Logo for Sunwheel Project

UPDATE ON PUBLIC OUTREACH

Sunwheel Shadows


  •  For photos of Sunwheel gatherings from 1997-1999,  click here.
  •  For photos of the Sunwheel gatherings with the tall standing stones,  click here.

 The Sunwheel has made a significant impact in raising awareness and scientific understanding of the solstices and equinoxes. The rising attendance at the summer and winter solstice presentations I give at the Sunwheel speaks loudly to the growing appeal of this project. For the winter solstice of 1999, there were a record 250 visitors to the Sunwheel sunrise and sunset gatherings ! In May 1999, I placed a guest book at the site for visitors to sign in. My records now indicate that over 9000 people have visited the Sunwheel, from 43 of the United States and 45 foreign countries, including Australia, Russia, and Zimbabwe. In addition, about 1000 visitors per year attend the seasonal sunrise and sunset gatherings, and about 300 students and teachers visit the Sunwheel during the day to supplement the school science curriculum. The Sunwheel is valuable because it takes a complex scientific phenomenon and puts it into an everyday context which people of all ages can experience and understand for themselves. Visitors learn how the Sun's position in the sky changes with the seasons. The everyday observations which people make at the Sunhweel become part of their daily lives, enabling them to pay more attention the the universe around them. Not only that, but visiting the Sunwheel is fun. Watching the sunset is a peaceful and beautiful activity. I hope that in the year 2100, the Sunwheel continues to serve as a gathering spot for the public to experience the passage of the seasons and to learn 'everyday astronomy'.

A frequent educational use of the Sunwheel is through visits made by school groups and the general public. Since 1997, I have given 16-18 presentations annually at the Sunwheel, to ~300 students and teachers. The presentations are primarily for grades 6-12, on topics including (1) The Seasons, (2) Measuring Time, (3) Light and Shadows, (4) Phases of the Moon, and (5) Eclipses. Additionally, over 70 local public school teachers attended 4 Sunwheel presentations designed to aid them in teaching the astronomy curriculum.

The response to the Sunwheel by the general public has been enthusiastic and positive, beyond my wildest imaginings. There is a real hunger in people to understand the natural environment, and the Sunwheel provides a place to observe the universe in action. The rising attendance at the solstice and equinox presentations I give at the Sunwheel speaks loudly to the growing appeal of this project. In June of 1998, there were 78 visitors to the Sunwheel for the summer solstice sunset, while in June of 1999 the summer solstice sunset brought 143 visitors. More astounding still were the 214 visitors to the Sunwheel for the 1999 winter solstice sunset!! This was the largest attendance at a single gathering, until the summer solstice of 2002. At a single sunset gathering on a beautiful sunny evening, 223 people were present at the Sunwheel! Invariably, a core group of interested adults and children stays well past sunset to ask questions, and some families come two nights in a row or year after year. The Sunwheel has already become a community gathering spot for people to learn astronomy together and to celebrate the arrival and the passage of the seasons.

WRITTEN COMMENTS FROM VISITORS:
 "Great educational experience!"
"Cool rocks."
"An experience that broadens my understanding of the universe." (Adam Van Devente)
"Learned lots I didn't know."
"Much needed knowledge. Thanks." (Anne Marie Manning)
"Wonderfully clear demonstrations."
"I can't wait to come back at night." (Debbie Paddock)
"This is great."
"Inspires further study." (Donna D'Fini)
"Very interesting."
"Thanks for the experience." (K. Meyers)
"This is so cool."
"This is a great real world representation of the models."
"Admirable ambitious project." (John Davis)
"I hope to bring back my family."
"Thank you for the field trip to the Sunwheel. The experience will stay with me forever."
"The Sun is new everyday." (Phylis Morrison, from Heraclitus)
"Dramatic." (Philip Morrison)

  • Click here for letters from the public.

    Comments in Letters from 6th Graders:
    "Thank you for having us to your rock clock circle. I hope to study astronomy when I grow up." (Julia Berkowitz)
    "I learned many things."
    "I think the Sunwheel is a great project." (Michael Cardop)
    "I hope I get to see the Sunwheel again."
    "I think it would be fun and interesting to be an astronomer." (Jennifer Hunt)
    "I hope that you are able to raise the money to put in the 10' rocks." (Jenni Shultz)
    "I'm so happy that it's our community that gets to have a Sunwheel." (Damaris Delgado)
    "I learned alot even though I went to the Sunwheel last year in 5th grade." (Skyler Wiemokly)
    "The trip to the Sunwheel was very educational and I look forward to going there again with my family." (Brooke Steinhauser)

  • Click here for letters from 6th graders.

    Written Comments from Teachers:
     "This is a wonderful addition for my astronomy unit." (Renee Romano -- middle school teacher)
    "I can't wait to take students here." (Carolyn Close, Shutesbury Elementary School)
    "Thank you for the wonderful presentation. You do an invaluable service for the Amherst Schools. I learn something each time I take a group." (Dulcie Trowbridge, 6th grade teacher)
    "Just right for our 5th grade unit." (Michael Kostoroski)
    "Great project to complement my science unit." (Mary Andrade, 6th grade teacher)

    EVALUATION OF THE SUNWHEEL
     I now have 5 full years of quantitative and qualitative data on the impact and effectiveness of the Sunwheel. In 1998, there were 73 visitors who came to the Sunwheel for summer solstice sunset. For the 1999 summer solstice, there were 143 adults and children from New England who came to the Sunwheel for presentations on June 20 and 21, and in 2002 there were an amazing 260 summer solstice sunset participants -- the largest gatherings yet! For the 1999 winter solstice, an astounding 242 visitors gathered at the Sunwheel for presentations on Dec. 21 and 22. Invariably, a core group of interested adults and children stays well past sunset to ask questions, and some families come two nights in a row or year after year. The table below presents the data I have collected on Sunwheel attendance by school groups and the general public, demonstrating WIDESPREAD AND INCREASING INTEREST.


    ATTENDANCE AT SUNWHEEL GATHERINGS
    May 1997 - June 2002

    SOLSTICE GATHERINGS

    Event Date # Attending # Presentations
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 1997 18 2
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 1998 73 2
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 1999 143 2
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 2000 110 2 (2 cloudy)
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 2001 111 2 (2 cloudy)
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 2002 260 2 (1 clear)
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 2003 13 RAINY!
    Summer Solstice Sunset June 2004 152 2 (1 clear)
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 1997 26 1
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 1998 24 1
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 1999 214 2
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 2000 105 2 (cloudy)
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 2001 137 2
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 2002 129 2 (1 clear)
    Winter Solstice Sunset December 2003 70 2 (1 clear)

    PUBLIC GATHERINGS

    Group Date # Attending # Gatherings
    School Groups July '97-June '98 308 17
    School Groups July '98-June '99 321 18
    School Groups July '99-June '00 282 16
    School Groups July '00-June '01 315 18
    School Groups July '01-June '02 362 18
    School Groups July '02-June '03 377 18
    School Groups July '03-June '04 103 (my sabbatical) 6
    School Groups July '04-June '05 188 7
    General Public July '97-June '98 150 8
    General Public July '98-June '99 268 14
    General Public July '99-June '00 540 17
    General Public July '00-June '01 573 (tall stones added) 21
    General Public July '01-June '02 778 20
    General Public July '02-June '03 477 (rainy year) 16
    General Public July '03-June '04 389 (my sabbatical) 17
    General Public July '04-June '05 634 23

    GATHERING TOTALS

    Group Date # Attending # Gatherings
    Total Public July '97 - June '98 458 25
    Total Public July '98 - June '99 589 32
    Total Public July '99 - June '00 822 33
    Total Public July '00 - June '01 888 39
    Total Public July '01 - June '02 1,140 38
    Total Public July '02 - June '03 854 (in spite of a rainy vernal equinox AND summer solstice) 34
    Total Public July '03 - June '04 492 (I was away spring 2004, back for equinox and solstice) 23
    Total Public July '04 - June '05 822 30
    Gathering Attendees July '97-June '05 6,073 254
    Guest Book Signatures ** May '99-May '05 12,638
    Total Number Visitors (Guest Book + Gatherings)** May '97 through 2004 15,466
    ** A guest book placed at the Sunwheel in May 1999 has recorded signatures of 10,977 people who have visited the Sunwheel on their own, through May 15, 2004.

  •   A project conceived by Professor Judith S. Young
     Department of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
     e-mail: send to Judith Young at young@astro.umass.edu

     Go back button