Engage and Inspire With These 4 Resources on the Webb Space Telescope

Educator Heidi Ragsdale wrote this post.

In my youth, during family camping trips, I remember looking up and being completely mesmerized by the night sky, the constellations, the planets, the moon, and those tiny satellites moving ever so slowly. This started my fascination with astronomy and limitless wonderment at our universe. It has become part of my life’s work to connect students, educators, and communities to space education. 

The planned launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on December 22 provides educators and students the opportunity to be part of an amazing wave of collaboration, innovation, and exploration. It offers the chance to experience a moment in time that will likely encourage students across the world to create their own space path. There are so many ways for educators, students, and communities to be a part of the JWST mission, and that involvement will, in turn, bring energy for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) innovation and future missions. JWST’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has dutifully performed for over 30 years. Now, classrooms can be a part of the largest and most advanced telescope mission ever.

You can start with these resources:

1. The James Webb Space Telescope 2021 StoryMap

  • Find out information on launch and deployment, and gain ideas for classroom activities. 
  • Share the StoryMap with students as a presentation or have them explore it on their own. Lesson options could also include mini research projects or games that students could build. 
  • As an extension project, help students learn to build their own Space Mission StoryMap and present it to their class or community. Free Esri ArcGIS and StoryMap accounts for schools are available here.

2. The #JWSTArt project and the #UnfoldTheUniverse Art Challenge

  • Invite students to submit #JWSTart via email or social media to be part of a worldwide collaborative art gallery.
  • Work with your art or media educators to provide students with a variety of art materials, including digital design opportunities, to create #JWSTart to share with the world. Students could use recycled materials to build a model to display on campus. Schools with 3D materials could even design and print a JWST model. 
  • As an extension project, host a gallery night at your school or create a traveling #JWSTart exhibit in your community.

3. Astrophotographers, astronomy educators, National Geographic Explorers, Space Foundation, Space Symposium, and Solar System Ambassadors

  • Introduce students to STEM explorers. This will help them expand their knowledge and build their communication skills, and it will educate them about possible careers available to them within space science.
  • Host a webinar or in-person presentation with a space industry guest speaker. Students can formulate and ask questions about space careers and the education needed to work on space missions. 
  • Visit a local observatory, planetarium, or virtual planetarium to help students understand the expanse of space and the technology needed to access it.

4. For high school teachers, check out High School Experiments for Infrared Astronomy

  • Access information and lessons at the high school level, including a great overview of powerful remote imaging.
  • Incorporate this resource, rich with physics and math extensions, into your high school astronomy class. It features lots of lessons, including some fun ones using smartphone technology. 
  • For middle school teachers, supplement your teaching with another helpful resource on remote sensing: the Eyes Above StoryMap.

Clockwise from top left: Heidi with the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo missions at Space Center Houston during the Space Exploration Educators Conference, February, 2018; Heidi holds a model of the James Webb Space Telescope at Space Foundation Teacher Liaison training in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in April 2017; Heidi at NASA’s Mission Control room at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, during a Space Exploration Educator Crew mission training tour with Space Center Houston, July 2019.

Educators across the world: my hope is that you hit pause for a few moments to turn on the livestream or recording of the JWST launch and deployment over the next few months. Provide opportunities for your students to see history unfold before their eyes. And when the students ask to see the launch more than once, you’ve done your job! That’s the best thing we can do as explorer educators—spark our students’ curiosity.


Heidi Ragsdale is a STEM educator’s educator! After nearly 20 years in eighth grade science, Heidi now runs STEM is My Future, LLC, where she provides professional development for teachers with geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, problem-based learning, National Geographic’s Geo-Inquiry Process, and Maker Ed. Currently, Heidi works at Grand Junction MakerSpace and the Business Incubator, a community makerspace in western Colorado. She serves as a Space Exploration Educator Crew Orion member with Space Center Houston; a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison; a Solar System Ambassador; a 2020 and 2021 National Geographic Society grantee; an Esri teacher trainer for GIS; a teacher forum member of 100Kin10; a Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) ambassador; the webmaster for Colorado Delta Kappa Gamma; and on the board of the Latin Anglo Alliance Foundation. She is the founder of the the Geo Maker Institute and #GJSpaceLadies, a group of like-minded space-loving educators who get it done! Heidi’s favorite things to make are beautiful digital maps, geo-jewelry, and a difference on Earth.

Featured image courtesy of NASA

One thought on “Engage and Inspire With These 4 Resources on the Webb Space Telescope

  1. Thank you Heidi for sharing, not only with educators, but also your friends 😊

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