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Macomb students get excited for learning with new mobile planetarium

Pre-K teacher Mallory Kessler in the new Digitalis Mobile Planetarium Dome.
Rich Egger
Pre-K teacher Mallory Kessler in the new Digitalis Mobile Planetarium Dome.

One of the tools available to teachers in the Macomb School District allows students to keep their feet on the ground while reaching for the stars.

The Digitalis Mobile Planetarium Dome gets used by all of the district’s schools.

Mallory Kessler, who teaches at MacArthur Early Childhood Center, said the planetarium does more than aid in teaching curriculum -- it creates a love for learning.

“When we presented the Star Lab in January, the students were so excited to come back the second day, and they were so excited to bring their families that night,” Kessler said.

“It gets them excited about the topic and excited about learning in general, which is really what it’s all about.”

The dome is inflated by a large fan that’s hooked up to it. The planetarium can be easily deflated, packed up, and taken to any of the district’s schools.

The projector is connected to wi-fi and has a fisheye lens that can project 180 degrees onto the ceiling and sides of the planetarium.

It has a game console remote control, giving teachers the option of spinning the planets and showing different sides of objects.

Kessler said the projector will automatically update as soon as new software is rolled out.

“Everything will be kept very much up-to-date with lessons on volcanoes or earthquakes or the migration path of loggerhead turtles. So, it’s not just astronomy and the night sky, but other things that happen on earth,” she said.

However, as a pre-K teacher, she’s most likely to talk to students about nighttime and what they might see in the night sky – things she can’t show them by stepping outside during school hours.

“But as you come into the planetarium, you are immersed in that environment of darkness, of the night sky, the stars, and you can see them right there in real time,” Kessler said.

“So it makes the learning much more concrete instead of abstract.”

She said it provides unique experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be available in this region.

The planetarium cost $60,000. The purchase part of the science curriculum budget for the 2023-24 school year.

The new dome replaces an older planetarium that had been in use for a couple decades. It had a tunnel that people had to crawl through to enter.

The new one has a door that zippers open and shut, making it accessible to everyone.

The dome is 16 feet in diameter and it’s 10.5 feet tall. It can hold around 40 children or 25 adults.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.