Brian Kruse: Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Brian Kruse is a Lead Formal Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. We sent him a list of questions about his experiences with science. We loved his responses and we think you will, too.

Q: How did you get interested in science?
A: I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not interested in science.  As early as I can remember I was always picking up rocks, keeping track of space missions, and reading everything I could get my hands on about the oceans, space, geology, etc.

Q: How long have you been a teaching science?
A: I have been involved in education for close to 28 years, 18 years in the classroom, and almost a decade delivering professional development to teachers.  For three years I served as a field center coordinator for the NASA Explorer Schools program, and for the past six years in my current position at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.  Currently I am also serving as a regional director for the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA).

Q: What excites you most about science?
A: What’s not to get excited about science?!  Science is always peering into what we don’t know, or refining what we do know about the universe.  Science reveals the underlying order in what we see all around us.  Some have said knowing too much about something takes away from the wonder we have about nature.  I see it the other way around, knowing more only increases the wonder one can have about the universe, and reveals an underlying elegance and beauty even if something is unpleasing to look at on the surface.

Q: Are there hands-on science experiences that you remember from your own childhood?
A: I remember teaching myself how to make my own fireworks, or at least trying to, using the chemistry set I had set up in my own “lab” in our basement.  Rocks were always fascinating to me, and I was always breaking them open to see what was inside.  I also learned to fly a sailplane before I could drive a car.  My father was an engineer at Boeing, and a flight instructor on the weekends.  He ran a flight school that I helped run on weekends, and got paid in flight time.  Very cool!

Q: Is there a favorite science related activity that you like to do now for yourself or for your family?
A: Just about everything I do is related in some way to science.  Even out hiking I am checking out the rocks, the birds, the plants, and paying attention to the changes of the seasons.  Two other activities are looking at the night sky through one of my telescopes, or bird watching during the day.  I am a regular attendee at the Oregon Star Party, an event for amateur astronomers in a dark sky location in the mountains of eastern Oregon.

Q: What was your favorite science teaching experience?
A: Some of my favorite teaching is about the solar system and how scientists are designing missions to study it and what they have discovered.  One activity in particular uses a light, and a Styrofoam ball to model the phases we observe on the planet Venus.  The fact Venus goes through phases viewed from our perspective here on Earth is amazing to most people.  The activity recreates the observations Galileo made to help prove the Sun is at the center of the solar system and not the Earth.

Q: What was one of your hardest science teaching experiences?
A: Even in a well-run science class, accidents happen.  So I think the hardest times were when a student got hurt.  Usually the student who was hurt was not the one engaging in the unsafe behavior, but ended up hurt because of the actions of another.

Q: Do you have a science related hobby?
A: Yes, the two main ones are astronomy and birding.  Though photography in many ways is a blending of art and science, so I would have to count it as a science related hobby.

Q: Is there anything else you would to share about your science teaching (or learning) experiences?
A: It is really important for teachers to provide lots of opportunities for students to engage in hands-on, inquiry-based activities.  This is one of the reasons I am so excited about the Next Generation Science Standards, because it really asks teachers to do just this.  It was the way I approached teaching science years before the NGSS came out.  One day, a student walked in to class and asked what we were doing that day.  I replied we were doing a little lab.  The student groaned just a bit and said they were tired of doing labs and couldn’t they read the book for a change.  Another student had worked hard all year long, getting good grades but struggling to really “get” the science.  Towards the end of the year she looks at me and says, “I finally get it Mr. Kruse, you are trying to get us to think for ourselves”.  More than any other subject, science can teach those all-important critical thinking skills, getting students to start thinking for themselves.  I really love working with teachers to help them get the resources and techniques to bring this kind of learning to their students.