Jenks planetarium offers students a look at the big picture

Apr 02, 2015

JENKS — “You are the sun.”

So said Dan Zielinski to a group of high school students during their recent visit to the Jenks Planetarium. Zielinski, director of the planetarium, was leading the environmental science class through a lesson about the seasons.

The planetarium, which opened about four years ago in Jenks Public Schools’ new Math and Science Center, is used to teach a variety of subjects, ranging from physics to art history.

“The No. 1 thing planetariums are so great at is perspective,” Zielinski said.

Such as the ability to view Earth as though you were the sun.

As students watched, the Earth made a complete orbit around them on the planetarium’s dome. They were able to better understand how its orbit and tilt determined which areas received more light and heat.

“If you are the heat source, what portion of that planet right now are you focusing on?” Zielinski asked the students as Earth was directly in front of them.

“The top, right? Because you can see much more of it. So that makes it summer in the Northern Hemisphere but winter in the Southern Hemisphere.”

The lessons don’t stop there. Zielinski said having the dome as the instructional area expands what teachers can show their students.

“When you’re in the classroom, you have the chalkboard, that’s your instructional area,” he said. “It’s limited. But when you can actually draw 360 degrees around you and 180 degrees above you, it opens up so many options.”

It means biology classes can see a cell in three dimensions. It means a physics class can “ride” a three-dimensional roller coaster.

The Jenks facility is one of six planetariums testing out a beta version of a program called Sci-Touch, which allows people to use a remote control to operate the dome.

“It basically turns the dome into a Smart Board,” Zielinski said. “Everything is now controlled from the front of the room — I’m no longer stuck behind the computer.”

Debbie Burchfield, Jenks assistant superintendent for student services, said 15,000 to 20,000 people per year get the opportunity to experience the planetarium.

“Every student in first, fifth and eighth grades in Jenks Public Schools visits the planetarium one or two times per school year, depending upon the standard and objectives being studied in that particular grade level science curriculum,” Burchfield said. “In addition, other curricular requests are considered and honored whenever possible.”

Burchfield estimates that about 4,500 Jenks students — including about 2,000 high school students — visit the planetarium each year.

Non-Jenks students have also been on field trips to the planetarium, which is run through Jenks Community Education. Nearly 9,000 students from Bixby, Broken Arrow, Owasso, Union and Tulsa public schools, as well as private schools, have visited the planetarium.

Zielinski said the planetarium is also open to the public every Tuesday, featuring a variety of shows created by Jenks drama, music, art and programming students. The next show, “Astrology: A Story of You,” is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday and tickets are $5.

The planetarium also has been used for birthday parties, movie theater experiences, business meetings and public eclipse events.

Burchfield said the planetarium has been used as a curriculum tool, as well as an educational and entertainment experience for the community and “has demonstrated its value regardless of the audience.”


The 120-seat facility was part of the $22 million, 80,000-square-foot Jenks Math and Science Center that was funded by a $157 million bond proposal passed in December 2008.