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Foothill College Instructor Wins National Award for Excellence in College Astronomy Teaching
June 05, 2007
Archive Story
Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Andrew Fraknoi, of San Francisco, has been named the recipient of the 2007 Richard H. Emmons Award for Excellence in College Astronomy Teaching by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). Fraknoi will receive the award at the ASP's 2007 annual meeting and conference in Chicago in September. "I'm delighted that there now exists a national award for teaching astronomy to college non-science majors, and that I am fortunate enough to be the second recipient of this prize," Fraknoi said. "So often what happens behind the doors of our nation's college classrooms is left only to the public's imagination. Yet, it is behind those doors that the crucial transformation of our students from kids to adults and from passive to active learners happens. My life's missions have always been to share the excitement of astronomy with those who are not particularly science-oriented and foster in my students a lifelong interest in the wonders of the universe." A distinguished astronomy educator with a national reputation, Fraknoi is a longtime, community college instructor, textbook author, and prolific writer and speaker. During his career in education, he co-founded Astronomy Education Review, an online journal; founded the Cosmos in the Classroom symposia for college faculty; and served as the executive director of the ASP for 14 years. He has been a member of the Foothill College faculty and chairman of the college's astronomy department since 1992. Fraknoi is the lead author of Voyages through the Universe, one of the foremost introductory astronomy textbooks in the country, and has written or edited more than a dozen books on astronomy and astronomy education. His new children's book, Disney's Wonderful World of Space, will be published this summer. He is a frequent guest on local and national radio programs, interpreting astronomical developments in everyday language. In 2005, his popular Physics 12: Physics for Poets course won the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College, for finding new ways to explain Einstein's ideas without math. Fraknoi is renowned for his ability to present and explain some of the most intriguing areas of modern astronomy and physics for students who are not majoring in the sciences. Students routinely applaud him for his instructional approach, which emphasizes humor, analogies, demonstrations, and relating science to the humanities. "For me, some of the greatest moments are when a student comes to me, after the quarter is over, and says something like: 'All through high school I was convinced that I couldn't do science. And yet I earned an A in your class and I think I really "got" it.' That's a teacher's best reward," Fraknoi said. Eight years ago, Fraknoi founded the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series, which has grown to be one of the most popular events at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. For many of these lectures, Foothill's 900-seat theater is filled to overflow capacity with crowds eager to hear current and provocative developments in astronomy from world-renowned scientists and researchers. The slate of impressive guest lecturers who have presented at Foothill College include the first woman in history to discover a planet, a U.S. astronaut, a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, and the discoverer of the dwarf planet beyond Pluto. Professor Fraknoi secured the support for the free series from key stakeholders, including the NASA's Ames Research Center, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, the ASP and the Foothill College administration. Fraknoi serves on the board of directors of the SETI Institute, and is a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, specializing in debunking astrology and UFO claims. He was the first community college instructor elected as a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. Among his various awards, he is perhaps proudest that the International Astronomical Union has named asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi to recognize his contributions to the public understanding of science. Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP is one of the nation's leading organizations devoted to improving people's understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of astronomy and space. Serving research astronomers, educators of all descriptions, and amateur astronomers, the ASP publishes both scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia, and workshops for astronomers and educators who specialize in astronomy education and outreach. The ASP's education programs are funded by its own members, corporations, private foundations, NASA and the National Science Foundation.
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