OTTAWA — Students at Ottawa Elementary School Thursday learned about the solar system during the second annual Rock Your School Day.
The Hancock Park District brought its mobile planetarium to the school’s library to do programming with elementary students.
Students learned about the phases of the moon, which constellations are out at night and planets that are in viewing range.
Michelle Rumschlag, Hancock Park District naturalist, presented the portable planetarium that projects the night sky and the planets, moon and constellations.
“Kids look up and see the moon and planets, and this helps them to know what is there and appreciate looking at the stars,” Rumschlag said.
Ellen Engle, Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum outreach educator, presented a program about the solar system to the middle school students during their study hall.
“The students learned about the planets in our solar system. The main purpose of the program is to show the students how far planets are from one another,” Engle said.
Students wore signs with the planet names and took a certain amount of steps from the sun sign. The last planet, Neptune, was 72 step from the sun.
Staff wore space suits and NASA T-shirts and the school was decorated with a space theme.
Erica Verhoff, Ottawa Elementary kindergarten teacher, wore a NASA hat, T-shirt and white coat and experienced the planetarium with her students.
“The solar system is such an abstract concept for kindergarteners and it’s nice to explore our solar system and the other planets that exist as well as the moon and sun,” Verhoff said.
Aryah Myers, Ottawa Elementary kindergartener, said she liked learning about the solar system.
“I learned how the sun sets and the constellations and planets,” Myers said.
The program in its second year started from the school’s experience at the Ron Clark Academy. Subsequently a social media group called “Get Your Teach On” was formed, according to Audrey Beining, Ottawa Elementary School principal.
The Facebook group which is led by one of the teachers at Ron Clark Academy that some of Ottawa Elementary’s staff members follow was started.
“There is less of an emphasis on tangible rewards in the building, such as receiving a prize for having good attendance, but rather that students get to participate in fun learning days like these because they come to school regularly,” Beining said.
Staff morale, along with student motivation and attendance increased considerably after the first event, according to Beining.
“We strive to create rigorous learning experiences for students by balancing structure, discipline and respect with creativity, passion and enthusiasm,” Beining said.
Last September, the Get Your Teach On organization challenged teachers across America to hold a “Rock Your School Day. Ottawa Elementary staff decided to participate, but take it one step farther, and do a school-wide kindergarten through eighth grade football theme day.
The school decorated the building, staff dressed as officials, lunch was outdoors tailgate-style, and although lessons were still rigorous and standards-based, they were more engaging that day. It was such a success that the staff unanimously agreed to continue these days sporadically throughout the year.
Since then Ottawa Elementary had four more school-wide themed days (music, beach, games and space). These days come as surprise to students as they arrive in the morning.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.