A conversation with Michael Paolucci, founder of Slooh on the power of looking at the skies for accessible astronomy education
In conversation with Bonnie, Michael Paolucci discusses the journey Slooh has been on to create its digital education platform that teaches students to explore space just like professional astronomers via a computer interface.
"Looking at the skies just got the kind of million-dollar makeover we all dream of!" says Bonnie Kirkley host of the I Heart STEAM Teacher Podcast. "Listeners of all types....teachers, parents, and ANYONE on this PLANET, get ready for the kind of space tech at your fingertips we thought was CLASSIFIED!!"
"I did not check how to pronounce your name" begins Bonnie, "Paloochi?". "That's it!" says Michael, "well I am starstruck," says Bonnie.
Funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant, Slooh brings the wonders of space exploration to upper elementary through post-secondary students around the world with The Online Telescope for Teachers. For almost 20 years, the company has provided the ability to view space phenomena, capture observational data, and engage in gamified learning through its patented user-controlled network of online telescopes in the Canary Islands and Chile. Slooh additionally provides in-built professional development led by educators for educators to drive student learning.
"It's an unfortunate reality that astronomy and telescopes have just not been a part of the education system," says Michael "it's because there was no easy, hands-on, experiential way to do it. We sought out to try and change that".
Alongside The Online Telescope for Teachers and The Online Telescope for Schools, Slooh recently announced its new product The Online Telescope for Families, bringing education directly into the heart of family life. Through the platform, families are empowered to explore, capture, and analyze more than 1,000 real-world space objects and events using professional-grade technology together – all from the comfort of their homes.
"I literally haven't seen anything like this and said, "YES!" notes Bonnie. "I took my own photographs of the crescent moon last week! Yep, that's right my own images that are stored on the Slooh Library in my dashboard. Don't walk... RUN to Slooh and get started!"
So how does this platform "with NASA power" empower you and your students?
"Having The Online Telescope is like having an atlas, a microscope, a globe in a classroom closet that you bring out" says Michael. "It's about finding ways to connect astronomy to things you teach that are part of the standard curriculum."
Though NGSS and Science Standards-aligned, Slooh emphasizes that "astronomy is not just for the science teacher". "We integrate a STEAM approach" notes Michael, "we tie all of the content to mythology, art, and more so schools can find more ways to put astronomy on the curriculum to leverage kids' innate curiosity and get non-science teachers involved." "I love that!" replies Bonnie.
Slooh's STEAM approach inspires members to see the art of looking at the night sky. Quests or learning progressions cover a range of subjects, with many dedicated to Cultural and Historical explorations of the Universe. You can find Quests delving into the Myth of Virgo, Inca Constellations, and The Legend of Taurus, each with their own personalized poster you can download and print to preserve your cosmic adventures.
For every Object you can capture with the telescopes there is a supporting Guide packed with extra information. Many of these Objects also have Illuminations or cultural stories attached to them that help students to make connections between what they see in the telescope and human history.
Take for example this Gold Dust Open Cluster (M27) one member captured on May 4th, 2022. "This is one of the most elaborate Slooh art renderings I've managed to catch for a while," wrote the member, "art is in the eye of the beholder, I've been told. So here's gold in your eye!". Another member commented, "I've loaded this image as the background of my desktop computer."
"If our students can make that kind of connection," says Bonnie, "it drives their motivation for the rest of their lives. They've got to find those things that they're curious and passionate about to develop a love of learning."
"This has been amazing" ends Bonnie, "I'm signing off but, listeners, start creating explorers in the classroom."