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Student-built planetarium inspires imaginations at Saint Thomas the Apostle

December 19, 2019
Students show the planetarium they made in the enrichment class at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School

With a short list of down-to-Earth supplies, a group of Saint Thomas the Apostle students studying the constellations built something out of this world: their very own planetarium.

Putting it together

The students behind the project made it as part of the enrichment class at Saint Thomas. They set up their planetarium in the gym, making it out of a 20’x50’ sheet of black plastic, folded in half and taped at the edges to form a big pouch.

They cut a small door near one corner, and they cut another hole at the opposite corner and taped the opening of a garbage bag to it. Then they cut the bottom off the garbage bag to make it into a tube, in order to tape that other end to a box fan that inflates the planetarium. It inflates enough for students to sit inside.

Finally, they poked holes in the plastic to allow in light representing the stars.

It’s a design they found on the NASA website.

Once it was set up, the rest of the school was invited to come visit!

Sharing their learning

Classes took turns seeing the planetarium on December 18. The enrichment students presented about the various constellations they depicted, including the Big Dipper, Cygnus, and Canis Major. They shared facts such as when and where they’re visible, as well as notable stars they include, like Polaris, Deneb, and Sirius.

See photos in the gallery below or at this link.

Student-built planetarium inspires imaginations at Saint Thomas the Apostle

Enrichment classes like this one run for several weeks at a time, said teacher Mrs. Jeanne Walch. The different sessions each focus on different topics, giving students opportunities to develop their interests. This session on constellations began with using small science kits to build hand-held models of the night sky. The students expressed a lot of interest in taking on this larger scale project, too.

Educating for the future

This project has presented opportunities for various lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) -- not only about the stars but also about how to design and build something so unique.

And now that it’s built, this planetarium is available for Saint Thomas students to use multiple times. In years to come, students can cover up the constellation holes with black tape and poke new ones for different constellations.

Catholic education provides an outstanding, personalized learning experience. Students have access to diverse activities that encourage creativity and exploration, with our faith at the center, preparing them for vibrant futures.

Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Grand Rapids educates more than 320 students in preschool through 8th grade. Learn more here.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are an alliance of 31 vibrant learning communities (26 elementary and five high schools) serving more than 6,340 preschool through 12th grade students throughout West Michigan. Our schools inspire young people to grow in Catholic faith and grace, achieve more in school and life, develop creativity and character, and feel welcomed and cherished for their unique gifts. We partner with parents to awaken the whole child to a world of light and life — that grows better and brighter when children reach their potential.

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