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F-M planetarium upgraded thanks to Assemblyman Al Stirpe

Teacher Erin Concannon and Superintendent Craig J. Tice present Al Stirpe with a plaque.
Teacher Erin Concannon and Superintendent Craig J. Tice present Al Stirpe with a plaque.

Feb. 3, 2017: A group of “scientists” were recently treated to a celestial showcase highlighting features of the new digital technology used in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District planetarium.

District administrators spent about 45 minutes in the reclining seats that their students typically fill, experiencing some of what their elementary-level students see and hear when they visit the district’s renovated planetarium, located in F-M High School.

The 1950s-era technology that has been used at F-M since the 1970s to light up the planetarium has been replaced with a state-of-the-art digital system thanks to $50,000 in state money secured by Assemblyman Al Stirpe for curriculum and instruction support.

“We are so grateful to Assemblyman Stirpe for supporting Fayetteville-Manlius students and staff,” said F-M Superintendent Craig J. Tice. “Those funds updated this incredible district gem and allow us to engage with our students on a different level, which leads to a greater understanding of the concepts we are teaching in the classroom.”

The Digitarium Fixed Dome System that the district purchased is the same planetarium system used by the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton. The district invited Assemblyman Stirpe to visit the F-M planetarium on Feb. 1 to see the capability of the new system.

Fayetteville-Manlius teachers use the planetarium to augment classroom-based lessons. During the Feb. 1 visit, F-M science resource teacher Erin Concannon gave district administrators and the Assemblyman a taste of what second- through fourth-grade students – whom she refers to as scientists throughout her presentation – learn in the planetarium.

While the old planetarium system displayed slight color variations, they were gradual distinctions, not the full color scheme of the new system. The stars and planets were primarily pinpricks of light on the ceiling. Now, the planets can be zoomed in upon and shown three-dimensionally in detail with full color. And rather than tracing a constellation’s outline with a laser pointer to show students its shape, she can “connect the dots,” or better yet, impose onto a star grouping a two-dimensional color image, such as a bear for Ursa Major or a hunter for Orion.

“It’s much easier for me to show things in the sky,” Mrs. Concannon said. “This new system has a lot more flexibility.”

The new technology allows the images on the ceiling to be controlled from an iPad, video game controller or a hand-held remote, which allows the instructor to walk around the room rather than remain stationary and control the system from a podium with buttons and knobs, some of which would malfunction given the age of the system, Mrs. Concannon said.  

Images such as PowerPoint slides can also be projected onto the ceiling to further illustrate particular lessons, such as the phasing of the moon, which can be shown three-dimensionally one-by-one across the dome or simultaneously on a single slide.

Assemblyman Stirpe said he makes funding requests each year for schools within his legislative district. After the planetarium presentation, he said he was impressed with the capability of the system and the lessons the students are being exposed to in the planetarium, which will serve to give them a greater understanding of what they are learning.

“That is so different from any experience I had when I was in school,” he said.  

Dr. Tice said the district is continually looking for ways to enhance students’ educational experiences and to support its teachers.

“We feel very fortunate to have this facility on our campus, and we are so grateful to now have it be state-of-the-art,” Dr. Tice said.  

Assemb. Al Stirpe cuts a ribbon across the entryway to the F-M planetarium as Dr. Tice watches.

Assemb. Al Stirpe cuts a ribbon across the entryway to the F-M planetarium as Dr. Tice watches.

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