ETCETERA - Whitman astronomy major starstruck for teaching others

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Whitman College astronomy and religion double major Faith Tucker said the Moon-stravaganza she hosted for area children was a great success.

More than 50 kids from 4 to 14 years old and their parents learned about the Moon during the Nov. 5 event at Whitman's Hall of Science Planetarium.

Faith talked about why the Moon has phases, the truth behind the myth that the Moon has a dark side; and what eclipses are.

If the weather holds, a total lunar eclipse could be visible in Walla Walla on Dec. 21, she said.

Participants also learned about some of the constellations and planets currently visible in the night sky in Whitman's Clise Planetarium.

"As a Whitman student, I'm thrilled to have been able to share my love for astronomy with the Walla Walla community through this event and am thankful for everyone who came and participated in my research to help make astronomy education more accessible and effective," Fair said via e-mail.

The research she's conducting is for her senior thesis, looking at the most effective teaching method for astronomy education at varying age levels in elementary, middle school and undergraduate, Faith said.

She divided the students into half and taught one group about the Moon using interactive, inquiry-based teaching methods while the other group went with another senior astronomy major to the planetarium to learn about constellations and planets.

The groups switched and she taught the second group the same content but in a lecture format. After their lessons with Faith, the groups took identical quizzes to gauge their comprehension of the content, and the results of which will play heavily into her thesis research.

"The most difficult aspect of the event was developing the content and presenting it in a way that was both comprehensible to the younger kids and engaging for the older kids. And sadly, we did not get to use the telescopes because there were just too many people, though that would have been an ideal finish to the evening," Faith said.

To complete her research, she plans something similar with the introductory astronomy class at Whitman later in the year.

Faith plans to go into astronomy education post graduation, "because I have simply fallen in love with the marvels of the universe and want to see students inspired by and excited about astronomy and science in general, as I have been."

"Putting on this event gave me some great experience and insight into why astronomy education is so valuable and yet so challenging to do well. Not to mention that I appreciate and respect my past teachers more than ever now, standing in front of a group of squirming elementary students and trying to get them to focus and understand a tricky concept is harder than I thought."

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Former Walla Wallan Molly Cook reminisced recently about great friend Jan Barer Curran, who died at 73 on Nov. 1 in Ventura, Calif. Jan had contended with lupus and cancer issues for most of her adult life.

The women became pals while Daily Journal staffers together at Walla Walla High School. After that, they "left that little city for bigger adventures."

Jan raised four children as a single parent. She lived in Washington, D.C., and other places, but mostly loved living in Southern California, Molly said.

Jan was one of the last society editors in the Palm Springs area "and knew everybody who was anybody in show business and journalism," Molly said. Jan was press agent for and traveled with Big Band musician Artie Shaw. A recent biography of Shaw, "Three Chords for Beauty's Sake," by Tom Nolan, W.W. Norton, 2010, has sections on Jan from their time together.

"Her stories were many, often funny and all great," Molly said.

Molly and Jan shared crushes on a few handsome actors including the young William Holden and Robert Redford. "We had a good time a few months ago recalling Holden's sexy dance with Kim Novak in ‘Picnic.' Hot stuff for high school girls."

Florence A. "F.A.M." McGovern was the journalism teacher who provided loving discipline to both of them while at Wa-Hi, Molly said. "Miss McGovern was a lady of the old school and a tough journalist ala Katherine Hepburn movies. She taught us about writing, deadlines, editing, integrity and how to be strong women," Molly recalled in an e-mail to friends.

Despite struggling with ongoing illness, "I believe (Jan) was the model for the Energizer Bunny. Nothing much got in her way or kept her down for long. But cancer can be a tough opponent, and she was down from time to time over the last few years.

The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., reported that Jan covered society events for the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune in the 1970s. She was an advertising executive in 1985 with Jones Agency and covered events for Palm Springs Life magazine.

From 1988-1996, she was The Desert Sun's last full-time society editor. During that time, she sent occasional missives to the U-B and I included items and photos of her in the Etcetera column that were about Jan's encounters with actor-singer Debbie Reynolds and actor Adam West, the latter of whom also has ties to Walla Walla.

While at The Desert Sun, she wrote about the rapid growth of social activities in country clubs and fundraising events as the desert population grew east from Palm Springs, the newspaper reported in her obituary on Nov. 3.

"She was so loved, however, that friends in California started the Jan Curran Fan Club with regular meetings and even an oath. She loved this, not for the attention, but because members of the Fan Club were united in efforts to ease life for cancer patients.

"And just this year, she published her hilarious fictional memoir about living in a retirement home, "Active Senior Living," available from Amazon.com, Molly said. Until shortly before her death, Molly and Jan had corresponded at least once per day, keeping in touch about their children and grandchildren, relationships, publishing, old movies and politics, Molly said. Jan also sent an amusing once-per-week communique to Molly on brides in the Sunday New York Times.

Molly appreciates the Jan Curran Fan Club oath: "Words to live by: I will enter a room with a smile. I will tell at least one happy story or two jokes per hour. I will donate all my good magazines to a cancer treatment center. I will, on special occasions, wear a wig or a hat and compliment anyone else in the room who is also wearing one. I will not leave a room full of people without telling at least one person how nice it was to see him or her and how this shared time has brightened my day. And I will always leave the room with a smile."

Jan's survivors include two sons, Lee Goldberg of Calabasas, Calif., and Tod Goldberg of La Quinta, Calif.; two daughters, Karen Dinino of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Linda Woods of Castaic, Calif.; two brothers, Stanley Barer of Seattle and Burl Barer of Stevenson Ranch, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

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Walla Walla Valley native Jim Parsons garnered a Crystal Apple award for teaching. The awards honor outstanding individuals who are dedicated to the success of children and their education.

Born at St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Jim is the youngest of seven children born to Ron and Charlotte Parsons of Milton-Freewater.

Now living in Woodburn, Ore., Jim graduated in 1988 from McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater, earned his bachelor's from the University of Oregon as well as a master's from PSU.

Jim's career interests leaned toward the classroom as both parents were educators. "I would have to say my father was my biggest influence. He was in education for 37 years in Oregon," Jim said.

Jim's brother and sister are educators in Oregon and Washington state.

He taught in Guam and Honduras for five years and has been employed at Valor Middle School in Woodburn for 12 years as a library media specialist and basketball and track coach.

"I enjoy helping students and teachers every day, however I can," Jim said. He is married to Eveling Parsons and had three children, Alia, 12, Autumn, 10, and Joaquin, 4.

"It was an honor to receive this award since many teachers are so deserving for everything they do for our kids. Teachers are my heroes," he said.

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The Walla Walla Heat sixth-grade AAU boy's basketball season started recently in Richland, said one of the player's parents, Peggy Needham.

They did so well, that Heat players were crowned champions of the first annual Bomber Bash at Richland High School. Teams in the division came from Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and Spokane.

Walla Walla Heat players are Dexter Aichele, Tyas Garner, Grayson Gillin, Patrick Kelly, Mitchell Lesmeister, Jacob Needham, Jordan and Justin Olivares and Devon Oliver. Heat coaches are Peggy's husband, Mike Needham, and Sean Oliver.

The Heat had other road trips, including to Hermiston for the Autumn Kick Off and to Spokane this Thanksgiving weekend to participate in the Turkey Shoot at the Spokane Warehouse.

The Walla Walla Heat has won at least 41 games, including going undefeated in five games at Hermiston.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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