Some of the coolest moments in teaching only occur when your students realize they can safely ask anything. On random days, at random times, (during some unpredictable moment) one student will suddenly raise their hand and ask a question along the lines of “What you just said reminds me of something on TV.” They will then explain what they saw and may not have understood, and will end with, “Can you explain?” or “Can you tell us more?” or something similar as they try and build connections.

These random student questions can lead the class on wild rides (and I love rollercoasters). They give me a chance to answer a lot of questions involving space, astronomy, and spacecraft in my physics classes as we stray off topic into the realm of “what if?” There are also days when we get into discussions on all the ways you can destroy things, accelerate things, or (one of my favorite topics) design more frightening rollercoasters. This isn’t to say there aren’t also days when I say with a sigh, “I’m really sorry, but I need to at least get through some of [insert less interesting topic here] so you’ll get what you need out of the class.” Those days happen. There are also days when my students ask me questions I just can’t answer on topics like chemistry, particle physics, electronics (it’s all magic – when you see smoke, that’s the magic escaping), or even sometimes astronomy. I’ve learned that it’s okay to say, “Let me look it up,” or “email me so I can find someone who knows.” Students understand that we can’t know everything, and as long as I try and I’m honest, a good classroom dynamic seems to follow.

And I’m guessing I’m not the only teacher who has these days, and enjoys their students’ questions (even when they can’t answer them all). With Astronomy Cast, we’ve decided that we want to be a part of helping high school teachers  get their students questioning by putting ourselves out there as folks willing to answer questions.

And if you’re a school teacher, I’d love it if you’d email us so we can get you involved.

Here’s what’s going on: Inspired by the success of our “Questions Shows,” Astronomy Cast is creating a “Student Questions” series. These shows will answer a selection of student questions, emphasizing questions related to high-energy astrophysics, in 30-minute podcasts. High-energy astrophysics studies some of the most energetic and exotic objects in the Universe, including: supermassive black holes and their jets of charged particles, exploding stars, and city-sized neutron stars spinning thousands of times per second. Each show will eventually have an illustrated transcript, and questions will also be indexed online by topic. Submitted questions not used in shows will still be answered, but will only appear in the online index. To facilitate educators submitting audio questions, Astronomy Cast can provide recording devices that can be shipped on loan to schools at no cost to them (return postage provided). Teachers are also free to use any existing equipment their school has to send us audio. This program is sponsored by NASA’s Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope Education and Public Outreach program.

Interested? To find out how to apply, download the front and back of this flier. If you’re a teacher, drop Astronomy Cast an email at info at astronomycast dot com, or email me at pamela at starstryder dot com. Also, feel free to give a copy of the front and back of that flier to your favorite teen’s high school teacher.

The more the merrier (and the more fun this podcast series will be). Get your kid(s) asking questions, and I’ll be here with Fraser, doing my best to get them answers.

(And tomorrow, I’ll talk about something more astronomical)