. Think of it as a customer loyalty program. We want you to come as often as you like, and membership makes multiple visits affordable.

So if you’re looking for a great bargain, consider membership. By the way, there are other benefits, too. Get all of the info on our membership page. While you’re visiting that page, you can sign up for membership online or you can sign up when you visit Morehead. One more note, you will need a membership card to take advantage of the discounts at other science centers. Allow a few weeks for us to process your membership application and get it to you.

After you visit science centers using your Morehead membership, come on back here and tell us how it was!

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations


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