Reading, Gaming, and Making, Oh My!: STEAM Education throughout History

Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) have long embodied the promise of understanding our world and making it a better one. For that promise to be fulfilled, younger generations must be exposed to STEAM and be given the opportunity to fully engage with it. In this exhibition we share how this has been done from the 16th century to the present; bringing together stories from our collections and from Adler programs. 

Looking & ReadingAdler Planetarium

Globe dv Monde: Contenant vn bref traite du ciel & da la terreAdler Planetarium

Dialogues on Paper

In 1592 the French author Simon Girault published "Globe du monde," which presents the astronomy and cosmology of the time to a young audience. Originally written for Girault’s own children, the book is structured as a dialogue between two presumably young persons, Charles and Marguerite. The dialogue format was frequently used in science publications for children and young people, especially from the 18th century onwards. 

Smith's illustrated astronomy: designed for the use of the public or common schools in the United States ; ill. with numerous original diagramsAdler Planetarium

The Power of Images 

The expansion of public education in the 19th century created new opportunities for teachers and publishers to engage with the production and trade of textbooks and teaching aids. This image is taken from Smith’s "Illustrated astronomy," a textbook authored by a school principal in New York named Asa Smith. This illustration, in the first pages, explains how the book is meant to be used - by directing the attention of students to the book’s images and diagrams (which in this case relate to the solar system), the teacher will help them better understands the subjects and concepts under study.

Astronomie populaire en tableaux transparents.Adler Planetarium

A Glowing Universe

This mid-19th century diagram compares the relative sizes and distances of the planets of the solar system. It is part of a set of transparencies that, as the name indicates, can be lit from behind, making the respective images glow. This simple visual trick worked with the magic lantern slides that were widely used at the time to animate public lectures. It helped capture the attention of young learners, and was applied to several aids produced and sold during this period. 

Stories of starlandAdler Planetarium

The Children’s Astronomer 

The publication of astronomy books for a non-expert readership grew in the 19th century, with some authors directing their efforts towards younger audiences. "Stories of Starland" is one of many astronomy books that Mary Proctor (1862-1957) wrote for children, and which earned her the moniker “the children’s astronomer”. Presented as a dialogue between a girl and her younger brother, whose illness prevents him from engaging in outdoor pastimes, the book combines storytelling with a conversational style that became the hallmark of Proctor’s remarkable career as a science writer and public lecturer. 

Aquarius ProjectAdler Planetarium

Stories from Real Research

The Aquarius Project engages teen explorers from Chicago with the search for fragments of a meteorite nearly the size of a minivan that crashed into Lake Michigan on February 6, 2017. Not only are these teens keen participants in the research conducted by the project, they actively share their stories about it through a podcast and a blog titled “The Aquarius Project: The First Student-Driven Underwater Meteorite Hunt." By using modern media to address their adventures and achievements as well as their setbacks and lessons learned, they inspire fellow young explorers to embrace the joys and challenges of scientific research.

Watching and ListeningAdler Planetarium

Planetarium: TellurianAdler Planetarium

Worlds in Motion 

In the 19th century, devices like this tellurian (a mechanical model of the Sun-Earth-Moon system) became a common presence in schools and other learning institutions, as well as in the family homes of the middle class. When the model is cranked, the motions of the Earth and the Moon in space are recreated before bystanders, many of whom would have been young people and children learning the basic concepts of astronomy. 

The Solar SystemAdler Planetarium

Getting Youth Excited about Space  

Published in 1961, this book was authored and illustrated by the prominent space artist Chesley Bonestell. The book is essentially a script for the set of slides containing Bonestell’s illustrations. It is also accompanied by an audio recording of the script, as narrated by the news anchor Walter Cronkite. Readers with a slide projector and a record player could thus create a multimedia experience that was intended to get a young audience excited about the space race.  

School children gather at the gravity well in the New Universe ExhibitAdler Planetarium

Let’s See What Happens!

A group of children visiting the Adler Planetarium in 1983 attentively watch what happens when a sphere is released into a “Newton’s well”, a type of display used to this day to explain gravity and black holes. This sort of exhibit gained popularity in science museums, especially from the 1960s onwards. Though it still requires a mostly passive audience, it provides visitors, especially younger ones, with exciting demonstrations of concepts in physics.

GONet in the FieldAdler Planetarium

Watching the Real World

Young people can a do a lot more than watching simulations of natural phenomena; they can help advance science by watching the real world! A good example is the Adler Planetarium’s Team Stratonauts program, in which teens developed and tested the GONet (Ground Observing Network) camera for observing and monitoring the quality of the night sky. The goal is to better understand the impact of light pollution on our environment. Data and analysis from this program have been presented to the National Park Service and Forest Preserves District of Cook County to support an application for the 6,600 acre area around Little Red Schoolhouse to become the world’s second internationally recognized Urban Night Sky Place. 

Playing and ImaginingAdler Planetarium

Globe: PocketAdler Planetarium

Holding the The Earth and the Sky 

Pocket globes became popular in the 18th century. At once toys and educational aids, they covered both Earth and sky, by showing the constellations on the interior of a two-hemisphere case that contained a terrestrial globe. Their small size made them suitable to be handled by children, and thus to be used in the family environment to teach basic concepts in astronomy and geography. 

The elements of astronomy and geography : explained on 40 cards, beautifully engraved and colouredAdler Planetarium

Guess the Card 

Gamification, the use game-like elements such as points scoring and competition in other activities, can make the process of learning more attractive for children and young people. Both educators and publishers sought to take advantage of that. This late-18th century set of cards covers essential concepts in astronomy and geography. The learner looks at the illustration on a given card and has to correctly identify and explain what is shown. The answer is provided on the flipside of the card. 

A key to Machan's astronomical mnemonical plates : forming a new system of astronomical mnemonics : or, a correct guide to the constellations...Adler Planetarium

Mind Games 

With the rise of a middle class able to spend money on educational materials for young learners, 19th-century authors kept on exploring varied approaches to the study of astronomy. This illustration is part of a book that promises to help students easily memorize the names and features of the celestial bodies and to perform astronomical calculations mentally, through associations between images and stories in verse. 

Adler Plantarium Youth Leadership CouncilAdler Planetarium

Imagination at Full STEAM 

In recent years there has been a growing recognition that STEM  - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths - can only advance and be efficiently mobilized towards positive social change if cultivated hand-in-hand with the arts. More than STEM, we need STEAM, and that is the motivation behind the Adler Planetarium’s youth-led program “BLACK HOLE: Teen Voices at the Adler”. Developed in collaboration with the Youth Leadership Council (YLC), it combines creative expression, critical thinking, and radical imagination to examine topics that are most relevant to teens and to society at large.

Experimenting and MakingAdler Planetarium

Three students with telescopesAdler Planetarium

Making Telescopes

Young telescope enthusiasts examine homemade instruments exhibited during a telescope fair hosted by the Adler Planetarium in the 1960s. Shortly after it opened in 1930, the Adler Planetarium opened its doors to the Amateur Telescope Movement, which engaged people of all ages in the United States and around the world with astronomical observing and the making of telescopes. 

YOLO Students at Dark Sky PartAdler Planetarium

How Dark is the Night Sky? 

Y.O.L.O. [Youth Organization for Lights Out] is a program hosted by the Adler Planetarium where hands-on STEAM learning and environmental justice converge to answer the following question: how dark is the night sky? By researching the night sky from Chicago’s Black and Brown neighborhoods, and National Park sites, the teen members of Y.O.L.O. learn about light pollution and its impact on human health, natural environments, and their communities through science and advocacy. 

Astro Science WorkshopAdler Planetarium

Hands on Astronomy and Space Science 

The Astro-Science Workshop (ASW) at the Adler Planetarium is a fun, intensive program about space exploration designed for high school students in the Chicago-area. ASW began more than 50 years ago during the space race and Apollo program and counts numerous scientists, engineers, business leaders, and a former NASA astronaut as alumni. ASW encourages participants to consider pursuing careers in science by offering the unique opportunity to work n hands-on activities with astronomers, engineers, and educators at the Adler Planetarium. 

Credits: Story

Thank you to the staff of the Adler Planetarium for their assistance in creating these images of our collection and this exhibition. Additional thank you to the Teen Programs staff and participants for their photos and highlights of the Adler Planetarium's Teen Programs.

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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