Learning Space With Paper Plates

Revisiting the archives of paper plate activities for a Learning Space Hangout was like finding treasure in an archeological dig. I was the guest for the offically titled Episode 87: Paper Plate Astronomy with Chuck Bueter on 28 January 2015. As I pulled out samples of plate designs, I remembered how colleagues from the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) had collaborated to build the collection, of which I am the caretaker.

Paper devices have been used for instructional purposes since volvelles were included in rare books in the 16th century, as noted in the Paper Plate Education Background. More recently, in 1992 when GLPA member Wayne James was clouded out at an astronomy picnic, he developed several astronomy activities using the paper products he had brought for the picnic. After hearing Wayne present at a GLPA conference, I as a newbie in astronomy education was hooked. Paper plates as a teaching tool were unique, non-threatening, versatile, and cheap.

I soon became the keeper of the collection. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz of DePaul University in Chicago introduced me to MS FrontPage software, and the university generously hosted the inaugural Paper Plate Education website at http://analyzer.depaul.edu/paperplate. DePaul continues to carry the original content on its servers; however, the software is obsolete, so I admittedly have not updated the content since 2012. Making a website in 1993 was new ground for me, and I preceived it as an intimidating technological barrier. To Bernhard's credit, that early support gave me confidence to build more websites for ensuing projects with ever-changing software options.

In a basement closet I have two large boxes filled with paper plates, each sample activity in a large manila file, which are arranged by title alphabetically. As I prepared for the Hangout, I recalled who sent me each activity, or how I myself had developed certain ones. Some of the activities are more arts-and-crafty, like the Moon Masks, whereas others are technical dials, like the Planet Pointer. Some have worked well with kids, and others probably need work. I find the activities to be most valuable when teachers take an original paper plate idea and modifies it to suit their needs. Basically, though, I consider the activities inventive ideas by educators.

Learning Space host Georgia Bracey generously embraced Paper Plate Education as we chatted and looked at sample activities for almost an hour. I invite you to watch the video and find useful nuggets for your own needs. Feel free to send me your original ideas or links to relevant activities. Though the original website is rather dormant now, as you'll see in the video, Georgia encouraged me to put new content onto the Nightwise.org website under its "Project" menu item Paper Plate Education. Thank you, GLPA members and others, for your contributions to this low-tech initiative.

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