Solar Week

Another major E/PO activity resulting from the impact of Yohkoh is Solar Week. Solar Week was created with the primary aim of addressing the under-representation of women in the research and teaching of the physical sciences by specifically targeting middle-school girls. Solar Week is a daughter-site to YPOP, feeding off the YPOP Classroom activities. However, it also incorporates a number of novel features: a lower level of interaction via games in addition to activities, direct interaction with scientists via online Q&A sessions, and use of role models to encourage participation: all Solar Week scientists are female.

Solar Week is now in its 3rd year and has been run four times since October 2000. Solar Week is now a regular feature supporting the Sun-Earth Day activities with the total number of participants now surpassing 120 teachers, 12,000 students in 30 states and 11 different countries. The key focus of Solar Week is the direct participation of scientists to answer questions posed by the students taking part. All of the scientists are women and are introduced via an online biography. Solar Week would not have been as successful and effective without the contributions from: Mitzi Adams (Marshall Space Flight Center), Sallie Baliu-nas (Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory), Lyndsay Fletcher (University of Glasgow), Nicola Fox (Johns Hopkins University), Sarah Gibson (High Altitude Observatory), Karen Harvey (Solar Physics Research Corp.), Mandy Hagenaar (Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab.), Judy Karpen (Naval Research Lab.), Terry Kucera (Goddard Space Flight Center), Judith Lean (Naval Research Lab.), Dawn Myers (Goddard Space Flight Center), and Kris Sigsbee (Goddard Space Flight Center).

The structure of Solar Week is, as the name implies, based on a week long set of daily topics that introduce different aspects of solar physics. Currently, the topics are The Sun as a Star, emphasizing the Sun in the context of other stars, Solar Close-ups, introducing the collection of data and the concept of resolution, The Active Sun, which focuses on "solar storms", Solar Eclipses, and Careers. On each of the first four topics the scientific content is paramount and all activities, games and Q&A sessions center on the science topic of the day. Typically, we feature one or two "Star Scientists" who are currently performing research in the day's topic. The Careers day (usually Friday) is different in that it focuses on the role that women play in the sciences. All participating scientists are available to answer questions on the Careers day and the major activities are centered around the online biographies. This allows the students, particularly the female students, to learn more about the scientists, what it takes to become a scientist and what it is like to be a woman in a predominantly male field.

Each "day" within Solar Week has the same structural format to engender a familiarity with the site. The main area contains content (text, images and movies) on the day's topic, a game designed to be a low level and short duration interaction with the content, one or two activities that provide hands-on learning associated with the particular topic, information for teachers, interaction with the scientists, a brief link from the solar science to a life science topic, and hypertext links to other web-sites of particular value to the discussion. The daily topics are designed to be modular in order to change any particular topic with the minimum of impact to the rest of the site.

Two particular aspects of Solar Week bear further discussion. Games as an Introduction to the Content

Typical science teachers have their class for about 40 minutes per day which is too short for the activities highlighted in the YPOP Classroom. We addressed this issue in Solar Week by developing a number of games that serve to highlight the topic being discussed. Some of the games amount to no more than a simple scavenger hunt or crossword puzzle but the Solar Close-ups and Active Sun games provide an interactive means to explore various aspects of observational resolution and the evolution of a solar storm, respectively.

The idea behind each of these games is to provide an entertaining forum in which to learn some aspect of space science. The Solar Close-ups game teaches the students about the importance of spatial resolution in the observation of astrophysical objects by having them interact with digital data in a "Guess the Celebrity" game. Pictures of ten celebrities, hopefully still high in the teen popularity rankings, are pixelated to different levels with the object of the game to identify the celebrity as early as possible for the most points. As the resolution improves the identification gets easier (see Figure 2). Through the content part of this topic the game is related directly to the role digital imaging plays in modern astronomical observation and is graphically illustrated by a comparison of TRACE, SOHO/EIT and Yohkoh/SXT images.

The Active Sun game makes the link between different solar phenomena and their participation in a solar storm. This online Yahtzee-like game randomly produces a set of four solar images on four die-faces (call them e-dice for convenience). You can choose to "hold" any number of the images for your second "roll". The purpose, like Yahtzee, is to score points by collecting pairs, three of a kind, CMEs, sunspots etc. However, the biggest scores are achieved by building up a sequence of either three or four images. In this game a

Fig. 2. Guess the Solar Celebrity sequence is defined as a physically connected set of solar circumstances: e.g. filament - filament eruption -CME - aurora. To win the game the students have to develop some form of strategy to ensure a score in all of the relevant sections. To make a sequence happen, other than by pure luck, the student has to recognize a developing sequence and "hold" the relevant e-dice to achieve the completed sequence. This game is related to the "Story of a Storm" that describes the events surrounding the April 2 2001 flare. A static version of this game was developed for the most recent Yohkoh poster (Yohkoh: A Decade of Discovery) that was designed to celebrate the Yohkoh 10th anniversary (see Figure 3).

Scientists as Role Models

Aside from the fun aspects of Solar Week, the real impact is generated by the direct interaction of the students with the scientists. Not only are the scientists available online during Solar Week to answer questions about the Sun, dancing, music, scientific careers etc., but each participating scientist has a biography online that highlights their particular path to becoming a scientist. The purpose of these biographies is not to detail the scientist's current job and research but how they got there and to give a little insight into their personality and interests. By providing these positive role models, the students can see for themselves that women have an important role to play in scientific research and that it is not only one kind of woman who succeeds. The Solar Week scientists come from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of interests and attitudes. All of this provides a positive experience for the student, male or female, and gives them an appreciation of the diversity of people who ultimately become scientists.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the student/scientist interaction is the short-term bonds that sometimes occur. In the first run of Solar Week (October 2000) a number of students selected a particular scientist and began an online conversation about their common interests in dance, music, or cars, for example. These connections, more than the science content, are what makes Solar Week worth pursuing. The scientists who have participated in Solar Week over the last couple of years (see above) are to be commended for their hard work and dedication. The comments we have had from teachers clearly indicate that the biggest benefit they receive from their participation is the enthusiastic response to their students' questions by the scientists.


One of the main metrics of the impact of any E/PO effort is the assessment of how the students' knowledge or understanding has improved after their participation. Meaningful assessment for any project, however, is extremely difficult to achieve, especially for those E/PO efforts relying on the part-time participation of scientists. The ultimate aim of most of our efforts is the hope that there is a budding scientist out there who needs a little encouragement and inspiration to choose science as an education and/or career goal and that our projects provide that inspiration or encouragement. The success of this aim is difficult to assess or evaluate.

In projects like YPOP and Solar Week we do not pretend to provide in-depth assessment but we do attempt to achieve some form of evaluation via an online guestbook, in the case of YPOP, and the completion of a questionnaire by both scientists and teachers, in the case of Solar Week. These provide some sense of how well we are doing but more importantly they allow us to continually improve our E/PO and our interaction with the students. For instance, it is clear from the feedback that YPOP has served a diverse population of users: teachers, students, home schoolers, general public and planetaria. This is a far wider audience than we had originally expected.

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