The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), one of the world’s oldest and largest astronomical organizations, has awarded the 2002 Thomas J. Brennan Award to Philip Sadler, director of the Science Education Department at the Harvard – Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). The Brennan Award recognizes exceptional achievement related to the teaching of astronomy at the high school level.
“I am very grateful for this award. It recognizes the work of the Science Education Department and its many collaborating teachers in improving science education in our community and across the nation,” said Sadler, the Frances W. Wright Senior Lecturer on Celestial Navigation in the Department of Astronomy. “Considering the stellar educators who have won this award in the past, I am honored to be selected.”
Sadler has begun many astronomy education initiatives during his tenure at CfA. For example, Project SPICA (Support Program for Instructional Competency in Astronomy) sponsored six years of summer workshops, attracting more than 185 teachers from 41 states. The participating teachers developed and evaluated astronomy activities for the classroom, and disseminated these activities to their colleagues. The activities were also collected into a teacher manual that helped to broaden the outreach effort and ensured its continuity.
More recently, Sadler initiated the MicroObservatory project, a network of automated telescopes that can be accessed over the Internet by teachers and students in the classroom. Users of MicroObservatory take their own images by pointing and focusing the telescopes and selecting exposure times, filters, and other parameters.
While a middle school teacher in 1977, Sadler invented the Starlab Portable Planetarium, which now brings the night sky to an estimated 12 million children every year. Sadler continues to perfect new teaching tools, like the Sunspotter Solar Telescope that offers a safe way for children to study the sun and sunspots. He is well known for his research on students’ conceptions prior to teaching and how these notions play out in the development of scientific understanding in astronomy and physics.
“I feel that educating our children about science and technology is absolutely critical to prepare them for life in the 21st century,” said Sadler. “That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to bringing science teachers across the country the tools that they need to communicate these concepts to their students.”
Each year, the ASP’s board of directors asks various individuals and institutions to nominate people for the Brennan Award as well as five other awards. The ASP awards recognize meritorious work by professional and amateur astronomers, science educators, and those who engage in public outreach.