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Whitney Pratz - Headshot

A Love Letter to Science Education

Posted by Whitney Pratz

03-04-2015 18:37 CDT

Topics: Planetary Society Projects, events and announcements, Planetary Society, Bill Nye

“Wow—Science Teachers!” 

That was all I could think as I left this year’s National Science Teacher Association conference in Chicago. If you were there, you may remember me as “the blue-haired one” or “Bill Nye’s friend.” For everyone else, I’m the Operations Assistant here at The Planetary Society.

National Science Teacher Association Conference

Whitney Pratz

National Science Teacher Association Conference
Just a portion of the National Science Teacher Association Conference exhibition floor!

Recently we started to develop our youth education and outreach program, Planetary Kids, for which I’ve been granted the task of researching how we might make the most impact in the lives of young scientists locally and abroad. 

Bill’s annual Planetary Society lecture and book signing afforded me the huge opportunity to spend lots of time around his fans—the Billsciples as I’ve been calling them. His talk centered on three main ideas: raising kids to be curious spirits and critical thinkers, our solar sail spacecraft, LightSail, and the urgent need for climate change awareness. He fielded audience questions ranging from teaching science via government imposed sanctions, to his first scientific intrigue as a child. The current of energy Bill creates in a room filled with brilliant, inquisitive minds is exactly the kind energy required to change our world.

Crowds gathering for Bill Nye's speech and signing

Whitney Pratz

Crowds gathering for Bill Nye's speech and signing

Once Bill left us in Chicago, we really got to experience the glory of the NSTA Conference. We attended a few panels and workshops, and then made our way through the massive wonderland that is the exhibition floor, playing with toys, hanging out with teachers, companies, and kids of all ages who are excited about science. We got lost in the stars of the blow-up planetariums, took a ride aboard a mobile science lab, and discovered some of the most exciting advancements in scientific education that we hope to put into practice with Planetary Kids. 

Playing with a virtual reality program

Whitney Pratz

Playing with a virtual reality program
Generating power

Whitney Pratz

Generating power

So, I’d like to say thank you to all the radical science teachers, for your passion and dedication, for everything you do on a daily basis to bring science and critical thinking skills to the youth. And for being so darn cool and helping me learn how to make a rockin’ program for kids. I can’t wait to dive into the work I have ahead of me and I’m humbled to be a part of such a fantastic community. 

Maybe it was the sheer size of McCormick Place, a behemoth convention center with sky-bridge above, the thousands of attendees, or that we were in Chicago on St. Patty’s Day, but the excitement and possibility alive during the conference was galactic and I can’t wait for next year.

I returned to Society headquarters inspired to work on science education, so let’s keep that momentum going!

Stay tuned for updates on Planetary Kids in and feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts, questions, or ideas!

See other posts from April 2015


Or read more blog entries about: Planetary Society Projects, events and announcements, Planetary Society, Bill Nye


Skip: 04/06/2015 06:01 CDT

I'm not a science teacher, but I am the dad of a 10YO future astronaut. I am very happy to hear about your assignment with Planetary Kids. My daughter loves hearing about the science being done by our human and robotic planetary explorers. I'd like to give you some suggestions. My daughter absolutely LOVED the cute videos the ESA did for Rosetta and Philae. The videos totally resonated with her. I wonder if we could try and do some videos like that. She does like Dr. Betts' Random Space Facts, so that's a good start. But let's try to take advantage of New Horizons approaching every kid's favorite ex-planet Pluto. Every kid in America should be aware of this exciting mission, and should be waiting anxiously for the first photos. The only way that will happen is if they know about it in the first place. I think some periodic kid-level videos about Curiosity and Opportunity would also get some attention. And while the astronauts on the ISS are not exactly planetary explorers, I wonder if we could make an agreement with NASA and produce some really well done videos of different science experiments done on the ISS. Thank you for your time, and I really look forward to seeing what Planetary Kids can do!

DesperateForEducation: 05/26/2015 08:14 CDT

Hi! I loved your story and the initiatives that are going on right now in STEM. I currently live in Arkansas (yuck!) and my son goes to school here. Unless I win the lottery, we're stuck here for the foreseeable future. The curriculum here is appalling, and I was wondering what I could do to help change that? I'm desperate for my son to go to a school that engages in STEM courses, but as of now, I don't see that happening here.

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