Joy Johnson wanted to bring the stars a little closer to Earth at South Callaway Middle School.
The sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher built an inflatable planetarium at the school's gymnasium to round out her curriculum on stars. Johnson used her U.S. Air Force experience and NASA certification to give her students a taste of the cosmos.
"I am the only NASA solar system ambassador in a 70-mile radius. So all of the stuff I learned from (the program), I get to bring it into the schools. So all of (South Callaway's) kids are lucky because other schools have to borrow me," Johnson said.
The do-it-yourself planetarium was composed of sheets of black plastic sheets and duct tape. Two box fans set on high kept the dome inflated. On the inside, a projector played the documentary "Journey to the Stars" while students created their own constellations on the walls and ceiling of the planetarium.
"Today, students got to make their own constellation and create a little backstory behind them," Johnson said. "I give them these (paper clips) and they poke their constellations into the plastic sheet wherever they want to inside."
Johnson said students in her first class of the day kept asking if they could stay in the planetarium for the rest of the day. They nicknamed it the "giant pillow."
Seventh-grade student Kayden Rogers enjoyed the homemade planetarium along with others.
"This gave a good look at what constellations look like and how they would really look in a clear sky," Rogers said.
"I like the darkness inside (of the planetarium) and the movie playing. I've learned that constellations are huge and are made up of a lot of stars," seventh-grade student Colton Crocker said.
The idea came from Johnson's regular online NASA training she does as a solar system ambassador. Johnson said, while working at the Jefferson City public library last summer, she did at least 10 demonstrations of the inflatable planetarium.
"I go out to the community and actually teach the community about NASA and space exploration and being a science teacher I get to incorporate my science stuff with it," she said.
Parents often ask if she can put on a demonstration for adults after her shows at the library. Johnson said she is currently working to organize a gathering of South Callaway teachers where they can set up the planetarium in a backyard and bring their sleeping bags inside to spend the night.
"I want my students to be able to experience the fun side of science because not a lot of students like science, actually. They might have had a bad experience with some of their teachers before. I want my students to be excited about science and we can show them this with very inexpensive materials," Johnson said.