UMD Astronomy Student Leads Pasadena Girl Scouts In Space Investigation

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By Jane Seiss

Chesapeake High School graduate and University of Maryland freshman Taylor Paul returned home to Pasadena this winter break to help local Girl Scouts earn their space investigator badges. The astronomy major used what she has already learned at college to create an afternoon of educational activities for the fourth-grade girls of Fort Smallwood Elementary School’s Troop 377.

“It was my idea. My mom helped me find the right badge, and I planned it all,” Taylor said of the endeavor. Her mom, Debby Paul, is the troop’s leader, and Taylor’s sister, 9-year-old Isabella, is a Girl Scout in Troop 377.

Taylor designed age-appropriate activities for the girls. The troop started its meeting by forming a human solar system. Each girl took a planet’s name and got into positions that reflected real distances from the center of our solar system and the order in which the planets orbit the sun. The girls played a game to guess the number of moons each planet has. They also used the cellphone app SkyView to study celestial objects in the sky. The app provides an augmented reality experience that opens the front camera of the phone and allows users to look at their screens and see the positions of the stars, satellites and planets in real time.

Afterward, the girls made puff-ball aliens and used paper plates to craft UFOs — Taylor found these fun activities on Pinterest. A question-and-answer session allowed Taylor to respond to the girls’ queries. For fun, the group enjoyed a space-themed snack of fruit kabobs shaped like rockets and homemade purple-swirled “galaxy” chocolate bark.

“I’ve always had an interest in astronomy — for as long as I can remember,” said Taylor, who has taken several college courses in her field of study, including Introduction to Physics, Introduction to Astronomy, and Calculus III.

“I want to work at NASA,” Taylor shared, adding that she is unsure exactly what she would do, although she is interested in research.

“As a mom, I was very proud of her — that she was able to teach the girls something she had learned in school,” Debby said. “She did a really good job; she was creative. It was great to have the girls be that involved and interested.”

The space investigator badge is new for Girl Scouts. It is part of a STEM series of badges and activities designed to encourage girls to explore related fields and learn more ways they can make a difference in the world.

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