About the Authors...
For such an ambitious project to happen, specific people must be involved. What follows are the key people behind this initiative...
Teaching Astronomy classes at the high school level for nearly a decade, Scott Christensen understands the difficulty of making Astronomy education fun and exciting for his students. His view, that the current model is largely a “history course” or an "arts and crafts" class, is not far from the truth. With this conviction, Scott set out to devise a way to bring “real” astronomy to the classroom. For several years, Scott partnered with Jay Ballauer to do one nightly observing event per semester, as well as the occasional outdoor viewing during class-time to look at the sun using some of Jay’s high-tech solar equipment.
Beginning last year, Scott accompanied Jay on a private observatory build where Scott saw first hand the power available to today’s amateur astronomer and the potential to transform Astronomy education. As a result, Scott has been learning the capabilities of a remote, robotic observatory and the high performance to cost ratio that it provides. He has also become a capable astronomer from the technology side.
What most people do not know is that Scott has a background in banking and finance. Prior to accepting the call of Teacher & Coach, Scott spent many years after college as a regional manager for Wells Fargo. He developed an amazing ability to stay out front of any project, learning to never take "no" as the final answer. Most around Mansfield ISD know this to be true about Scott, and they see his charisma and go-getter attitude in his associations throughout the district, especially since he manages events at MISD's Vernon Newsom Stadium on the side.
Having a lot to gain as a classroom teacher, Scott is the main organizer and the chief point of contact for this Initiative, using his natural sales ability to bring a team together to see the vision of what this effort is all about.
Scott is not only able make to make a connection between curriculum/instruction and modern astronomy capabilities to improve the science classroom, he also sees this as a way to truly transform Astronomy education on the whole. Not only has he embraced the power and uniqueness of such a project for K-12 students, he knows how to provide leadership and training to other people of interest, especially for teachers who desire to improve their own astronomy classes.
A mathematics teacher at Lake Ridge High School, Jay has been working within education since 1994. With a passion for teaching others, sharing his favorite hobby, amateur astronomy, has come naturally. Jay has a long history of consulting with private individuals and non-profit organizations, something he is able to do, not only because of his education background, but because he has very specific technical skills within Astronomy circles.
Jay became seriously involved with amateur astronomy when he caught his first views of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. Over the next few years, he learned how to view the sky through his first telescope and quickly became a very proficient and knowledgeable observer. Shortly after, Jay jumped neck-deep into astrophotography. It quickly became the favorite part of his hobby because of the challenges inherent when merging art with science; technology with astronomy.
His images have been published on NASA’s APOD, in numerous books/textbooks and astronomy magazines/websites, and a plethora of literature and media. Awards for his deep-space images include the Best Deep Sky Image at the 2004 Texas Star Party and 1st Place in Sky and Telescope’s 2007 Beautiful Universe imaging competition. He speaks regularly in astronomical imaging workshops and Astronomy club meetings throughout Texas, national conventions such as the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), as well as major star parties such as the Texas Star Party, Okie-Tex Star Party, and Rocky Mountain Star Stare.
One of Jay’s earlier associations was to help establish the Three Rivers Foundation (3RF), a non-profit organization located in Crowell, Texas. He is largely responsible for building the infrastructure and initial observatories at their Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus. Jay originally served as the organization’s founding Astronomy Director. He still maintains a consulting/volunteer relationship with 3RF and has private access to their substantial assets, including a new roll-off roof observatory that utilizes almost identical robotic technologies as those in the MISD initiative.
Another of Jay’s current builds is the Wyoming-based CBBHO, a privately-owned observatory. A remotely-controlled, robotic domed observatory, Jay is the technological lead, operator, and trainer. Once online, access may be shared with MISD in both collaborative and supportive efforts.
Today, with the power of modern CCD imaging cameras and world-class, yet modestly priced telescope gear, Jay has a passion for deep-sky objects, made visible by these technologies, as well as the sciences concerning them. As a teacher in Mansfield ISD, Jay views it as his duty, almost a moral responsibility, to communicate the educational potential and proof of concept of these technologies to district leadership.