An Exploratory Study of

Advanced Astronomy Camp


Deborah A. McCarthy


Master of Science

Curriculum & Instruction


At the University of Wisconsin-Madison




A Review of Three Types of Literature

Informal Science Education and Science Camps

Community Youth Organizations

A Glance at Scientific Inquiry

An Opening for Further Research


Description of Advanced Astronomy Camp

            Who Attended Advanced Astronomy Camp Summer 2002

            The Subjects of the Study

            Data Collection

            Analyzing the Interviews


            Why Come to Advanced Astronomy Camp?

            Analysis of Camper Interviews

                        The Importance of Peer Relationships

                        A Sense of Responsibility and Empowerment with Equipment and Choice

                        Changing Understanding of Science

                        Informal Relationships with Staff

                        Outlying Responses

            Analyzing Staff Interviews

                        Teaching Science That Mirrors How Professional Astronomers Research

                        Developing Confidence

                        Filling a Niche

                        The Importance of Being a Scientist

                        Awareness of What Campers Valued about Advanced Astronomy Camp

                        Aesthetic Beauty

                        A Director's Perspective


Youth-Centeredness, Meaningful Science Activity, and a Fun & Aesthetic Environment

            Implications for Third Arena Organizations and Schools

            Possibilities for Further Research

            A Personal Note



            A. Permission Letter & Forms

            B. Interview Questions

            C. Application to Advanced Astronomy Camp

            D. Advanced Astronomy Camp Research Projects




Many youth do their schoolwork, comply with their parents, hang out with their friends, and get through the day, but are not invested in paths into the future that excite them or feel like they originate from within.  A central question of youth development is how to get adolescents’ fires lit, how to have them develop the complex of dispositions and skill needed to take charge of their lives. (Larson, 2002, p. 171, my emphasis)


[The] duo of school and family, central to the life of every young learner, needs a third element that can complement and supplement what this duo offers.  Moreover, for some children and youth this third element fosters a sense of self-worth and a host of talents – particularly linguistic and creative – that classrooms have neither the time nor legal permission to foster.” (Heath, 2001, p. 10, my emphasis)


            As Shirley Brice Heath says above, there are valuable opportunities for learning outside of schools and homes: openings that may encourage certain social and academic skills and talents that neither schools nor family, the most researched areas of education, may engender quite so well.  Searching for learning opportunities that foster intrinsic motivation in youth, that “get adolescents’ fires lit” (Larson, 2000, p. 171), educational researchers like Heath and Larson have begun to investigate successful educational programs outside of school and home in order to discover what youth gain from these opportunities and how they can help develop intrinsic motivation.  Heath’s ten-year study of community youth organizations for youth from low socio-economic backgrounds forms a substantial part of the research on such programs.  However, most of the organizations that she has studied focus on service, athletics, or the arts as the driving forces of their organizations.  Comparably little inquiry has been done regarding programs that are successful in developing intrinsic motivation in carrying out science, history or math, and this is the opening of research that I pursue in this paper.

The majority of my teaching and educational experience has taken place in informal settings, the “third element” that Shirley Brice Heath (2001) discusses in her work.  Such an arena has always seemed to promote opportunities for children and youth not available in school or at home, including unique relationships with adults, longer-term activities and projects, and an unusual sense of community with peers.  So it was natural when setting out to choose a master’s project that I look for an educational situation outside of school.  This choice was further stimulated by an introduction to the work of Shirley Brice Heath through some of my research on the arts in education during my first semester of graduate school.  Her studies of successful community youth organizations, particularly those focused on the arts, and the impact they have on youth intrigued me and aroused my curiosity.  The task then became finding a successful educational situation that seemed to light kids’ fires in which I might already have or easily develop a connection, as this would allow me to delve deeper into the program in the shorter amount of time allowed in the scope of a master’s project. 

            I found such an opportunity surprisingly close to home in the Advanced Astronomy Camp run through The University of Arizona Alumni Association.  It is directed by Dr. Donald W. McCarthy, Jr., a man with whom I have had a long and genuine relationship, who had in fact inspired my interest in education: my father.  Although I initially questioned whether I should research a program led by a close family member, the pieces began to fit together for researching Camp.[1]  Astronomy Camp has an excellent reputation among campers and their parents extending over the fourteen years of its life.  Many youth who attend come back to subsequent camps, stay in touch over the years, and speak of Camp’s impact on their lives.  Parents also stay in touch, often writing emails and sending letters of thanks to Don for the influence Camp has had on their children.  One parent wrote an email to Don after her son returned home after Advanced Astronomy Camp this summer asking, “why your camps are so life-altering.”  This enthusiasm, lasting over the years, was a key element that I was looking for in a “successful” out-of-school educational program; it would allow for better relationships and the development of trust with participants and parents that might also in turn provide an opportunity for a longer-term study in the future.  The short duration of Camp lent itself to the compass of my master’s project: I could take part in the entire program from beginning to end.  In addition, Astronomy Camp seemed analogous to the organizations Heath studied, which meant a lead in comparative study in a somewhat under-researched area of education.  I also felt like I had enough background experience in science and astronomy yet enough unfamiliarity with Astronomy Camp itself to be both an insider and an outsider as a researcher (Kondo, 1990).  I certainly had a good connection and relationship with the Director and after some conversation it appeared that he was as interested as I in what we might learn from the research.  It was also apparent that my participation as a researcher and a counselor might be a positive contribution to Astronomy Camp.

            As conversation continued about the specifics of my research, it became apparent that the Advanced Astronomy Camp (versus the Beginning Astronomy Camp) would be more appropriate for two reasons.  First, since my primary source of knowledge would be interviews with the campers, older youth (high school versus middle school) would probably be more articulate and willing to share their views, an important advantage as this was a first research project not only for me, but for the Camp as well.  Second, the attendance at Beginning Astronomy Camp was fluctuating and very unsure, with cancellations up to the first day, probably in part because of the September 11th tragedy and parents’ unwillingness to send their children across the country to Tucson, Arizona.  So in early June I flew to Tucson, Arizona to help plan, prepare, and assist at the three summer Astronomy Camps (Beginning, Advanced, and Educator) and to collect data for my master’s project.

            The purpose of this study is to understand what makes Advanced Astronomy Camp so “successful” in the eyes of the youth and how the staff helps to create this educational experience.  More specifically, why do youth come to Advanced Astronomy Camp and how do they perceive its influence on their lives?  How do the Director and counselors perceive the campers’ experiences at Advanced Astronomy Camp and how do they see themselves directing and influencing particular aspects of Camp?  Narrowing the focus even further, I designed interview questions for the campers (see Appendix B) that followed three themes that I anticipated might be relevant to their experiences: affective aspects (confidence, community, personal interactions), science knowledge (science, math, critical thought), and ways of being in the world (careers, higher education, what scientists do).  Interview questions for the counselors and the Director (Appendix B) followed affective aspects (building confidence, supporting community), teaching (goals, techniques), and roles at Camp (fitting into the big picture, being scientists and/or teachers).  The Director’s interview also included questions concerning his goals for the counselors as well as the campers and his perspective about the strengths and weaknesses of Advanced Astronomy Camp.  I analyzed the interviews for campers and staff separately using a two-step coding process, looking for themes as well as outlying responses.

            Advanced Astronomy Camp is a limited program, reaching only thirty-three students during eight days and nights in the summer of 2002.  This small scope lends itself to researching what youth find valuable about it in addition to how the staff help create (purposefully or not) such an experience.  It is a unique program, not duplicable due to its location at the astronomical facilities on Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, AZ, the important role of the Director (Don) in its design, and the different combination of campers, counselors, weather conditions, and multiple other variables that change from year to year.  However, it may provide insight into an unusual and highly reputed science education program outside of school

            In this study I seek to understand why high school youth come to Advanced Astronomy Camp and how they perceive its influence on themselves in addition to how the staff helps to create this experience.  In the literature review that follows, I attempt to provide a background for my research on Camp by briefly investigating three different areas: science camps and related educational experience, community youth organizations, and scientific inquiry that seeks to more closely imitate what professional scientists do.  The section on methodology includes a description of what Advanced Astronomy Camp is like in addition to a detailed account of the methods I used in researching Camp.  Analysis of the interviews with the campers and staff reveals several themes in what they thought was valuable about Advanced Astronomy Camp and the ensuing discussion probes the potential relevance of these themes to comparable educational situations.

A Review of Three Types of Literature

Searching for relevant literature that would enlighten the research on Advanced Astronomy Camp was very difficult.  As Shirley Brice Heath put it, “The third arena of learning, that which takes place beyond classroom and home, is generally left unattended, minimally supported, and almost completely unexamined” (Heath, 2001).  Indeed, not much has been written about the third arena, including science camps.  Furthermore, Advanced Astronomy Camp is an unusual situation in that it is unlike most science camps and informal science education in general.  Though Camp has elements in common with them, in many ways it has more similarities to the dynamics of the community youth organizations described by Heath and others; additionally it has a distinct philosophy of teaching science, one that might be considered to come closer to the type of inquiry that professional scientists do.  So in order to shed light onto this educational program and the experiences of the youth there, this literature review has three primary components: comparative informal science education (particularly science camps), research on community youth organizations, and authentic scientific inquiry.

Informal Science Education and Science Camps

Helping youth “go on” in science is very important to society today, especially those considered to be underrepresented in the field (i.e. girls, specific race and ethnic groups, and those from lower socioeconomic classes).  As Kay Andrews (2001) notes about “extra” educational programs in the United Kingdom, “Research suggests that involvement in science clubs provides the ‘little bit extra’ that can be the all-important difference between going on with science or not” (pp. 160-161).  Recognizing this, the National Science Teachers’ Association issued a statement describing the ways in which informal science education, whether in the form of camps, museums, field trips, multiple media (such as videos and TV), or learning at home, is relevant and needed.  Informal science education, they say, can increase the time students engage in science, extend to “the affective, cognitive, and social realms,” provide opportunities for students to form different sorts of relationships with adults, allow for different learning styles and multiple intelligences, afford the sharing of “moments of intellectual curiosity” between care providers and children, give more direct access to career role models in the sciences, and emphasize creativity and enrichment (NSTA, 1998). 

However, although informal science education is a field containing many programs of different natures, it is still a relatively little researched area.  Its diversity makes it difficult to draw out common themes and differences in various programs and what makes them successful.  Within the field, museums and science centers are by far the most studied (Dierking & Martin, 1997).  It is clear from the National Science Foundation’s website dedicated to informal science education just how frequently many museums and associated programs are studied as opposed to longer-term educational programs outside of school.  Since this literature focuses to a large degree on the dynamics of one-time visits to science exhibits or presentations, I did not find that it contained much relevance for comparatively extended educational endeavors like the Advanced Astronomy Camp, which lasted eight days and eight nights.  Unfortunately the much smaller body of literature on science camps, clubs, and other extended programs contains mostly anecdotal and how-to accounts of how to start your own science program rather than thorough descriptions, program evaluations, or other research on these programs. or leadership dynamics influence the program, and how they assess what children have gained from these experiences is not described in detail.  However there are a handful of descriptive articles that provide pictures of what can happen at a science camp or related program and these comprise the focus of the first section of this literature review.  The descriptions that follow give basic descriptors about these science programs such as the targeted participants and the programmatic content and length in addition to what is unique about each experience and the research surrounding it.

The GIRLS (gifted, intelligent, real-life scientists) science camp is directed toward fifteen fifth- and sixth-grade girls and the older high school girls that help mentor and teach.  It is free for those accepted into the program though no application process is described except that the students “otherwise would not be able to afford a science camp experience” (Zanelli & Smith, 2000, p. 46).  The students engage in exploratory, hands-on learning through lessons designed by the participating science teachers and a “select group of female high school science scholars” (p. 46) that mentor the girls and are in turn mentored by the teachers.  The camp setting allows students more access to the “great outdoors” and related activities than a typical school setting but generally the lessons appear to be quite similar to what might occur in a middle school science class.  The week-long camp (whether residential or day only is not specified) receives high ratings from participants as well as parents who “believed that their daughters’ participation … increased their confidence in understanding science” (p. 47).  This article, co-written by one of the science teachers, Zanelli, and the high school student who worked with her, Smith, is an example of the type of two-page article typically written about such science camp experiences.  What makes it unusual is the emphasis on older girls mentoring younger campers and the first-person description by one of the high school girls, recounting the meaningful and empowering nature of the camp experience for herself.

KIDS (kids investigating and exploring science), an extended science education program run by the University of California at Irvine, targets “Latino children from lower income families “to provide an engaging and challenging university-based science camp” (Rodriguez, 1998, p. 9).  The children range in age from kindergarten through middle school and learn about the program through the Santa Ana Unified School District.  Rodriguez, a professor of Environmental Studies and the founder of the program, characterizes it as an “environmental framework with enthusiastic parents, compassionate student assistants, and gifted bilingual teachers” (p. 9) with leaders who also include “distinguished minority faculty, serv[ing] as role models and mentors” (p. 9).[2]  The camp emphasizes “project-based learning on topics at the forefront of biology” where “the students actually envision themselves as young scientists” working side-by-side with the multiple leaders (p. 9).  Rodriguez cites improved grades in school as well as anecdotal comments from principals about students’ subsequent leadership in science within their school classrooms as evidence of the camp’s positive impact.  Although the duration of this day camp and a more detailed description of what actually occurs on a daily basis are not given, a sustained effort is made to support students throughout the school year through tutoring and university faculty visits.  This is one of the few camps I found that follows up in some way on students’ subsequent performances in school and whose leader is a professional research scientist. 

One example of a formal program evaluation of a science camp is the CPEP Summer Science Camp for upper middle school youth (Bruckerhoff & Bruckerhoff, 1996).  The purpose of this five-week day camp is to “increase the number of African-American, Hispanic, Native American, women, and other underrepresented minority students who pursue college study and careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology” (p. 6), seeking to provide eighth and ninth graders with a hands-on approach to science and mathematics in addition to language arts, study skills, and career counseling, all in line with the Connecticut state standards.  The activities themselves include full lesson plans and homework assignments, designed and taught by school teachers in line with state standards, but with a purposeful element of informal relationships between students and teachers.  A few projects take place throughout the duration of the camp, including the newspaper which each student contributes to producing, an example of the emphasis on “collaboration of peers” (p. 50).  Evaluations by the students showed a high approval rating but there was no information on how they were affected after they left the camp nor was it apparent that the content and format of the camp was ever questioned, only how much students liked the camp. 

A science camp in Taiwan for seventh graders “gifted” in math and science had a purposeful research and curriculum design directed to finding whether students’ conceptions of the nature of science (NOS) would change over the course of six days (Liu & Lederman, 2002).  Twenty-nine gifted students participated for six hours each day in “intensive science inquiry-based activities” (p. 115) led by university science educators, graduate students, and experienced teachers.  Interestingly enough, there were apparently no significant changes in students’ understanding of the nature of science.  One explanation offered for this was that “apparently the participants did not have enough time to be engaged in more reflective activities and in-depth discussions that have been shown to help students construct more informed understanding of NOS” (p. 121).  Another possibility was that the presence and regular intervention of the students’ middle school teacher in all aspects of the camp may have impacted their willingness to engage in new types of thinking and understanding.  Unlike the other literature described thus far, Liu and Lederman systematically pursued a specific research question rather than engaging solely in a descriptive account of the camp.  They also had a clear philosophy for the design of science teaching and inquiry-related activities.

An extended informal science education program that is not a camp is the Young Scholars Program at The Ohio State University, directed toward “academically talented, economically disadvantaged minority students” with the primary goal of “increasing their agricultural literacy” (Jones, 1997, p. 663).  This six-year program takes place during the regular school year and primarily includes field trips, presentations, and interactions with university faculty from the field of agriculture, culminating in research groups in twelfth grade.  Unlike previous years of the program, the design during the year described by Jones was changed to be more informal and responsive to students’ interests, exposing students to “aspects of our field that we hoped would be interesting, culturally pertinent, and as aesthetically pleasing as possible” (p. 664).  This attention to student interest (leaders responded directly to students’ comments on what they would like to learn) and especially to aesthetic elements is quite unusual in the literature on informal science education.  In addition, purposeful interactions between university students and faculty who were “all female and men of color” (p. 663) were emphasized so that students could have positive role models that broke the image of agriculture being a white male discipline.  Evaluations were done through student essays reflecting on their experiences, another unusual element, designed to be less intrusive than the familiar questionnaire or typical evaluation form.  Unlike Liu and Lederman, Jones found that “the relaxation of the content of this educational experience seemed to allow students to interpret the demonstrations in ways that were more meaningful” (p. 676), demonstrating that the changes made in the program were successful. 

The only description of a well-documented residential camp that I could find was of the Fairbanks American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Science Camp, a camp designed to promote relationships between Alaskan Native American elders and high school students interested in science (Bradley & Reyes, 2000).  This article carefully related the philosophy of the Director and camp activities.  Unlike almost all the other camps described here, student activities consisted of self-chosen research projects “required to be scientifically sound and to incorporate elders’ knowledge” (p. 44).   Another unusual characteristic was the requirement of a significant application in order to attend, including the student’s academic record, teacher recommendation, and written essay.  Significant resources, primarily in the form of computers and teachers, were provided for the students’ research so that beyond their own observations or experiments and discussions with the elders, they could perform comparative research.  The primary goals of the camp were to perform solid science and connect with students’ native cultures, addressing both the students’ “academic and developmental needs” (p. 42).  Indeed, the feedback from students and elders in the form of interviews confirms that cultural connections were made and valued by both generations, and success of student science projects at local and state science fairs demonstrates the quality of some of the projects.  In many respects this camp comes closest to the Advanced Astronomy Camp in that students send in a serious application for the camp, stay for both nights and days, and research self-chosen projects with the assistance of the adults present.

            In even this smattering of six science camps and related educational programs, it becomes evident how different the programs are and how sparse the literature of this field is in demonstrating what can be successful about short-term informal science education.  The participants range in age from fifth to twelfth grade, varying in the degree to which different age groups interact.  Only one camp mentioned any social dynamics between students and then only in the context of the older students formally mentoring the younger (Zanelli & Smith, 2000).  The content varies from pre-chosen teacher-directed experiments to field trips responsive to student input to completely student-chosen research projects.  Seemingly the programs provide opportunities to further science learning in school but the activities and who chose them were remarkably similar to school when descriptions were given except in the case of the Fairbanks AISES Science Camp.  The time allotted for the programs ranged from 1-5 weeks to select days over the course of the school year.  The article describing the only residential camp, the Fairbanks AISES Science Camp, did not clarify whether this aspect of the camp was intentional or integral to the philosophy of the camp nor what impact it may have had on students, teachers, and elders. 

However, there were some commonalities among the camps.  In almost all of the descriptions, there was an emphasis on informal relationships between students and teachers and on cooperative relationships among students.  In a few cases there was also an interest in drawing students into university settings (Rodriguez, 1998; Jones, 1997; Liu & Lederman, 2002) or at least into contact with university science faculty in order to provide better role models.  With the exception of the camp for gifted seventh-grade students (Liu & Lederman, 2002), all the other educational programs were directed toward populations that might not otherwise have access to science outside the classroom.   

            It would be difficult from these descriptions to say what elements might make for better informal science programs or how one might decide what to include in the design of a new camp, except for Jones’ (1997) evaluation that giving students choice as to the program content was positive and Bradley and Reyes’ (2000) conclusions that students benefited from interactions with Native Alaskan elders in their science research.  It might be informative to know what students perceived that they gained from the programs, how their knowledge and understanding of science grew, what drew them to the programs in the first place, and how interactions between peers and leaders affected their experiences.  As a high school student, Kelly Smith could clearly articulate what she found positive about her experiences teaching chemistry to younger girls (Zanelli & Smith, 2000).  Why not discover the perspectives of more students on what they find interesting or positive about informal science situations? 

            Clearly there are gaps in the literature on longer-term informal science education programs.  Valerie Crane (1994) asserts that informal science learning research has focused on the stimulus rather than the learner, paid little attention to the context in which learning takes place, ignored the complex interactions of informal learning, and overlooked the influence of social mediators on learning (p. 186), but these learning dynamics have begun to be researched in other areas, namely community youth organizations and adventure camps. 

Community Youth Organizations

Studies of community youth organizations, while not necessarily dealing with science, have much in common with the general situation of a residential camp in that they examine some of the dynamics that make certain organizations more successful than others.  Noting that the primarily studied aspects of learning in children’s lives are the “duo of school and family,” Shirley Brice Heath, R.W. Larson, and several others have begun to look more closely at what they term a “third element,” the arena outside of school and home.  Larson’s (2000) interest in this arena began as he searched for situations that helped to develop intrinsic motivation in adolescents, which he defines as having two components: wanting to be doing an activity and being invested in it.  He found that while such dual interest and high concentration was lacking in schoolwork and unstructured leisure time, it was very present in “structured voluntary activities, such as sports, arts, and participation in organizations, in which youth experience the rare combination of intrinsic motivation in combination with deep attention” (p. 170).  Studies on adventure camps are also relevant to this field because of shared social dynamics and activities.  Hattie, Marsh, Neill, and Richards (1997) found that the overall effects from participating in an adventure program not only lasted but increased over time; something which should draw the attention of any educator.  While small in breadth and primarily stemming from the work of Shirley Brice Heath and her associates, the research of the past decade concerning not-often-looked-to community youth organizations and adventure camps has found commonalities amongst some that suggest what makes some programs more successful than others: their voluntary nature, youth-centeredness, a temporal arc of activity with real-world constraints, informal cross-age relationships, and opportunities for youth to play multiple roles. 

Community youth organizations are organized around their being voluntary: youth choose to come and select in which activities to participate.  While some might certainly come because of their parents’ admonitions, leaders involved in the organizations assert that it is students’ choices that bring them and keep them engaged.  Looking at after-school study support programs in the United Kingdom, MacBeth, Kirwan, and Myers (2001) found:

Choosing whether or not to participate and what to participate in opens access to a range of benefits.  Having the option to choose from a number of different pleasurable learning activities is itself empowering and likely to increase self-esteem, even if simply by virtue of being trusted to make choices. (p. 50)

Bently and Gurumurthy (1999) reached similar conclusions about the importance of activities reaching youth in the United Kingdom being voluntary.  Another reason why voluntarism is essential is because “effective youth organizations situate their curricula within the youth and not within external rules or mandates” (Heath & McLaughlin, 1994, p. 484).  Because the organizations are voluntary, they must tailor their activities to youth’s interests although they are not unstructured or without restraints.  This can lead to a sense of greater autonomy for the youth, as their interests are sought after and met.

            When educational programs for adolescents are youth-centered, “young people learn quickly in these groups that they are needed resources and not problems in need of fixing” (Heath & McLaughlin, 1994, p.  486).  This means that teens’ input into the choice of activities and consequent participation in them is seen as essential to the success of the group.  This high involvement in planning and leading activities can have positive consequences like changes in youth’s language use as Heath (1999) documented:

When an organization’s adults view youth members as part of the group and as vital to accomplishment of the group’s work, young learners become embedded in ever widening frames for building future scenarios … Language development follows from activity and roles that legitimate membership and the overarching purpose of the group. (p. 72)

Some of the language changes Heath (1999) found were the use of conditionals (if-then statements), modals (could, should, and would), strategies to get clarification from others, and varied genres and voices (youth playing multiple roles and giving multiple perspectives).  She points these out as important attributes of the type of problem-solving talk essential to contemporary work places.  Similarly, MacBeth et al. (2001) discovered that students taking a more active role in shaping and evaluating the study support programs “increased their identification with, and ownership of, study support” (p. 68).  Centering educational programs on youth also leads to more challenging activities, another key element in successful programs.

            Heath (2001) describes common dynamics that community youth organizations share with scientific research laboratories:

Work takes place within a “temporal arc,” with phases that move from planning and preparation for the task ahead, to practice and deliberation along with ample trial-and-error learning, to final intensive readiness for production or performance; and, ultimately, to a culminating presentation of the work that has gone before.  Evaluation by outsiders, peers, and professional critics follows along with some “down time” before the next cycle of work begins. (p. 13)

In a school classroom there is often little time for such extensive projects where students participate from beginning to end and have the added challenge of receiving feedback from professional outsiders, augmenting the risk involved in the activity.  In their meta-analysis of adventure programs in Australia and North America, Hattie et al. (1997) also found that one significant aspect of adventure camps is “the planned transfer of experience and decisions encountered during the earlier parts of the course to critical decisions later in the program” (p. 57), so that participants experienced the consequences of decisions made early at the camp.  Their analysis also pointed to the challenging, yet reachable goals that were set for participants, similar to longer-term risky endeavors that teens face in youth-centered community organizations.  Further, they point out that “feedback is the most powerful single moderator that improves affective and achievement outcomes” (p. 58), finding in their meta-analysis of over 300 adventure programs, that “the most powerful effect was related to feedback” (p. 58). 

This element of feedback by leaders, outside experts and peers helps provide real-world constraints to youth activities.  Similarly, in many youth organizations the continuation of the program relies on the youth’s abilities to draw in funding or audiences for their exhibits or plays; the decisions they make determine the future of the organization just as they would in “real-life” workplaces.  So the feedback serves a very real need, both in the process of working through a project, and in the success of final presentations. 

Another strength of community youth organizations and arguably some informal science programs is the opportunity for informal relationships between adults and students and between different ages of students to form.  MacBeth et al. (2001) assert that such informality eased the ability of adults to offer “both praise and criticism without the social sanction” that is often associated with being singled out in school (p. 63).  Heath (1999) points out that times when youth and adults work together are rapidly decreasing along with the inherent language development that used to occur in such contexts.  She found that in community organizations where adults and youth “worked” together on a common task:

[Adults help] enable youth to be self-conscious in their use of language, reflective and self-critical about what their discourse does and does not accomplish, and gradually comfortable and habituated in their language forms.  Rather than learned helplessness in language, the youth take on a learned helpfulness approach to oral and written language and to the type of information, argumentation, and presentation that accomplish work. (p. 71)

Also significant are the opportunities for youth of different ages to work with each other.  “Cross-age communities of practice enhance everyone’s role, since everyone has an opportunity to be both apprentice and expert, teacher and learner” (Heath & McLaughlin, 1994, p. 485).  This is similar to real work places such as science laboratories where “members range in age and experience, and novices work along with older more experienced scientists and artists, and often with experts who have outside professional identities” (Heath, 2001, p. 13).  In community youth organizations where students participate for several consecutive years, there are many opportunities for youth to learn from each other, whether formally designated as teachers, or simply passing on experiences from one to another.

            Within this community youth assume “real” roles in the planning, organization, and management of the program, and usually move to fill more than just one role, whether it is calling for travel arrangements, leading a dance class for younger students, providing constructive criticism to a peer on a piece of art, or brainstorming ideas with the group.  Filling these sorts of roles is crucial to equip youth for future opportunities in other workplaces, in developing the sorts of language abilities discussed earlier (Heath, 1999), and in making educational programs intrinsically “youth-centered.” 

Speaking specifically to the uniqueness that arts-based organizations provide, Heath and Roach (1999) articulate the following:

Young people in arts-based organizations gain practice in thinking and talking as adults.  They play important roles in their organizations; they have control over centering themselves and working for group excellence in achievement.  Their joint work with adults and peers rides on conversations that test and develop ideas, explicate processes, and build scenarios of the future. (p. 26)

The categorization of the characteristics important to successful youth organizations described above is artificial but hopefully useful.  It is interesting to note some of the differences between these organizations and the informal science programs described earlier.  While they both stress informal relationships between youth and adults, there is a stronger emphasis on collaboration of peers, choice, and high involvement of youth in leading and contributing to activities.  Also fascinating is the comparison Heath (2001) draws between the youth organizations and professional science laboratories.  If the collaboration, talk, work, and inquiry found in science labs is desirable, what positive outcomes might similar scientific communities for youth provide?  Might science camps incorporate the temporal arcs of activity, aesthetics, constraints, and sense of community found in community youth organizations and professional work places?

A Glance at Scientific Inquiry

So far in this paper I have reviewed recent literature available on science camps and presented some of the dynamics of successful community youth organizations in order to provide a framework of comparison for research on Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Yet while these programs give a backdrop of comparable education situations they do not supply much in the way of thinking about the scientific content of the Camp.  Since one of the primary agendas of Advanced Astronomy Camp is to facilitate youth-designed astronomy research projects, delving into recent literature concerned with the scientific inquiry in schools is relevant to the scope of this review.  However, it is not within the differences between the thought and activities of professional scientists to current science curricula in schools.   It is common knowledge that the practices of professional scientists are different than the experiences of youth in science classes.  How are these experiences different?  How important is it that youth understand or experience the thought processes of professional scientists?

Many researchers are attempting to design and research science curricula that come closer to how professional scientists think about and perform research.  “The way science is taught in most schools doesn’t help students understand what scientists do and how they think” (James Stewart as quoted in Black, 2002, p. 4).  One group of science education researchers attempting to do this is Stewart, Cartier, and Rudolph (2001), who have been part of a large project through the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science (NCISLA) to use scientific modeling to help students develop the type of complex and tentative thinking that professionals use.  They found that “when models have been a focus of classroom attention, students have learned that they are tentative constructions that explain the natural world and that their usefulness is dependent upon the kinds of questions they enable scientists to ask and answer” (p. 7).  This type of instruction differs from simple “hands-on” curricula because of the critical thinking students must develop in order to explain and predict their data and be consistent with other relevant models.  When this type of thought happens, Lehrer and Schauble have found “increased student interest, ownership of their work, and deeper understanding of content” (as quoted in Foster, 1998, p. 3), characteristics not unlike those found in successful community youth organizations researched by Heath and others.

Assuming that thinking like professional scientists is a positive goal, Chinn and Malhotra (2002) analyzed the complexity of thought that professional scientists use to do their research in contrast to that encouraged by both textbook-driven inquiry and curricula developed by science education researchers.  Analyzing simple inquiry projects in textbooks, including experiments, observations and illustrations, in comparison to specific research projects of various scientists, they found that the textbook inquiry projects differed in the ways they approached generating research questions, designing studies, making observations, explaining results, developing theories, and studying research reports (pp. 183-186).  More specifically, some of the complex scientific reasoning not often a part of school science tasks included:

·        postulating unobservable mechanisms that could explain existing results

·        looking for flaws in experiments

·        finding ways to verify the validity of new methods

·        making indirect inferences

·        choosing between two or more theories that each have some explanatory success

·        devising indirect procedures to address questions of interest.

      (p. 186, bullets added)

They concluded that “simple inquiry tasks may not only fail to help students learn to reason scientifically, they may also foster a nonscientific epistemology in which scientific reasoning is viewed as simple, certain, algorithmic, and focused at a surface level of observation” (p. 190).

In addition, Chinn and Malhotra (2002) also found differences between research-driven curricula and what they termed “authentic scientific inquiry.”  In their comparisons most research-developed tasks, while building greater depth and self-generated thought in students than the textbooks, do not attain all of the complexity of thought found in their analyses of professional scientists.  For instance, one significant aspect of being a scientist is generating your own research question.  While none of the selected textbook tasks included this, only 12% of the 24 researcher-generated activities studied did so.  In only 2% of the textbook activities and 50% of the researcher-developed tasks did students choose their own variables to investigate and only activities included this.  Some other areas of significant difference between research-generated scientific inquiry and professional scientific inquiry included consideration of methodological flaws, developing relatively complex controls, making multiple observations, using analog models, and studying expert research reports (pp.201-203).  However, each characteristic of “authentic scientific inquiry” that Chinn and Malhotra identified was met by one of more of the twenty-six research-developed tasks they studied.

Chinn and Malhotra (2002) conclude that “much work remains to be done to transform schools into places that nurture epistemologically authentic science inquiry” and call for the creation of curricula that will support and develop that complexity of thought (p. 214).  Their study can serve as a starting point for comparison and evaluation of whether students are really being taught to think like scientists when this goal is considered desirable.  While many efforts are being made to nurture this complexity of thought in schools, there remain opportunities outside of school that might be used to further the development of scientific thought in children and youth.  Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the literature on science camps above, many current programs primarily consist of the same simple inquiry tasks done in schools that educational researchers are trying to move away from.  In his theory of alchemy, Thomas Popkewitz (1998, 2002) has noted the way academic disciplines as done by professionals in universities or workplaces become transformed into very different, often simplistic school subjects that are seen as more palatable for children and youth.  “Whereas disciplines involve competing sets of ideas about research … school subjects tend to treat knowledge as uncontested and unambiguous content for children to learn or solve problems with” (1998, p. 27).  Popkewitz asserts that this alchemy of disciplines can promote a limiting psychologizing and managing of students’ souls in school.  If the inquiry tasks generally encouraged in schools both teach a simplistic epistemology to students and limit them in the ways Popkewitz discusses, is it any accident that one of the strengths of community youth organizations is that they encourage youth to take full responsibilities in carrying out activities of importance to the local community with real limits and constraints?  How can we make more of these equipping and mentally challenging opportunities available in areas outside of arts, sports, and service, the primary makeup of youth organizations?  Granted, the “alchemy” of disciplines is inevitable in classrooms and informal educational programs, but what would be the effects of developing activities that include the type of reasoning that Chinn and Malhotra (2002) identified as part of scientific thinking?


An Opening for Further Research

            Clearly many educators see the importance of developing such scientific reasoning in students.  Yet how this is to be done is still a question.  Significant in Chinn and Malhotra’s research (2002) is their conclusion that research-driven inquiry, while a definite improvement on standard textbook tasks, does not go far enough in schools.  And even these curricula are probably far less common in instructional activities than the simple inquiry tasks propounded in standard science textbooks.  Indeed, most of the science camps described above did not come near to the type of curricula that science education researchers are designing.  Could not a “third arena” provide an additional opportunity for pursuing more complex science inquiry?  Might more time or access to professional equipment and technology provide the opportunity for students to generate their own questions, design their own experiments, choose multiple variables, deal with methodological flaws in design and equipment, develop theories for what happens and why, and make sense of comparisons with other relevant research?  Might this not only better equip students academically but also empower them in the way Lehrer and Schauble (as quoted in Foster, 1998) described?  Chinn and Malhotra (2002) call for “research that develops and tests instructional approaches for fostering the development of such complex strategies” (p. 213).  Researching the Advanced Astronomy Camp is just such an opportunity as the campers create research questions, develop proposals, and with help from the professional and student scientists at their disposal flesh out theories for how their data makes sense with what the rest of the scientific world is saying. 

This is not the only reason for studying Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Clearly there is little research on science camps, though many claim to be beneficial for students’ affective and academic development.  Heath (2001) also calls for more research in the third arena:  “Processes of community youth organizations need studies that will detail how the people who participate learn, what they acquire by way of skills and knowledge” (p. 15).  My research of Advanced Astronomy Camp has the potential to be just such an opportunity, adding a unique viewpoint by interviewing the youth directly about what they feel they learned and found valuable in the Camp.  Larson (2000) too appeals for research on the processes of learning that occurs in structured youth activities and is also interested in how leaders of such programs can best facilitate the development of youth: “Leaders face the fundamental problematic of allowing participants’ actions to be self-directed, voluntary, and intrinsically motivated, yet also structured and challenging enough that participants are stretched into new domains of complexity” (p. 16).

Interviewing the Director and counselors of Advanced Astronomy Camp may help to answer this question, at least as it pertains to this particular program that is purported to be very positive by the youth.  Camp is potentially closer to professional astronomy in its access to scientists, telescopes and related technology, and student-designed research than many school opportunities and science camps allow and therefore poses a chance to begin to pursue the questions Chinn and Malhotra (2002) raise.  This research on Advanced Astronomy Camp has the potential to fill in one more gap in the research on informal science education, third arena programs for youth, and scientific inquiry.


            In this section I begin by giving a sketch of Advanced Astronomy Camp in order to set the stage for how I chose to research it.  This is followed by a description of the campers and counselors who attended Camp followed by an explanation of how I chose the subjects of this study.  Finally, there is an account of the data collection process and the interview analysis.

Description of Advanced Astronomy Camp

            Although it may be unusual to include a background description in a methodology, it is pertinent to describe something of what happens at Advanced Astronomy Camp in order to give some context for the study and the interviews.  The structure of Camp and my experience during it influenced the interview process and certainly colored all of the data.  However, giving a brief description of Camp is a somewhat difficult task as there is no typical day at Camp and the schedule is more of a guide than a pre-set directive for activities.  If I could create a sense of a typical day at Camp, it would include the following.  After a full night of observing, the first activity of the day is brunch at noon with counselors preparing the food (with some help from campers) and set teams of campers cleaning up after meals.  Each meal is usually accompanied by a movie, such as the episode of The Simpsons where Bart discovers a comet or a portion of Cosmos with Carl Sagan.  The afternoon includes different groups’ stories from the previous night’s observing, a daily Fermi problem (an estimation problem such as “at any given time how many flat tires are there in the United States?”), one or more lectures delivered by Don or a counselor (Spectroscopy & Light, Lives & Deaths of Stars, The ~Ologies of Mars), and time to work on projects or debates with team members.  Dinner is usually around 6pm (or whenever the pizzas are fully cooked given the high altitude) followed by watching the sunset and competing to see who can find Venus, Jupiter and the stars first.  Then it is “To the observatories!” (a favorite quote from The Simpsons episode) for a night of observing.  “Night lunch,” astronomers’ nickname for their night-time snack, is around midnight while teams move among observing, gazing at the stars outside, conversing about religion, science, books, and philosophy in the warm rooms, and working on computers.  Some campers stay up until dawn, others hit the sack around midnight or 1am.  For the most part staff stay up until the telescopes close.

            Two activities ran throughout the Camp and shaped the time there: research projects and Mars debates (See Appendix D for descriptions of these projects).  From the first day campers begin designing their own research projects in teams, writing their proposals and submitting them to the Telescope Allocation Committee (TAC).  The TAC, made up of the entire staff, determines which projects receive priority on certain nights depending what time of night objects are visible, which scopes campers requested, and how much telescope time is needed for each project.  Just as in professional astronomy, research teams face limitations on telescope time.  Campers were required to be a part of at least one research team but some belonged to as many as five.  Each team met throughout the day and night, collected data, found background research, analyzed data with counselors’ help, and developed a presentation for the last night of Camp.  Projects experienced a range of success due to equipment difficulties, atmospheric conditions, and human error.  One group mistakenly left the shutters of their electronic camera closed for eight ten-minute exposures!  The finale of Camp was the last night when each group presented their research and interpretations and answered questions about their project.

            The other activity that shaped Advanced Astronomy Camp was the Mars Sample Return Debates where pre-determined groups of campers decided on a specific debate topic regarding whether to bring back materials from Mars, a current topic of debate in  NASA.  The teams then decided who would take pro and con and did some basic research to prepare for a formal debate mid-week.  While some youth hated this debate because they felt it took too much time from their research projects or they had studied more than enough about Mars at Camp the previous year, most campers said that they really enjoyed the opportunity to formally argue with their peers and delve into the practical logistics of space missions they might not think about.

            Of course within each day packed with lectures, large group gatherings, and time with teams or individual work, campers also enjoyed several hours of free time.  This was a time when they could choose to pursue optional activities that included taking apart disposable cameras and adapting them for timed exposures, building an accelerometer for the liquid nitrogen cannon, and measuring the rotation of the sun.  Campers also took advantage of the pool table, the gym, the lovely outdoors, and the astronomy and space exploration movies.

            Observing took place at five different telescopes, each with its own instrumentation.  The 40-inch was used for photometry and became well-known for the group of campers who hung around singing silly songs all night.  The 12-inch had an electronic camera called a charge-coupled device (CCD) used for imaging and a sophisticated computer program for finding objects.  The 60-inch employed a CCD spectrometer and contained the warm room on Mt. Lemmon that housed a couple of computers, which were in constant use.  A short drive away on Mt. Bigelow was the 61-inch, one of the best imaging telescopes in the world, with a CCD utilized for imaging.  Finally, the 10-inch made by one of the counselors served as the outdoor “point and shoot” telescope where campers could became familiar with the night sky without much technical equipment.  During the first two nights at Camp youth rotated to each of the telescopes, becoming familiar with what each had to offer in order to plan their own projects.  From the beginning the staff had the campers operating the telescopes: opening the dome and mirrors, pointing, running the computers, and occasionally making mistakes.        

Who Attended Advanced Astronomy Camp Summer 2002

            There are two primary requirements for attending Advanced Astronomy Camp: math experience and an application.  Campers must have taken both algebra I and either algebra II or geometry.  They also need to send in an application that includes a teacher recommendation and an essay response to one of three questions, each of which included both elements of creative writing and science knowledge.  Youth who have previously attended the Advanced Astronomy Camp must write a detailed proposal for a research project together with an explanation of how their project will incorporate other youth at Camp.  However, although the Director may send essay or project proposals back to youth for revisions, no youth who turns in an application is turned down.  Scholarships are available based on financial need.

Thirty-three youth attended Advanced Astronomy Camp in summer 2002 along with ten staff members (including myself).  About to go into grades 9-12 or freshman year of college the following Fall, the campers ranged in age from14-18.  They learned about Camp from many different sources (internet search, gifted & talented booklets, Astronomy or Sky & Telescope magazines, a teacher, or a friend).  Of the thirty-three campers there were 17 males and 16 females coming from twenty different states and one foreign country (in Southeast Asia).  Race and ethnicity were difficult to determine as this dimension of identity was not solicited on the application.  However, twenty-eight (85%) campers clearly appeared Euro-American, with five apparently from Latino, African-American, Asian-American, and Asian descent.  Ten of the campers attended the Beginning Astronomy Camp once in the summers of 1999-2001, and three attended the Advanced Camp in 2001.  Six of the campers had assistance (four full and two partial scholarships) in meeting the $600 fee. 

            The eight counselors working and teaching at Advanced Astronomy Camp, not including the Director or myself who were also a part of the staff, were connected by strong interests in and knowledge of astronomy and related sciences and by a personal connection to the Director.  Equally divided between men and women, they ranged in age from early twenties to late thirties and had anywhere from 0-11 years of prior experience at Camp.  Two were completing undergraduate degrees with strong backgrounds in physics and astronomy, two had bachelor’s degrees in geology or astronomy, three were pursuing graduate studies at the University of Arizona in various subfields of astronomy, and one was a post-doc with a Ph.D. in astronomy from the same university.  Only one counselor had formal training in education and was about to pursue his student teaching.  The Director, a research professor in astronomy at The University of Arizona, has led multiple Astronomy Camps for teenagers, educators, and adults since 1989. 

The Subjects of the Study

            I decided before Advanced Astronomy Camp began to interview one-third of the campers (eleven) and half of the staff (originally four, but later five), choosing the subjects through random sampling that accounted for a few different variables meant to select a range of participants roughly reflective of the population of Camp.  The number of campers would allow me to get a breadth of opinion and experience of the youth within the scope of a master’s project.  In order to include a diverse spectrum of campers in the interviewing, I tried to get a reasonable range in campers’ age (going into the first two years of high school or the latter two years), gender, and previous Astronomy Camp experience, in rough proportion to the actual population at Camp.  As recording difficulties eliminated one of the interviews, there were a total of ten camper interviews.  Table 1 shows the distribution of age, gender, and experience among the ten interviewees:

Table 1:


Entering grades 9&10 or 11&12

Male or Female

Prior Attendance at Astronomy Camp








































The distribution of the campers among their age, gender and prior Camp experience may raise questions, but there are explanations for why they are not evenly spread.  I had originally thought that one of the campers was in his first half of high school but he corrected this misinformation during his interview.  This explains why the distribution of age is not equal (6 older and 4 younger campers).  In addition, I did not try to group the youth according to combinations of age, gender, or experience due to the complexity of that process, so there are no young males or females who had not attended Camp previously in the subjects of this study.  Actually, this is reflective of the thirty-three campers: there were no women going into their first two years of high school who had not attended Camp before and only a few of the young men were new to Camp.  It may be that prior experience at Beginning Astronomy Camp influences youth, especially women, to attend Advanced Camp at a younger age. 

Except for the Director and myself, I initially randomly selected half of the six staff to interview.  However two more counselors were added to the staff during the week before Camp, so I chose to select one additional counselor in order to include half of the staff in the study.  Conveniently, the originally selected counselors and the Director were evenly distributed among four of the five telescope stations at Camp.  Since only one telescope station was not represented in my original random selection, I chose the counselor situated at the final site as my final staff interview.  The counselors interviewed are shown in Table 2.

Table 2:


Educational Experience

Prior Experience at Astronomy Camp


graduate or post-doc

four to eleven years


graduate or post-doc

four to eleven years


undergraduate or B.S.

zero to three years


undergraduate or B.S.

zero to three years


            Informational letters and permission forms (see Appendix A) were mailed to campers’ parents several weeks before Camp began, with thirty-two of thirty-three campers granting permission to be interviewed.  Similar letters and permission forms (see Appendix A) were also given to the Director and the four selected counselors in person after informal discussions about my research.  The Director was kept abreast of all developments and was asked for advice and perspective throughout the entire process.

Data Collection

            Originally conceived as a small-scale program evaluation, my study draws on two primary theoretical sources that inform the data collection: illuminative evaluation as envisioned by Parlett and Hamilton (1972) and constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2000).  Because of the limits and scope of the study I did not aim to completely understand and evaluate every aspect of Advanced Astronomy Camp as an educational program but rather chose to focus on the perceptions of the campers and staff, believing that their opinions and experiences could enlighten why Camp has a reputation for success with the youth who attend.  Although I had a few ideas of what might make Camp successful, semi-structured interviews were designed to let the participants give their own perspectives and tell their own stories about Advanced Astronomy Camp, “giving voice to [the] respondents” (Charmaz, 2000, p. 510).  Drawing on the idea of simultaneous collection and analysis of data (Charmaz, 2000) from grounded theory, I eventually added two questions to the camper interviews with based on themes that I perceived were arising.  The two questions I added concerned campers’ thoughts and evaluations of the Mars Sample Return Debates and their interactions with staff members.  The first three campers I interviewed spoke to these themes without my questioning them directly, and they had such strong opinions on them that I made sure that I asked every subsequent camper about them, so all campers spoke to the additional questions. 

Though interviews served as my primary data for analysis, I also collected data by serving as a counselor and taking field notes at Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Reminded by Parlett and Hamilton (1972) that “the researcher is concerned to familiarize himself thoroughly with the day-to-day reality of the setting or setting he is studying” (p. 18) and that it is important to situate qualitative research in historical and cultural context (Charmaz, 2000), I sought to immerse myself in the world of Astronomy Camp.  To this purpose I also assisted as a counselor at the Beginning and Educator Astronomy Camps, which preceded and followed the Advanced Astronomy Camp in June 2002.  This heavy involvement allowed me to develop a level of trust and relationship with the campers and counselors I interviewed as I served alongside them cooking, cleaning, teaching, and helping with observing.  This also afforded me many additional opportunities for conversation with all of the participants and a sense of common language, openness, and co-constructing of meaning during the interviews. 

             Lasting 15-40 minutes each, the semi-structured interviews with the campers were tape-recorded over several days both in person and by phone.  Campers were informed of their random selection for interviewing on the fifth day of Camp and given the list of interview questions.  Since the Camp was packed with activities, I interviewed as many of the selected campers as possible during the last three days of Camp at times that best fit their needs and desires.  Interviews were conversational as I followed the interview questions, pursued answers for better description, and clarified questions.  As mentioned above, after the first few interviews I noted a couple of themes arising in camper remarks and added them in as questions: relationships with the staff and reactions to the Mars Sample Return Debates.  All but two interviews were conducted in person; these took place over the phone within two days of Camp. 

            The five semi-structured interviews with the counselors and the Director were recorded in person at their convenience over the month following Advanced Astronomy Camp in order to give them time to catch up on sleep and think about the questions.  Each counselor had access to the questions before his or her interview, which lasted 30 to 65 minutes. 

            After the interviews were complete, I transcribed them and mailed the transcriptions to the interviewees for any corrections and additions they would like to make.  In a few cases participants sent back small additions or clarifications in parts where mechanical quirks with the recorder or background noise interfered with the transcription process. 

Analyzing the Interviews

            Influenced by grounded theory, I used a two-step open coding process (Charmaz, 2000) to analyze the interviews.  After transcribing the interviews I had a few ideas of what the some of the categories ensuing from them might be, so I coded the interviews of the campers and staff separately under those initial categories.  The categories for campers were the importance of peer relationships, a sense of responsibility and empowerment with equipment and with choice, a changing understanding of science, and positive informal relationships with staff.  The initial categories for staff were teaching science that mirrored professional science, developing campers’ confidence, filling a niche at Camp, being scientists, and demonstrating a general awareness of what campers took away from Camp.  In the process of coding both camper and staff interviews, the categories grew more defined as sub-categories arose within them and outlying responses began to become clear.  After outlining these new sub-themes I went back to the transcripts for a second coding to see how these held with the interviews.  While the interview questions were originally directed toward several ideas I had about what campers and staff might find valuable about Camp, the themes growing from the conversations did not necessarily stem from particular questions.  For instance, campers shared about the importance of their peers at Camp in answer to questions about what they took away from Camp, what the best aspects of Camp were, and what they learned about science as well as direct questions about their peers.  Therefore instead of showing themes of answers to specific interview questions, the analysis proceeds from one theme to another.

            In analyzing the interviews, I counted how many campers or staff members spoke to each theme and sub-theme.  All of the campers and staff interviewed said something related to each over-arching theme.  In discussing the sub-themes and outlying responses I use “all” when every camper or counselor spoke to an issue, “most” for 80-90%, “several” for 40-70%, and “a few” for 30%.  Hopefully this will clarify the analysis.


In this analysis I discuss the major themes, sub-themes, and outlying responses stemming from the interviews. The overarching themes arising from camper interviews were the importance of peer relationships, a sense of responsibility and empowerment with equipment and with choice, a changing understanding of science, and positive informal relationships with staff.  The initial categories for staff were teaching science that mirrored what professional scientists do, developing campers’ confidence, filling a niche at Camp, being scientists, and demonstrating a general awareness of what campers took away from Camp.  In sharing quotes from camper and staff interviews I have tried to let each person’s voice come through as clearly as possible, even when they have used incorrect grammar, repeated words, or long pauses.  I chose not to use the designator [sic] because I feel it interrupts the flow of the reading, but have checked quotes multiple times for accuracy to ensure that no typographical mistakes are present.  In addition I use [laugh] or [laughter] to indicate when the person quoted was laughing, a sign that I hope will convey something of their tone of voice.

Why Come to Advanced Astronomy Camp?

The first part of my research question concerned the campers’ motivations for coming to Advanced Astronomy Camp.  I wanted to know why they came as a starting point for understanding what they liked about Camp.  While the underlying motivation was some kind of interest in astronomy, there were several different answers to this question.  Two students, Pam and Stacy, said they were very interested and good in science at school, and their teachers recommended Camp to them.  Brian and Kevin heard about it through one of their parents, who found out about Camp from the internet and Sky & Telescope.  Ralph and Todd came across Camp themselves either through a booklet of activities for gifted and talented students or through Astronomy magazine.  James and Kris actively searched the internet looking for a summer camp that would allow them to do astronomy; James because he wanted to find peers he could talk with about science and Kris because she desired something less expensive than Space Camp but just as interesting.  The students who had been to an Astronomy Camp before each wanted to further their experiences and continue learning; the appeal of Advanced Camp was increased time on the telescopes and the lure of interesting projects.

I also asked the counselors why they came to Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Their answers were rather similar.  They discovered Camp through contact with Don and each wanted to give back something to the youth.  One counselor experienced Advanced Camp as a camper years previously and wanted to see another side of it.  Another found the experience lots of fun and the opportunity to do something meaningful for teens.  One said it was a way to give back to the community and another just loved sharing astronomy.  Each felt Advanced Camp could be meaningful in campers’ lives and wanted to contribute to that.

Analysis of Camper Interviews

The Importance of Peer Relationships

            Peer relationships played an important in the campers’ positive experiences at Advanced Astronomy Camp.  In their interviews, youth described three elements of these relationships: a positive atmosphere, a sense of commonality, and learning from other campers.

All interviewees spoke about the generally positive and fun atmosphere created by their peers and most specified that this atmosphere was produced by the application process to be accepted into Advanced Astronomy Camp Camp: all the youth wanted to be there. 

Sarah: The kids who come here are all kids who want to be coming here and who like have an interest in astronomy and who aren’t going to spend the entire night, just, well waiting for kids to do something all night…it’s a lot of fun to be learning stuff with kids who think along the same patterns as you.

Kevin: I was a little, not sure I wanted to come, because every camp I’ve been to before this has been just terrible, and uh, but, I thought this, this one sounded different than those, because, since you actually had to write an essay to get in and it would be kids who wanted to be here rather than parents forcing kids to be here.

            Most of the campers also expressed a profound sense of commonality they felt with their Camp peers, mostly due to similar interests in astronomy.  They spoke of relief, shared interests, and thoughtful conversations, contrasting these relationships with their peers back home.  In answer to the question, “What are some of the most significant things that you’re going to take with you from this week?” Kris said:

Probably the understanding that there are people out there like me… Like I’m kind of known as the resident nerd.  And, like I don’t shy away from that title, except that, it, I’m like the only one around like it. … And, like even when I was chatting with people on the internet before Camp, it it kinda suddenly hit me that I’m not the only one out there like me.  And it kinda made me feel very, not, not alone anymore.

Adrienna said, “It’s just kind of amazing to be around people who actually are like, you know, kind of the same as I am.”

            In addition to a fun, positive atmosphere and a strong sense of not being alone, all the campers voiced ways that they learned from their peers.  Here are some excerpts from interviews in answer to how their peers influenced their experiences at Camp:

Adrienna: They can also push you to do better.  And teach you how to do stuff that you don’t know how to do…You kind of learn about other people’s opinions, like the whole thing about, “Did the Big Bang happen?”…And you also get like, to know more about what you think is right.

Pam: Well, … last year I came and, and I, I knew some astronomy, but not a lot… and they helped me, so much.  I mean, I came here and I realized, I know nothing, [laugh] you know, and instead of just being arrogant about it and saying yeah, well I know this and this and this, [they] helped me so much.  It was, it was amazing, you know.  I learned so much and, um, they influenced me to know more.

Telling a story about a significant or special time at Astronomy Camp, Kris said, 

I remembered, like on the second night, we were out playing with the 10-inch, and I was just looking out into the sky, and I remember somebody, I don’t know who it was, came over to me and started pointing stuff out, like constellations and stuff I didn’t know.  And, I I just thought that was the coolest thing.  I didn’t ask anybody.  I didn’t do anything like that.  They just started showing it to me.  And I can remember everything they told me.

These quotes are only select samplings of how each of the campers spoke about the importance of their peers to their experiences at Camp. 

A Sense of Responsibility and Empowerment with Equipment and Choice

            Campers also articulated a sense of responsibility and empowerment at the opportunity to use the equipment and technology at Advanced Astronomy Camp and choose their own research projects and other activities.  In the first coding I initially noted their speaking about “privilege” in various aspects of participating in Camp.  In the second coding it became clearer that camper responses about privilege and responsibility related to a sense of empowerment with regards to the two specific areas mentioned above.  The choices that campers spoke about concerned choosing their own projects and their use of time at Camp.

            All of the campers spoke positively about using the equipment and technology at Camp.  Camper opinions about the main strengths of Advanced Astronomy Camp are expressed below:

James: Just the chance to get to use all this equipment, I mean, how many kids can say, yeah I get to use a sixty-mil, a sixty-inch telescope to look at a quasar sixty thousand light years away?  I mean, that! [laughter]

Kevin: The hands-on aspect.  Letting us use expensive equipment that most astronomers would kill to use.  And it puts you in a position like, wow, you know, I can’t believe I’m using this, I can’t believe I’m getting to do this…just learning how to use it, and, you know, being able to say that I could work, you know, forty-inch telescope better than, maybe some astronomers out there.

Stacy: Definitely the strong point, the equipment and the resources.  I mean, there’s a strong point there!  Just with all the telescopes.  It’s phenomenal, how much time we had on them.  I mean, we got to use the spectrograph, the things that counts photons, the err luminosity.

            Campers also spoke highly about how great they felt choosing their own projects and being trusted with relative freedom and responsibility on the mountain.

Pam: The second strongest point, I think is there’s so many, um, the freedom we have, and like, letting us do our projects.  You know, it’s not, you’re gonna do this project, and everything.  We form our own groups, we have our own ideas, they tell us yes or no, but if they say no, they say, well why don’t you try this, or this isn’t going to work because of that, so you could do a different angle. And um, the projects, I mean seriously.  And yeah, and there’s no other place where you could, you know, do a project like this, at seventeen years old.  You just can’t, you know?

Ralph: I liked finding projects.  Like, the project to find SS433 was very interesting and we kind of came up with it ourselves… And it actually worked, which was amazing.

Sarah: [The staff] don’t act like, “Well we are in charge and you have to do what we say, an’ you know, be here at this time.”  It’s sort of more, we need to know that you are on the mountain, please stay on the mountain [laughter].  And I mean then, and there are a lot more kids who are very responsible.

This last quote is interesting because Sarah articulated that the freedom given on the mountain helped kids be more responsible.  This fits with my own experience at Camp.  The youth were given a few basic rules and a great deal of choice in what they did and seemed to be empowered by those choices and more responsible because of them. 

Changing Understanding of Science

            One of the interview questions asked how campers’ understanding of science grew or changed as a result of participating in Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Transcripts revealed two basic themes in this regard: new knowledge about astronomy or science in general, and learning astronomy as it related to doing “real” science. 

            All the campers spoke of the new knowledge they gained, such as learning how to operate telescopes, use right ascension and declination coordinates to find objects in the sky, and find constellations.  I have categorized this theme as basic knowledge, though beneath the surface some of these subjects require deeper understanding.  For instance, using right ascension, declination, and sidereal time to find objects requires a spatial and geometric understanding of the sky and how it appears to rotate as the night goes on.  While these “pieces” of knowledge may appear simple, most of the youth took several days to feel comfortable applying them.  Stacy articulated this gain and application of basic knowledge as follows:

It’s definitely changed my understanding of astronomy ‘cause basically I had this big gaping hole in my knowledge of science: astronomy.  So now I have an idea of what a lot of the um, objects are.  Messier objects, you know, right ascension, and declination, so, now I know how to track the sky with um, sidereal time.

            Throughout Camp there is an underlying theme of engaging in scientific pursuits that are similar to the kinds of work professional scientists do.  Called “guest astronomers,” campers stay in the dorms that astronomers use regularly, generate research questions, design projects, gather, analyze, and interpret data, make research presentations, and even clean up after meals in the tiny kitchen astronomers use.  All of the youth made comments about what they learned from doing their own science projects.  Within this larger sub-theme of science, campers articulated three other themes: developing complexity of thought, practical constraints of scientific research, and the inter-relationship of multiple academic disciplines. 

Most youth demonstrated developing complexity of thought about science – that there is more to science than they had previously thought. Consider the following quotes:

Pam: There’s so many challenges that you gotta break through, there’s so many unknowns…you learn how really hard it is.  And we’re constantly discovering new things that we’ve, we discover them but we don’t know what they are, and that just, that’s great.

Ralph: I get to see all the steps involved…[like] how you use information you get to find some other information that you want to know…Such as, finding this [object], taking this spectrum and finding out what spectral lines are the largest and interpreting that.

Sarah: Like the red shift blue shift… We might have mentioned it [in school], but we never really learned it.  And here we learn about like the pro- the electrons jumping; we don’t really learn about that, the electrons changing fields in school.  And it’s, just like learning that because they jump, the wave-length changes and different parts get absorbed to get the energy to do the jump, or give off the energy and just.  That we could get to that stuff instead of simply the electrons go down and up.  It’s just… it makes me respect it a lot more, I think.

            All campers also addressed the reality of practical circumstances that affected their research such as lacking time to finish their projects to their ideal, having mechanical difficulties, and making human errors that affected their end results.  Like the importance of peer relationships and how excited they were to use equipment or design their own projects, the comments relating to practical realities of science came up in many contexts during interviews, especially in memorable stories about Camp.

Brian: It’s interesting [regarding the Mars Debate] ‘cause it, it lets you, I mean realize what the people in NASA have to go through to, you know, make a project work, you know all the back and forth and all that.

James: So my job was that I was the guy that had to do the paddle and constantly tweak it to try to keep in on the slit for like, uh, you know like, a dozen half, a dozen ten minute exposures.  So, so I would sit there for you know like ten minutes with my eye glued to this eyepiece desperately trying to keep in on the slit when you can’t see the slit and can hardly see the object, and [laugh] so it was really rough.  And I think probably that’s probably what I’ll remember most, just sitting there for you know ten minute exposures with my neck cramping up and desperately trying to guess where the line is, and so so yeah but uh, in the end it was it was definitely worth it because we, we got the data we needed so.

Kris: Like I never realized there was so much work that went into those people who end up with articles in Sky & Tel…Like [they have to] do all those, like let alone, get telescope time, but they sit and sit behind a telescope for eight hours a night, and, then they have to, like sit around a computer for three times that to figure out what it was they were looking at.  And um, I never realized there was so much work that went into it all.  And I mean, even despite all the work and all the, the hard times and everything, it was still, it was still awesome.

            Only a few campers spoke about how multiple disciplines relate in one field.  They articulated a realization from Camp that astronomy was not a pure discipline but contained math, physics, chemistry, geology, and other subjects that all related to each other. 

Pam: I don’t want to go to just get straight into physics and astronomy and just do this and that.  I want to view all this other stuff and try to tie it in with astronomy, you know.  I wanna take engineering classes, I wanna do this, I wanna do that.

Sarah: Then you just need to know so many different things to be able to do basic science that you think you need to know astronomy.  No!  You need to know physics and … and chemistry, and then you get into Mars you get geology… astrobiology.

Informal Relationships with Staff

            In the first few interviews, I found that campers mentioned the staff often in relating their positive experiences at Camp, so I added a question asking campers how they felt about the staff.  All of the youth talked positively about the informal relationships they developed with the staff.  Three dimensions of these relationships came out as sub-themes: approachability, knowledge, and promotion of camper confidence.  All campers discussed how the informal relationships helped them approach staff for questions and make themselves understood.

Stacy: The main strengths?  I think the counselors’ relationship with the campers. It’s it’s really a relaxed atmosphere, really comfortable, one in which everyone’s equal.  So it’s it’s really great.  No one’s afraid to ask questions, or make suggestions, or things like that.

Sarah: And also there’s the first name thing.  Don.  That makes it much more informal and then, it’s a lot easier to ask questions.  And like, all the lectures where we’re sitting on the ground, that make it a lot more open; you don’t feel when you’re asking a question like you need to have it halfway already figured out by the time you ask it…but when you find something you don’t know, it’s like…it’s definitely it’s not “oh that’s bad,” it’s “okay let’s explain it then,” you know.  So it’s very, it helps you want to learn.

Todd: You guys all have really helping attitudes, like your positive feedback and stuff.

Campers also shared enthusiastically about how much the staff knew and how well they explained things.

James: Paris the counselor here was good enough to tell me, “Oh well, you’ve got these slits you know, and the way the light interferes with each –  with itself” and so on and so on.  And I never, I, none of the books I’ve had have been (a) that specific or (b) clear enough so that I could understand ‘em [laugh].

Pam: And Paris, I really wish he could come to school and like be my teacher, ‘cause, I had a whole year of physics explained in, I don’t know, three, you know, spectra takings…he just sat there and explained this stuff to us, and it was, it made so much sense.

Several of the campers also spoke about how the staff promoted their confidence by helping them figure out answers themselves, making them do the work at the telescopes, asking them to share knowledge first before answering questions, and not over-simplifying answers to questions. 

Kevin: When we worked in the telescope with Ben, any mistake we made, he wouldn’t tell us what we had done, wouldn’t tell us what we were doing wrong.  We’d get weird numbers and be like, “What is this?”  He wouldn’t say a thing, so we had to do it all, and then he’d just ask a question, “Well can you see this, [with] the moon in your way?”  From that we’d be able to work it.  So it wasn’t like they were taking over.  They were having us do everything.  So it was very [good] for our learning.

Outlying Responses

            In addition to the common themes described above, there were several outlying responses that I found during the coding of the camper interviews.  These were issues that one to five youth discussed which stood out as important to their Camp experiences and why they thought Advanced Astronomy Camp exceeded all of their expectations.  They include experiencing the beauty of the night-time sky at Camp, contrasting Camp experiences with school experiences, remarking on how much the staff gives, mentioning issues of gender, and commenting on particular peer dynamics. 

            Several of the youth interviewed spoke of the wonder of astronomy and the night-time sky.  They were amazed at the beauty of the things they saw through the telescopes as well as the clear star-lit sky.  Stacy, a camper from a very populated area of the country where light pollution hinders seeing many stars, said it well:

Ah, just seeing the Saturn Nebula was amazing.  It’s amazing those things really do exist, they’re just so beautiful, I mean big colorful, clouds of gas.  And I’m also gonna remember the first time I looked up into the sky and saw the Milky Way.  The very first time I saw a meteor.  The first time I saw a satellite, you know.  Uh, well.  I’ve never seen any of those things before, so that was just beautiful.

The other campers made similar comments about the aesthetic of being out under the stars on a lonely mountain, or looking through a telescope and seeing such marvelous things so many millions of miles away.

            Several of the campers also made direct, unsolicited remarks contrasting school with Advanced Astronomy Camp.  One example included a negative experience with one science teacher being repaired by the positive experiences at Camp, renewing the young woman’s interest in science and confirming her ability in it.  Four other campers specifically said that the staff at Camp gave much clearer, in depth, and satisfactory answers to their questions than teachers either could or would.  In every case youth spoke enthusiastically about learning experiences at Camp and less enthusiastically about their experiences at school.

            Bridging off the earlier stated theme about relationships with staff, two youth specifically recounted not just the great rapport of the staff but the sacrifices they saw staff giving in order to serve them at Advanced Astronomy Camp.  As Pam said in answer to what she thought were the strengths of Camp:

Um, the teachers, the counselors, Don. [laugh] I mean, you know like, he just goes out of his way to do everything.  I just think … he’s very underappreciated for that, and uh, that upsets me, like a lot.  And I mean even throughout the year, it was, it was great, because I’d email him with some question in November and he didn’t have to answer it, and, you know, he was like, “Well try this,” and if I didn’t get the answer he wouldn’t give up on me…Um, and that because they’re taking their whole summer to deal with teenagers and that’s, that’s awesome, because they don’t have to do that.  They could be doing their own research.  They could be on a foreign exchange.  But no, they’re in Arizona [laugh].  You know, helping teenagers attempt to understand something about astronomy.  And I think that’s the strongest point.

Here Pam alludes to her experiences during the year between her summers at Astronomy Camp and how much she felt Don and the counselors gave during Camp itself. James, a newcomer to Astronomy Camp, also commented on how much the staff gave: getting little sleep and helping with questions or data analysis at all hours of the day and night.

            Only one camper referred to any gender issues at Advanced Astronomy Camp, Pam, who spoke of her expectations coming into Advanced Camp the first year and how relieved she was that she was not the only female like she usually is in her classes:

Well I like when I came, I thought seriously, like last year, before, before the Camp, I was like really nervous.  I was like I’m going to be the only female, I’m going to be with all these nerds, and I’m just going to like suffer on this mountain top in the middle of the Arizona desert, you know.  And I was, I was really worried because I’ve always been the only female in everything I’ve done, you know.  And I really, I seriously was worried about that… It’s great to see that there were more girls than guys.  I was like, I can dig this!  You know? 

            Sarah also made two interesting outlying comments unique to her interview about the dynamics she saw between the youth at Camp and her growing understanding of science.  Beyond the commonality that meant so much to most of her peers, she described another way she was influenced by not being the only “smart one” at Camp:

The main problem is just that all the kids are used to being the smart ones.  And then they discover that they are not the smart one at Camp.  We are one of 33 kids who are here and whatever.  And, kids won’t believe everything you say here… and you can get very angry when you debate it and defend your answers more than you really have to… I think it’s good for us to learn to deal with it… we’re all used to being the smart one and then we discover that we’re not.  It’s sort of a shock.

Sarah also explained her changed conceptions of science in the greatest detail.  The following excerpt is another example of how some of the youth contrasted their school experiences with Advanced Astronomy Camp.

[It] makes you understand why people back then didn’t just simply go, oh there must be electrons circling around nucleuses.  ‘Cause like in science they make it sound so easy you wonder why they didn’t know it.  But now you discover there’s a whole lot more there to understand…I mean, just, that they [the textbooks and teachers] simplify it so much and you don’t realize how much there is going into that one statement and you don’t care.  That’s what.  I was saying this with my, one of the science teachers ‘cause he would simplify things to the point and then, he’d ask for a question, he’d make such an answer like an answer that would make you think there was nothing left to know about it, that it didn’t matter any more.  It’s a done field sort of thing and, it’s not.  Nothing is really.

Analyzing Staff Interviews

            Like the coding of the camper interviews, general categories emerged during the initial analysis of the interviews with the staff, which became more defined in a second coding.  All five of the staff members interviewed spoke about the importance of doing and teaching science the mirrors how professional astronomers research, developing confidence in the campers, filling their own niches in their roles at Camp, and being scientists in addition to demonstrating fairly accurate knowledge about some of the things that campers took away with them from a week at Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Beyond this, most of the staff also discussed the aesthetics of being on the mountain top and the beauty of the night sky.  In addition, the Director touched on subjects that the counselors did not mention, including overarching goals for the counselors as well as the campers at Advanced Astronomy Camp.

Teaching Science That Mirrors How Professional Astronomers Research

            One of the primary goals of Advanced Astronomy Camp as described by all the staff is having the youth do “real” science.  As Paris said, “They were actually doing astronomy.”  Two sub-themes emerged within the theme about science: learning the process of doing science and experiencing the time, error, and difficulty involved in gathering and analyzing data. 

It was important to the staff that campers decide on their own research questions, delve into a project using the facilities and equipment available, and bring their self-designed project to completion.  These aspects are part of learning the processes of science:

Don: I want them to see, to experience the whole process of science, from the start of an idea to getting real observations, to maybe fighting with equipment, struggling with the interpretation of the data, and making a presentation.  I would like them to see that science is fun, it’s uh, a process of exploration, it’s not too much different from what people do in ordinary life.

Ben: Students get that opportunity to study astronomy, in the most real environment that you can get… The interacting galaxies group, they said well, we’re gonna do this, new thing.  So they went on and made a proposal for it.  They went on to the telescope, they did it.  And they took the data, they reduced it, and they presented it, what they found.  It, you know, it allows creativity too, where you get to create what you’re gonna do.  Decide, hey, we’re gonna do this and do it.  It makes it more like real science…

            Part and parcel of this process is experiencing the unexpected difficulties innate in research.  While the staff advised youth during the process of creating and submitting project proposals they purposely only made suggestions to the youth, allowing them to make mistakes in their projects.  I witnessed several times when suggestions were initially ignored until the campers realized for themselves why they were having difficulty getting relevant data.  Besides human error much of the difficulty youth experienced was due to sharing time on the telescopes, having bad sky conditions, and running into computer difficulties, things that all astronomers must face in their research. 

Amanda: One of the things about Camp was, how you actually do the process of asking a question about something, sort of making an, an estimate of whether … answering those questions [is] going to be possible.  And going to the telescope, figure out, you know there’s a thing you didn’t anticipate that you would need, and then you get to the data, trying to figure out the best way to look at it.

Developing Confidence

            There were two interview questions directed to discover whether and how the staff try to develop confidence or community in the youth at Camp.  Interestingly, in general the staff did not try to instill a sense of community but saw their work as building confidence in the campers which in turn could lead to a sense of community.  Staff articulated two strategies of stimulating confidence in the youth: drawing out individual youth and helping the youth have a sense of achievement.

            All of the staff spoke about drawing campers into the activities at Camp, keeping their eyes out especially for those who seemed quieter, more withdrawn, or loners.   

Don: One of the ways is to let them control telescopes.  And when you see someone hanging back reluctant to do that, you just bring them up front and say, you know come here, open the mirror covers.  [Or] you go and find out, you know, where they are with right ascension, sidereal time, or something.  I try to give them opportunities, and if they’re not taking them, you try to find out why.

Some of the counselors spoke of particular instances where they purposefully sought out someone who was holding back or seemed a little awkward within the group:

Mike: I try to get them to, come out of their shells, and show them being a teenager’s not so bad, you don’t have to be such a loner, things like that… [Speaking of a particular camper], I mean, opening up during the week.  A lot of people were hanging out with him by the end of the week.  So I think that instilled confidence in him and it helped the sense of community at Camp, people were interacting with him more freely.

            The other way all staff spoke of developing confidence was by encouraging the campers to succeed in doing their projects and develop a better understanding of scientific concepts.  They tried to do this in ways that campers could take credit for their own achievements. 

Paris: Now a lot of groups that I worked with had extraordinarily ambitious plans… that a group of professional astronomers would be hard pressed to do, on our equipment, in a week… So hopefully in the end… they actually did gain some confidence and did understand and perceive that what they had done is unusual and very difficult, and that they should have a lot of confidence and a lot of self-respect, not only for what they did accomplish, but for the motivation that they have.

Ben: One of the neatest things I’ve learned from the [U of A] teaching program is … making them present what they already know and making them take that next step… say, all right, what do you know about this, and they kinda spill their guts about it, and then … you’ll give them small little definitions, well we’ll define this as this… And they then, they are able to make the next steps like that.

Filling a Niche

            I asked each staff member how they felt they fit in with the larger picture of Advanced Astronomy Camp, and each one shared about the special niche that they thought they filled, ranging from having experience with particular equipment and telescopes, being able to provide leadership or a fun atmosphere for the campers, reaching out to the quieter young people, and providing a particular knowledge base.  Each of the counselors asserted that Don was the backbone of Camp, providing the structure and inspiration.  Most (three of the four) also shared that they had learned many of their teaching skills from him.  Each staff member demonstrated awareness that each of the counselors filled a different need at Camp.  Paris expressed this consciousness in regard to the diverse knowledge base of the staff:

Some of [the counselors] are, their primary profession is professional research astronomers, others are doing something else but they have an interest in astronomy… all of the others have a different, different skill set, too, and different subfields of astronomy they’re interested in or other other areas like geology… And so, I think those are some really, that’s really good cross-fertilization to have, and I’m glad we have these people from different backgrounds.

Beyond the general awareness conveyed by the counselors, Don communicated another benefit of having such diverse counselors:

I’d like [the campers] to get to know the counselors pretty well, because, through them they can see, um, what re- what real scientists are like, or people aspiring to be scientists at different stages of their careers.  College, graduate school, post-doc, faculty, we model all of the range of uh, academic experience, and all these people come from different backgrounds, they have different hobbies, different likes and dislikes, … and I think it would be good for the students to see that.


The Importance of Being a Scientist

            Each of the five staff also felt that being a scientist or having skills and training as scientists, was very important for the roles they played at Advanced Astronomy Camp.  When asked whether they thought of themselves as primarily a scientist, a teacher, or both, three answered scientist.  Don and Mike answered both and also described why their backgrounds and knowledge of science were important to the nature of Camp.  I must make it clear that the staff also highly valued teaching and indeed most of them pointed to different things they had learned over the years in regard to teaching.  In fact, one of the staff was about to finish his teaching degree preferring teaching high school to pursuing physics.  However, they also felt that their experience as scientists was important to the nature of Camp.  Paris described this general feeling:

One of the things that I think makes Camp more … unique … is the fact that the, Don the Camp Director and several of the staff members are professional scientists.  They’re full time researchers.  And that gives a perspective and a skill set that’s available to the campers that I don’t think you could get otherwise.  That’s nothing, nothing at all against professional educators.  It’s just that this is an opportunity, and you you really, it’s hard to be both…  Full time you can’t do both.  So that’s one thing where Camp has its, I think it’s a fundamental strong suit, is that the kids are, exposed to and in fact live with for a week, professional research scientists who can, and absorb their their mindset, their techniques, how they utilize all the skills they’ve learned over the years…

Don also spoke about the importance of his career as a professional researcher:

Well I’m both, I don’t think I could be a good teacher if I weren’t also a reasonably good scientist.  Students like research, really, you know.  You look at the Advanced Camp and they were on the chat page and they’re talking about cosmology, the accelerating universe, black holes, dark matter.  So research excites them.  And so I think it’s almost a responsibility to uh, be as good a researcher as you can.

Awareness of What Campers Valued about Advanced Astronomy Camp

            A final theme that emerged from interviews with the staff was general awareness of what the campers took away from Camp including working with great equipment, experiencing the beauty of the night-time sky, experiencing success in their projects, and bonding with their peers.  Ben shared in particular about the importance of peer relationships to the youth:

I think another part is being around somebody like my own people.  Um.  I would imagine that most of these students, go back, you know to the high schools whatever, they’re probably the only ones that really like astronomy, and don’t have very many people that speak a common language.  And when they come to Astronomy Camp, everybody speaks the language, and you know, they’re, they really feed off each other, you know what they’re interested in, what they’re excited about, what they know, um. And it’s it’s that community of what, you know, what they’re excited about is really, something that, that’s something I know that they take away.



Aesthetic Beauty

            Most staff members also expressed delight in experiencing the beauty of the night-time sky on Mt. Lemmon and hoped that the youth also enjoyed this aspect of Camp.  As Don said, “The environment alone inspires a lot of people.  Just watching the sunset or the sunrise or the satellites.  Some people see the Milky Way for the first time.  So the site, uh, is is very uh, touching to a lot of people.”  Expressing his goals for the campers Mike said, “I’d like them to become more versed in astronomy and have that appreciation for astronomy and for the universe, the size of the universe, having appreciation for the mountains up there.”  

A Director’s Perspective      

In addition to the themes emerging from all the staff interviews, Don had a unique perspective as the Director of Advanced Astronomy Camp.  His comments reflected encompassing knowledge and goals for campers, counselors, and Camp in general in addition to how they all fit together in the larger picture of Camp.  Just as the staff reflected general knowledge of what the youth took away from Camp, so Don demonstrated insight into what the counselors gained:

I’d like for [the counselors] to learn how to teach better, uh, to um, develop at least a talk or an activity of their own and deliver it… Although everyone had their own roles to play, they didn’t always have the talks.  But I would like for this to be an opportunity for the counselors to develop their own educational skills and confidence and make some of their own decisions about what what appeals to them and what doesn’t.  Certainly want them to network together and I want them to have fun too.

            After conducting the interviews I was struck by how diverse all of the campers and staff members were and how differently they spoke about Advanced Astronomy Camp.  However as I transcribed the interviews the themes I discussed above seemed to emerge of their own accord from the spoken words of campers and staff.  Obviously I have had the privilege of naming and identifying the themes and perhaps others would have made different analyses.  For this reason I have made an effort to include more extensive quotes in hopes that participants’ voices might be heard beyond my own interpretive framework in ways that would also allow readers to make their own interpretations of what participants in this study have said about Advanced Astronomy Camp.  I can say for certain that I enjoyed every step of the process, from interviewing to transcribing to analyzing, and found what campers and staff said very exciting.  I trust that some of their own excitement about Camp comes out through the quotes.


            In the end, what makes Advanced Astronomy Camp such a successful and exciting time for the youth who attend?  It is interesting to note how much the camper interviews intertwined with what the staff had to say about Camp and likewise how much overlap there is between successful youth organizations and the themes generated from Camp interviews.  Just as themes and sub-themes emerged from analyzing the camper and staff interviews, so I have found that several overarching ideas arise out of the study as a whole that help make sense of why youth are so enthusiastic about Advanced Astronomy Camp: youth-centered philosophy, science activity that feels meaningful, and a fun and aesthetic environment.  In this section of the study on Advanced Astronomy Camp I will discuss these themes, move to implications of these ideas for other third arena programs and schools, discuss ideas for further research, and end on a personal note with some of the consequences of this research experience on my own life.

Youth-Centeredness, Meaningful Science Activity, and a Fun & Aesthetic Environment

            It is difficult to downplay the importance of “youth-centeredness” in the success of Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Seeing the youth as capable, responsible, contributing scientists permeates every activity and every staff interaction at Camp. Don made this philosophy clear to the campers from the very beginning of Camp in his introduction:

If you have a good idea, something else you’d like to do, something else you’d like to explore, something that’s wrong with the schedule, something you’d like to substitute, whatever.  Would you feel free to propose that?  We can generally find ways to accomplish almost anything… That would be the pinnacle for us, that we have taught you well enough that you can operate the telescope and equipment to do your own measurements.

In his statement Don sets the stage for campers to change the activities at Camp, approach the staff with ideas (not just questions), and manage the equipment: Advanced Astronomy Camp is for the youth.  This youth-centered philosophy suffuses the rules and expectations, the projects (or general curricula), and the interactions with staff.  That this had a positive effect on the campers is evident in their comments about the privilege of operating the equipment themselves, designing and completing their own projects, approaching the staff with ease, and appreciating the sense of freedom on the mountain. 

This youth-centeredness is interwoven into the design of Camp, in the rules and activities that shape and form the week.  The main rule of “let Don know where you are at any given time” and the explanation of why that is important intrinsically bestows responsibility on the youth and has similarities to the basic but important rules that Heath and  McLaughlin (1994) found in community youth organizations: minimal rules with maximum impact.  Beyond this youth are held to basic rules that all astronomers who use the mountain must follow: using the equipment and telescopes carefully, cleaning up the kitchen and dorm rooms, and treating the common facility with care.  The projects that shape the whole Camp, taking up the entirety of every evening from 7pm to sunrise and most of the afternoons as well are laden with choices for campers, empowering them by basing Camp on their input and abilities, even if it means making mistakes at the telescope or having insufficient time for analyses later due to time-management.  These are temporal arcs of activity that allow youth to take on the roles of astronomers in planning, taking data, and presenting their findings with real-life constraints, principles that Heath and McLaughlin (1994), Heath (2001) and Larson (2000) also found empowering for youth.

Youth-centeredness is also found throughout the staff interactions with campers.  In their interviews staff articulated how they waited to answer questions until they had ascertained what the youth knew and then tried to find ways to help them make the next conceptual step in understanding so that it was the youth who were making that step rather than the staff giving it to them.  Likewise they also sought to draw youth into the larger group and build confidence by providing opportunities for youth to demonstrate their capabilities and knowledge through operating telescopes and answering questions in front of the group.  At the same time, while campers had the staff at their disposal to answer questions, help analyze data, and share their expertise, the campers were responsible to run the telescopes, take the data, make crucial decisions concerning their projects (sometimes ones they later regretted), and order their lives at Camp.  What seems to underlie both Camp and some community youth organizations is the youth-centered belief in students’ capabilities and the roles of teachers/leaders in assisting the students to discover their potential and use it for projects of intrinsic worth such as research projects similar to what astronomers currently do or artistic productions of worth to the community.  These strategies of building confidence and setting youth up for real-life achievements are responses to Larson’s (2000) plea to understand how leaders can shape intrinsically motivating experiences for adolescents.

Hand-in-hand with youth-centeredness is the role of meaningful science activities at Advanced Astronomy Camp, at least activities that the youth appear to find meaningful.  Each of the ten youth expressed positive feelings about their sense of doing “real” science as opposed to school science and spoke about their understanding of science in ways that demonstrated a developing complexity of thought.  Why do the youth feel that doing what they describe as “real” science is so empowering?  There are several possible explanations.  First, like the successful community youth organizations that Heath and McLaughlin (1994) studied, youth are intensively involved in “collaborative work toward a project or performance bounded in time and prepared for outside audiences or evaluators” (p 472).  The projects are presented to an audience who actively engages in scholarly research as students and professionals in the fields of astronomy and related sciences.  This may give the campers a sense of doing something meaningful to the larger world beyond Camp, although they still are not professional astronomers.  Camp only lasts a week and campers were not responsible for requesting grants for projects, applying for time on the telescopes (although they did have to submit proposals for telescope time within Advanced Astronomy Camp), or submitting journal articles.  Neither are they paid for their work.[3]

In addition, the type of thought in which campers engaged includes much of what Chinn and Malhotra (2002) identified as taking place in the minds of scientists: choosing a research question, selecting multiple variables to investigate, facing concerns with methodological errors, doing comparative research, making indirect inferences, devising indirect procedures to address their questions, and deciding between multiple theories for explanations.  Campers expressed awareness of these issues in their interviews and I also observed these in their daily work and final presentations before their peers and the staff of real scientists.  As youth made their own decisions in choosing, researching, and interpreting their projects, some began to understand from a first person perspective (perhaps because of that first person perspective) how fallible the judgments are of those who are famous for the dominant theories in astronomy, history, or art.  Although Sarah probably articulated this thought process the best, she was not alone in developing a more complex understanding of science. 

All of this may relate to Popkewitz’s (1998, 2002) theory of a limiting alchemy that transforms disciplines into school subjects that manage children in school.  Activities at Camp were more closely modeled on what astronomers do and limited by what astronomers would have faced with these facilities and time limits.  The telescopes, technology, and scientists that facilitated this research were important parts of what the youth found valuable and equipping.  Andrea diSessa (2000) points out the important roles of tools within a scientific community, from telescopes to computers and textbooks to ways of thinking: “Tools are badges of membership, symbols of commitment and accomplishment” (p.39).  Mastering a tool or piece of technology can bring pride, a sense of ownership, and feeling of belonging within a scientific community.  This may explain why youth spoke so highly about using the equipment and technology at Camp and why they had so much pride in their abilities to manage it “better than some astronomers” (Kevin).  Engaging youth in self-designed research activities with the accompanying instruments can be one way of empowering and naming students as important resources, decision-makers, and contributors to the larger scientific community (or the artistic community for that matter). 

One final element of Advanced Astronomy Camp that should not be downplayed is the fun and aesthetic environment, both physical and social.  While not discussed enough in camper interviews to be named as a theme, there was a great deal of fun that occurred at Camp: late night conversations, silly songs at the 40-inch, breaking rocks open at a geology lecture, a liquid nitrogen cannon, homemade liquid nitrogen ice-cream, an outburst of pranks on the final night, and a humorous roast of the campers at graduation.  In addition, the pool table, gym, open computers, and movies all played parts in creating fun opportunities.  These experiences contributed to the informality between campers and staff and the sense of community as a whole.  Also not to be forgotten are the beauty of astronomical objects, the night-time sky on a secluded mountain-top, and the natural surroundings that were often spoken of in interviews with campers and staff.  The value campers placed on these is demonstrated by the pictures they took and placed on the unofficial Advanced Astronomy Camp 2002 web-page: beautiful pictures of the Lagoon and Eagle nebulas, photos of the mountain-top at sunrise and sunset, the lay-out of telescopes at the National Observatory on Kitt Peak, and various desert animals found on Mt. Lemmon.[4]  Heath (2001) and Heath and Roach (1999) also found that aesthetic elements may have contributed to the exceptionality of youth organizations formed around the arts.

Advanced Astronomy Camp is a unique experience shaped and formed by the environment, the special facilities, and the Director, none of which are fully duplicable.  However youth-centeredness, meaningful activity within a specific subject, and a fun and aesthetic environment are not unique as influences on learning experiences for youth.  Many of the them are found both in my study, in studies of community youth organizations presented in the literature review, and in research about scientific inquiry.  This provides an opportunity to integrate them into other educational endeavors inside and outside of school.

Implications for Third Arena Organizations and Schools:

            This study of Advanced Astronomy Camp, located in the context of studies on informal science education, community youth organizations, and science inquiry, brings to the fore some opportunities for third arena organizations, particularly the potential roles of university faculty in the education of youth, issues of equity in who gets these opportunities, and the nature of science projects.  

            Advanced Astronomy Camp presents an example of how university faculty and community professionals can be unique resources in educational opportunities for youth.  All of the staff found that their expertise and roles as scientists were important to the opportunities that they provided for the campers.  They did not intend to be a substitute for school learning but rather a complement because of their experience in scientific research.  This allowed them to involve and equip the youth to do science projects comparable to those of current astronomers and to answer questions about space projects, theoretical physics, geology, and astronomy with greater knowledge than many of the other adults in campers’ lives.  Camp provides a different model than most of the science camps and programs portrayed in the literature review as faculty do not simply come in for an hour lecture or as symbols of who can be successful scientists but instead integrally involve themselves with students doing their own projects over the course of a week.  This type of involvement need not be limited to scientific research projects but could also involve the expertise and related projects of faculty in other disciplines.  University faculty and community professionals may be able to help create educational projects that feel meaningful or authentic to youth through their expert knowledge and experience.  They may also help connect youth to equipment and technology that give access to different sorts of scientific, artistic, or literary processes.  The short length of camps may supply opportunities for professors, graduate students, and other professionals to be more intensely within their time limitations.  Or they may provide the beginning of longer term relationships between schools and the community, allowing youth and adults to build foundations of common interests and common projects that can be continued throughout a school year.  Adults will probably even gain new ideas and insights from the youth.  I am not suggesting that professional educators be replaced by outside experts but rather that the two have different strengths in what they can offer to youth and should complement one another.  Indeed, Advanced Astronomy Camp depends on schools to provide education in subjects like math in preparation for what youth learn at Camp.  In turn, several campers leave Camp motivated to learn more math and science during the school year.  School and out-of-school programs can and should complement and support each other

In this research about Advanced Astronomy Camp questions arise about issues of equity in attending third-arena programs. In the United States there is a market for camps and other educational opportunities.  Looking at only one website,, I found at least three hundred science and environmental camps located across the country, some of which have the resources to pay for marketing on that website.  What cultural capital do these opportunities give youth and what kind of capital do they need to attend such programs in the first place?  At Advanced Astronomy Camp youth seem to leave more equipped and confident about their abilities, with deeper understanding of the processes and complexity of science, an excellent experience to mention on a resume for college (one camper mentioned that this helped her in an interview at Harvard), and connections with university faculty and graduate students.  However, not all science camps provide these sorts of experiences and benefits.  Several of the youth discussed other camps they had attended that they found boring and disillusioning, and while these experiences may still look good on resumes, the campers did not find their confidence or interest stimulated. 

Who gets the opportunities to attend educational camps and are they as effective as they could be?  This is difficult to evaluate.  While many of the camps around the country, at least those that can afford advertising on websites, probably draw primarily on middle-class populations, all but one of the articles on science programs that I mention in my literature review sought out youth who were under-represented in science at institutions of higher education.  Clearly there are opportunities available for many youth, although I do not know whether certain youth have access to “better” educational programs than others.  Are the youth participating in various out-of-school learning environments having experiences where they feel like they contribute to their community or an academic field?   Do they gain the relationships with people in the academic or professional workplaces that may give them important connections and visions for life later on?  Is there inequity or imbalance in the types of programs available to different youth based on class, race, gender, abilities, etc.?  What kinds of benefits do science camps give over arts-based community youth organizations?

            Another question raised is whether such an experience is essential to be a future scientist.  The answer is complex.  Although many youth are accepted into university science programs without extracurricular science activities on their resumes, such experiences may provide them training in scientific thinking and give them useful connections at universities.  On the one hand, learning to think like a scientist is not usually necessary until graduate school; even Paris shared that he initially struggled in graduate school to adapt the mindset required to investigate his own research.  On the other hand, Advanced Astronomy Camp may have the potential to give youth the motivation to push through the logistics of making a career in science.  Although it was only eight days long, some youth attending Astronomy Camp in years past have left inspired to take a second math or physics course on top of what they already planned for the year.  At least one woman expressed to me that though she knew high school and even college would be boring after her experience at Camp, she would have the endurance to get through because she knew what was at the end of the tunnel.  If an eight day experience can help provide this sort of vision to youth, it seems like an excellent investment and something that would be especially beneficial for youth who might not otherwise consider careers in science.  Camps cannot replace or repair what happens day in and day out in school, but what they have to offer should not be downplayed as a supplement or complement to those educational programs. 

            This research also brings up issues as to the place and kind of scientific reasoning in the school curriculum.  These may be difficult to include in a school curriculum due to the current push for standards and often rigid curricula, yet opportunities to engage youth in complex science inquiry of their own during the school year could have very positive ramifications.  One implication of trying to apply this might be whether science teachers have ever had opportunities to conduct personal research projects themselves, whether outside of school or in their own classrooms (like action research).  If most people never have opportunities to design their own research questions and studies until graduate school, most teachers probably do not have experience in conducting complex self-designed research and it may be more difficult for them to create such opportunities for their own students. 


Possibilities for Further Research

            This study has sought to understand why high school age youth come to Advanced Astronomy Camp and how they perceive its influence on them in addition to how the staff helps in creating this experience.  Interviews with some of the campers and staff revealed what they thought was valuable about Advanced Astronomy Camp and the discussion above has demonstrated how some of the research on community youth organizations and science inquiry supports some of these ideas, especially youth-centeredness and certain types of science activities.  However there are many more questions to be answered both about the Advanced Astronomy Camp and informal science education in general.

            First, I would like to know how campers’ view of Advanced Astronomy Camp and what they find valuable it about changes over time.  A narrative study inquiring into how their stories change over time and what place Camp has in them would be intriguing and could offer valuable information about how a week-long experience can affect students’ lives.  A long-term study could also show whether campers’ understanding of science is retained and/or continues to change, whether Camp affects their school learning, and whether it continues to give them perseverance to continue in science through college. 

            A broad study of people who have attended Advanced Astronomy Camp over the years might shed light on the long term effects of participating in Camp are.  How many people attending Camp go on to pursue science as a career?  How do they view themselves as contributing to education?  How do women see the role of Advanced Astronomy Camp in their educational careers as opposed to the men who attend?  How many campers attend the University of Arizona as undergraduate or graduate students in fields related to astronomy (i.e. how does this program benefit the university in recruiting students)? 

Studying Advanced Astronomy Camp in sequential years might also reveal whether the themes rising from camper and staff interviews stay the same for each Camp experience.  Do campers find their peer relationships significant each summer?  Do all counselors share a youth-centered philosophy?  How do the counselors change in their understanding of how they contribute to Camp as they continue their involvement over the years?

In addition to studies of Astronomy Camp, there is a need to add to the research literature on informal science education in general.  How do other camps or informal programs engage youth in scientific inquiry helps them develop more critical understandings of science?  Do these programs have the same influences on students?  Do participants find similar things valuable about their experiences? 

It is often noted with sadness that women do not pursue careers in science and math past high school and especially college (particularly physical sciences), even if they are doing very well in the subjects.  Don has noted that the young women who attend Astronomy Camp tend to keep in touch and talk about how important the experience was to them far more than the young men do.  Why is this?  Unfortunately my study did not focus specifically on the issue of gender and only one of the campers mentioned anything about it.  What she said though was interesting.  She found it very empowering to be among other young women at this Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Although I do not know the specific impact certain elements have on the young women at Camp, I do know from his interview that Don made special efforts to discuss historical contributions of women to astronomy at Advanced Astronomy Camp and stated that he believes women are every bit as capable as men in math and science.  It is also apparent that counselors sought to draw youth out into meaningful activities to build their confidence (both men and women) and that the campers formed special relationships with their peers where they feel a sense of commonality and not being alone.  These characteristics, also found to be important for girls’ education by Hansen, Walker and Flom (1995), may have an impact on young women’s experiences at Advanced Astronomy Camp and suggest one area of further study.

A Personal Note:

            Participating in Advanced Astronomy Camp was a wonderfully empowering experience for me.  Foremost, it was an opportunity to closely learn from and contribute to a long-standing educational investment of my father.  It also turned into a place where I made many friends among the counselors and the campers.  I attended a reunion of several campers from the Midwest later in the summer and even saw one of the campers at a local high school where I supervise pre-service teachers.  My interest in astronomy was piqued and I am beginning to engage in it as a hobby.  What perhaps most surprised me is how inspired I felt to do my own research after seeing the youth engage in their projects.  The excitement that they felt pursuing open-ended questions, the frustrating circumstances they conquered, and the successes they experienced as they presented what they found and did not find all gave me courage and enthusiasm in taking up this research project.  I have no doubts that this influence on my own life from participating in Advanced Astronomy Camp will continue for a long time to come and I look forward to seeing how my own understanding of the experience changes over time.



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Aslop, S. & Watts, M. (1997). Sources from a Somerset village: A model for informal learning about radiation and radioactivity. Science and Education, 81(6), 633-650.


Bentley, T. & Gurumurthy, R. (1999). Destination unknown: Engaging with the problems of marginalized youth. London: Demos.


Black, Harvey (2002). Revolutionary science in the classroom: Interview with science education researchers Jim Stewart and John Rudolph. Principled Practice in Mathematics and Science Education, 5(1), 4-6.


Bradley, C. & Reyes, M. E.  (2000).  Alaska native elders’ contribution to education: The Fairbanks AISES science camp. National Association of African American Studies and National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies: 2000 Literature Monograph Series. (Houston, TX, February 21-26, 2000), 34-50.


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Charmaz, K. (2000). Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, (pp.509-535). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Chinn, C.A. & Malhotra, B.A. (2002). Epistemologically authentic inquiry in schools: A theoretical framework for evaluating inquiry tasks. Science Education, 86(3), 175-218.


Crane, V. (1994). Understanding the dynamics of informal learning. In Crane, Valerie (Ed.), Informal Science Learning, (pp.177-192). Dedham, MA: Research Communications Ltd.


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Appendix A: letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director

May 29, 2002



Dear Parents/Guardians of Summer 2002 Advanced Astronomy Campers,


            Astronomy camp is an exciting educational experience, as I well remember from attending the first camp directed by Dr. Don  McCarthy, when I was thirteen years old.  The camps have grown a lot since then, as has my curiosity over what makes them such an unusual and interesting experience for youth.  Now, as a master’s student in Curriculum and Instruction, I am seeking to better understand what youth learn from Advanced Astronomy Camp for my master’s project.  For this purpose I will be serving as a counselor this summer at the camp.  In addition, believing that the campers themselves are the best evaluators of their experiences and what they have learned, my primary source of research data will be interviews from about one-third of the astronomy campers.

            For this reason, I am seeking your permission to tape-record an interview (approximately thirty to forty minutes in length) with your child at the end of (or closely following) camp this summer.  Participation is completely voluntary and you may withdraw your permission at any time.  Interview questions will be given to the campers ahead of time so that there are no surprises, and they may choose not to answer any of the questions.  I am also asking permission to copy some student work (like notebooks) during camp.  I will be the only one with access to the interview recordings and will give pseudonyms and change any identifiable characteristics of interviewees in my thesis paper and any subsequent publications in order to respect confidentiality.  In addition, I will be sending a transcript of your child’s interview later in the summer so that he or she may check it for accuracy and understanding.

            Thank you for your help in studying what makes Astronomy Camp so special and unique.  Please fill out and send the attached permission slip in the enclosed stamped envelope by June 7, 2002.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at or call me at (520) 742-7584.  You may also direct questions about this project to Maureen Bischof from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at (608) 265-3229. 







Deborah A. McCarthy

Candidate for Master’s Degree at University of Wisconsin-Madison





Appendix A: Permission letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director


Permission Slip

For participating in research on Advanced Astronomy Camp



Camper’s Name _______________________________________  


Date of Birth ___________



Parent/Guardian Signature_______________________________________





                                                                                    Yes                              No

Interviewing (please check)                                       _______                      _______


Collecting camper work                                            _______                      _______























Appendix A: Permission letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director

May 29, 2002



Dear Counselors of Summer 2002 Advanced Astronomy Campers,


            Astronomy camp is an exciting educational experience, as I well remember from attending the first camp directed by Dr. Don McCarthy, when I was thirteen years old.  The camps have grown a lot since then, as has my curiosity over what makes them such an unusual and interesting experience for youth.  Now, as a master’s student in Curriculum and Instruction, I am seeking to better understand what youth learn from Advanced Astronomy Camp for my master’s project.  For this purpose I will be serving as a counselor this summer at the camp.  In addition, believing that the campers themselves are the best evaluators of their experiences and what they have learned, my primary source of research data will be interviews from about one-third of the astronomy campers.

 I will also be interviewing the counselors and the director of the camp to better understand how they contribute to the campers’ experiences, and for this reason, I am seeking your permission to tape-record an interview (approximately thirty to forty minutes in length) with you at the end of (or closely following) camp this summer.  Participation is completely voluntary and you may withdraw your permission at any time.  Interview questions will be given ahead of time so that there are no surprises, and you may choose not to answer any of the questions.  I will be the only one with access to the interview recordings and will give pseudonyms and change any identifiable characteristics of interviewees in my thesis paper and any subsequent publications in order to respect confidentiality.  In addition, I will be sending a transcript of your interview later in the summer so that you may check it for accuracy and understanding.


            Thank you for your help in studying what makes Astronomy Camp so special and unique.  Please fill out and send the attached permission slip in the enclosed stamped envelope by June 7, 2002.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at or call me at (520) 742-7584.  You may also direct questions about this project to Maureen Bischof from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at (608) 265-3229. 







Deborah A. McCarthy

Candidate for Master’s Degree at University of Wisconsin-Madison




Appendix A: Permission letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director



Permission Slip

For participating in research on Advanced Astronomy Camp



Participant Signature_______________________________________





                                                                                    Yes                              No

Interviewing (please check)                                       _______                      _______
































Appendix A: Permission letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director

May 29, 2002



Dear Dr. Don McCarthy,


            Thank you for your participation and involvement in my research about students’ perceptions of what they have learned at your Advanced Astronomy Camp this summer.   Your input and assistance up to this point has been invaluable, and I am greatly anticipating serving as a counselor in your camp and interviewing many of the students and counselors.  Please find enclosed a formal description of my proposed research agenda and copies of letters and permission slips for parents and counselors.  I have made the changes you have recently suggested and welcome continuing feedback from you as this project progresses.  I hope that this endeavor will benefit you and Astronomy Camp in addition to building up knowledge about educational opportunities outside of formal schooling.

 In addition to interviewing campers and counselors, I would like to interview you as the director of the camp to better understand how you see yourself guiding and contributing to the campers’ experiences, and for this reason, I am seeking your permission to tape-record an interview with you at a time convenient to you after your camps this summer.  I will draw up some interview questions ahead of time to give to you to direct our conversation so that there are no surprises, and you may choose not to answer any of the questions.  I am also seeking permission to copy or collect any related materials to camp that you have created to add to the larger picture of Advanced Astronomy Camp.  Participation, of course, is completely voluntary, and I will be the only one with access to the interview recordings.  Confidentiality is a high priority, and I will be in continued conversation with you about this subject throughout the research project in order to assure you respect and privacy while also giving you credit for your important contributions.  In addition, I will be sending a transcript of your interview later in the summer as well as a final draft of my research thesis when it is ready, so that you may check them for accuracy and contribute any comments or revisions you deem appropriate.

            Thank you for your help in studying what makes Astronomy Camp so special and unique.  Please fill out and send the attached permission slip in the enclosed stamped envelope by June 7, 2002.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at or call me at (520) 742-7584.  You may also direct questions about this project to Maureen Bischof from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at (608) 265-3229. 






Deborah A. McCarthy

Candidate for Master’s Degree at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Appendix A: Permission letters and forms for Campers, Counselors, and Director



Permission Slip

For participating in research on Advanced Astronomy Camp



Participant Signature_______________________________________





                                                                                    Yes                              No

Interviewing (please check)                                       _______                      _______


Collecting related materials                                        _______                      _______





























Appendix B: Interview Questions for Campers, Counselors, and Director


Interview Questions for Advanced Astronomy Camp Youth:


Hello!  Thank you for your participation in this research on Advanced Astronomy Camp.  As promised, here are the questions that I have written to guide our conversation about your experiences and perceptions of camp.  I want to remind you that this is a confidential and voluntary interview and that I will be sending you the transcript of it later so that you can correct and clarify anything.  Again, I hope these questions are helpful in stimulating conversation – please feel free to add anything you think is important at any time, or ask me questions you may have. 


1.  What brought you to Advanced Astronomy Camp?  What were your primary goals and expectations for camp before you came?


2.  How have these goals or expectations been fulfilled or how have they changed? 


3.  Tell me a story about a significant or special time at Astronomy Camp.  Why was this important for you?


4.  How have your peers influenced your experiences at Astronomy Camp?


5.  How has Camp added to or changed your understanding of science and astronomy?


6.  What are the most interesting or important things you have learned about astronomy, science, or other areas at Camp?


7.  Has Astronomy Camp influenced your interest in higher education and/or career options?  How? 


8.  What do you think are the main strengths of Astronomy Camp?  What are its principle weaknesses or areas for improvement? 








Appendix B: Interview Questions for Campers, Counselors, and Director


Interview Questions for Advanced Astronomy Camp Counselors:


Hello!  Thank you for your participation in this research on Advanced Astronomy Camp.  As promised, here are the questions that I have written to guide our conversation about your experiences and perceptions of camp.  I want to remind you that this is a confidential and voluntary interview and that I will be sending you the transcript of it later so that you can correct and clarify anything.  Again, I hope these questions are helpful in stimulating conversation – please feel free to add anything you think is important at any time, or ask me questions you may have. 


1.  Why did you come to camp?


2.  What were your goals for the youth?  For yourself?  How were they met or not met?


3.  How do you see yourself fitting in with the larger picture of Astronomy Camp (i.e. the campers, the director. . .)?


4.  What do you try to teach at Advanced Astronomy Camp?  What do you find most helpful in the various aspects of teaching at Camp?


5.  Do you primarily think of yourself as a scientist or a teacher or both? 


6.  Do you intentionally contribute to creating a community at Astronomy Camp?  How?


7.  Do you intentionally do anything to stimulate confidence in the campers?  What?  How?


8.  What are some of the most significant things you think students take away from a week at Astronomy Camp?


9.  Is there anything else you think I should know about Astronomy Camp and your experiences during it? 













Appendix B: Interview Questions for Campers, Counselors, and Director


Interview Questions for Advanced Astronomy Camp Director:


Hello!  Thank you for your participation in this research on Advanced Astronomy Camp.  As promised, here are the questions that I have written to guide our conversation about your experiences and perceptions of camp.  I want to remind you that this is a confidential and voluntary interview and that I will be sending you the transcript of it later so that you can correct and clarify anything.  Again, I hope these questions are helpful in stimulating conversation – please feel free to add anything you think is important at any time, or ask me questions you may have. 



1.  What were your goals for the youth of Advanced Astronomy Camp?  For the counselors?  For yourself?  How were they met or not met?


2.  What do you try to teach at Advanced Astronomy Camp?  What do you find most helpful in the various aspects of teaching at Camp?


3.  Describe how you choose or recruit the campers (based on essays and applications) and the counselors.


3.  Do you think of yourself as primarily a scientist, a teacher, or both?  Explain.


6.  Do you intentionally contribute to creating a community at Astronomy Camp?  How?


7.  Do you intentionally do anything to stimulate confidence in the campers?  What?  How?


8.  What are some of the most significant things you think students take away from a week at Astronomy Camp?


9.  What do you perceive to be the Camp’s strengths and weaknesses?


10.  Is there anything else you would like to add about Astronomy Camp and your experiences during it? 










Appendix C:  Application Form for Advanced Astronomy Camp 2002

Required Essay

NOTE: The essay requirement for the 2002 Advanced Camp has changed from previous years. Please follow these directions carefully.

Admission to the Advanced Astronomy Camp requires an essay of at least 700 words. This essay is our primary means of gauging a student's motivation, creativity, maturity, and ability to follow directions. These are qualities we value highly in our Advanced Camp students. Each essay must combine both fact and imagination and should have an imaginative title. The factual basis must cite at least two published references not including Internet sites. We include some sample references to help you incorporate current understanding.

To help prospective campers gauge the level of competition, we provide two essays from students who attended the 2000 Advanced Camp: "The Slumber of the Suns" (Cheryl Johnston) and "The Legacy of Copernicus" (Ezra Rapoport).

New students must write on one of the following three topics. Previous Advanced Campers wishing to reapply must write about a proposed research project that might also interest other Advanced Campers. See below for a more detailed description.


Essay #1: Over 80 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. You are responsible for choosing one of THESE planets or its hypothetical moon(s) to colonize. Where would you go and what would you hope to learn there?

Essay #2: You visit a hypothetical planet in a KNOWN binary star system of your choice. Describe how and why life on your planet would be different from that on Earth.

Essay #3: You are the assistant of a famous astronomer (past or present). Describe a research project in which you are involved and how it has impacted your life.





We encourage previous advanced campers to reapply for the Advanced Camp in year 2002. Since so many qualified students are expected to apply for the first time, it is likely that no more than six repeating campers can be admitted. Last summer, two repeating students were selected. Each year's Advanced Camp has a different theme for daily activities, but the main focus at night will still be the research projects conducted by teams of students using the equipment in our collection.

Students wishing to reapply must write an observing proposal, similar to, but more detailed than, the proposals they wrote during a previous Advanced Camp. Based on your experience with our telescopes and instruments, you should be able to describe a new project which you and other students could conduct together during the one week camp. To be successful, you do not have to solve any modern mysteries of the Universe, just propose something which interests you, utilizes our equipment, and would interest other students. Your project may be a challenging one but it must be realistic. You must include the following in your proposal:

1. Title

2. Abstract

A concise paragraph summarizing your goals.

3. Scientific Description

Why is this project interesting and what do you hope to learn from the observations?

4. Scientific Method

How will you obtain and analyze your data? What telescopes and instruments do you require? How much observing time is necessary?

5. Team Management

As the leader of your project, how will you involve other students in the observing, analysis, and presentation aspects of this project? How will you deal with the fact that these students may not understand anything about your topic but are eager to learn and participate? How will you interact with your colleagues to encourage, teach, and manage them during the weeklong camp?

You can read about Astronomy Camp's telescopes and facilities. Please contact Dr. McCarthy with any questions.


Magazines: Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, Mercury, The Planetary Report, Scientific American

Astronomy texts:
Universe, W. J. Kaufmann III, 1994, 4th edition (W.H. Freeman and Co., NY)
Astronomy: The Evolving Universe, M. Zeilik, 1994, 7th edition, Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY)

Burnham's Celestial Handbook , R. Burnham, 1978, (Dover Publ.: New York).
The Cambridge Atlas of Astronomy, J. Audouze & G. Israel, 1994, (Cambridge Univ. Press).

Internet sites:
extrasolar planetary systems []
miscellaneous -- Camp Links from our Home Page

Appendix D – Advanced Astronomy Camp Research Projects (in order of presentation)


Comparison of Star Forming H2 regions in Antennae (colliding galaxies) with Star Forming Regions in the Milky Way (Eagle and Trifid nebulae)- two members

Tried to compare the star forming regions of two colliding galaxies with those of nebulae in our own galaxy.

61-inch CCD and 60-inch spectrograph

Found it difficult to combine filters for final pictures but got clear pictures.  The spectroscopy was inconclusive but they identified many specific lines in the spectrum and were able to make some comparisons.


Age of Emission Nebulae- three members

Theorizing that older nebulae would be more dense in terms of stars, tried to estimate which nebulae were older by using pictures and counting the density of stars at varying distances from the center of the nebulae.

12-inch CCD

Used the density of stars in the nebulae to make tentative conclusions regarding their comparable ages.  Found it difficult to determine whether stars were in the foreground of the picture or part of the nebulae and had difficulty with the filter wheels in the CCD.


Imaging Pluto and Charon- five members

Sought to image Charon at its greatest elongation from Pluto.

61-inch CCD

Had difficulty with “seeing” on the first night of observing, but second night was slightly better.  Using a “trick” of computer image processing were able to get a resolution of 1.3 arc-seconds to see Charon as “a lump on Pluto,” but this is also inconclusive


SS443 Binary System Accretion Disk- seven members

Attempted to measure the speed of rotation of the accretion disk around a black hole by calculating red shift and blue shift in the specific spectrum lines.

60-inch spectrometer

Successfully calculated the velocity of rotation, reaching the same results as one other published report, taking into account the system’s velocity away from Earth in addition to the respective speeds of rotation around the black hole, especially using the H-alpha and Iron lines.  Related the difference of speed (slower coming toward us and faster moving away) to results of other scientists and gave possible explanations.


Planet Transit (first group)- five members

Tried to observe a planet eclipsing the star it orbits by measuring a dip in the brightness of the star over the period of the eclipse and some elements of the planet’s atmosphere from the spectrograph.

12-inch CCD and 60-inch spectrograph

Observed part dip in the light from the star.  Inconclusive data from spectrograph


Planet Transit (second group)- four members

Tried to observe a planet eclipsing the star it orbits by measuring a dip in the brightness of the star over the period of the eclipse

40-inch photometer

Successful measurement and graphing of dip in light from the star.  Also shared importance of practicing this technique using eclipsing binary stars.


Period of RR Lyrae stars in M92- one member

Attempted to observe and calculate the distance of the globular cluster M92 from observing the period of several variable stars within the cluster.

12-inch CCD

Some success in observing the period of variable stars, calculating their absolute brightness, and calculating distance of M92.


Gravitational Lensing- three members

Sought to observe the effects of gravitational lensing on a 17th magnitude quasar by comparing it to the colors of Einstein’s Cross to see if the effect was the same

61-inch CCD and 60-inch spectrometer

Successfully observed potentially the faintest object ever at Astronomy Camp.  Unclear whether the effect was the same.


Sombrero Galaxy- four members

Tried to discover how much dark matter must be present in the Sombrero Galaxy by calculating the speeds of rotation of different parts of the galaxy from red and blue shifts and taking into account the known mass of visible stars, thereby determining how much dark matter there must be.

60-inch spectrometer

No conclusive data.  Because of the time the galaxy was visible the moon caused difficulty in observing (too much additional light).


Asteroids and Comets- two members

Attempted to discover new asteroids and comets by comparing CCD images of the sky along the ecliptic and away from the Milky Way and the Moon. 

12-inch CCD

Observed a satellite and cosmic rays and may have evidence for some variable objects, but did not find any new asteroids or comets.  Proposed new strategies for pursuing this project in the future.


EGG: Extragalactic Globular Clusters in M31- three members

Tried to resolve globular clusters in other galaxies and compare them to those of our own.

61-inch CCD

“Seeing” was very difficult each time the group attempted to take data and the study was inconclusive.


Star-Forming Nebula- three members

Attempted to analyze three star-forming nebulae including the Eagle, Trifid, and DC604 through the spectrometer.

60-inch spectrometer

This very ambitious project was complicated by a closed camera shutter and difficulty capturing the nebulae through the grating.  No major conclusions reached.


Gamma Ray Bursts- four members

Hoped to follow-up a detection of a gamma ray burst by satellite sources with a telescope on Mt. Lemmon.

No bursts occurred and no data taken.


Egg Nebula- one member

Attempted to detect the degree of polarization of the Egg Nebula.

12-inch CCD

The detections measured did not match up with the degree of polarization known, but the member expressed learning a lot about the engineering of the 12-inch telescope, putting it to new uses.


Satellite Following- many members

Tried to follow various satellites and capture them on CCD.

12-inch CCD

After many attempts the group began to be successful in following some satellites through the eyepiece of the telescope and captured detail in a GPS satellite, identifying the two solar panels on the satellite.


[1] When referring to the Advanced Astronomy Camp, I will often use “Camp” with a capital “C”, as per the request of the Director.  I also refer to the Director as “Don”, the name that he went by at Astronomy Camp.

[2] Using terms such as minority, at-risk, under-privileged, or people of color to describe the targeted population of educational programs may be considered problematic.  I have chosen to use them in this text when they are used and consequently reflect the thought of the authors of the articles referenced here and in subsequent parts of this paper.

[3] However, many significant contributions in science have been made by amateurs or by professional “in their backyards” without funding.  Being a professional scientist is not a requirement for making meaningful contributions to the field nor is it a requirement for engaging  in meaningful or as some have called it, “authentic,” science.

[4] This web-page was created by one of the campers and is private for the campers and those they have invited onto the site, including Don and the counselors.  The official Astronomy Camp website at provides information and applications for each of the camps.