Authentic Astronomy Research Experiences for Teachers: The
NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP)
How many times have you gotten a question from the general public, or read a news story, and concluded that “they just don’t understand how real science works?” One really good way to get the word out about how science works is to have more people experience the process of scientific research. Since 2004, the way we have chosen to do this is to provide authentic research experiences for teachers using real data (the program used to be called the Spitzer Teacher Program for Teachers and Students, which in 2009 was rechristened the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research
Program, or NITARP). We partner small groups of teachers with a mentor astronomer, they do research as a team, write up a poster, and present it at an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting. The teachers incorporate this experience into their classroom, and their experiences color their teaching for years to come, influencing hundreds of students per teacher. This program differs from other similar programs in several important ways. First, each team works on an original, unique project. There are no canned labs here! Second, each team presents their results in posters at the AAS, in science sessions (not outreach sessions). The posters are distributed throughout the meeting, in amongst other researchers’ work; the participants are not “given a free pass” because they are teachers. Finally, the “product” of this project is the scientific result, not any sort of curriculum packet. The teachers adapt their project to their classroom environment, and we change the way they think about science and scientists.