By JASON M. REYNOLDS ~ jreynolds@t-g.com

Billy Hix wraps up his astronomy lesson Wednesday for a group of students at Southside Elementary School.

T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

Billy Hix wraps up his astronomy lesson Wednesday to a group of students at Southside Elementary School.

Students wait to ask questions.

Hix gives instructions prior to his lecture.The stars aligned for some out-of-this-world lessons Wednesday at Southside Elementary School when Billy Hix, Bedford County’s resident astronomer, visited with a planetarium.

Hix gives instructions prior to his lecture.

T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

While most inflatable structures provide an arena for kids to bounce their way to fun, the blow-up planetarium provided a backdrop for projections of heavenly bodies.

Space explorers

Hix walked students through an explanation of constellations like Ursa Major, or The Big Bear. The Big Dipper is not itself a constellation but instead forms the back end of the bear, Hix said. He called the Big Dipper a “bear’s butt.” The students appeared to enjoy his explanation.

Students wait to ask questions.

T-G Photo by Jason M. Reynolds

The Big Dipper is not a universal name, Hix said. The Japanese call it “The Plough.”

Hix drew out an explanation for another constellation to keep the students’ interested, calling The Scorpion (or, Scorpius) a deadly weapon. That’s because Greek mythology says the scorpion was used to kill Orion, who was “not a nice person,” Hix said.

No cost

Hix’s STEM labs, planetarium lessons and other presentations are budget-friendly to schools. They cost the grand sum of zero dollars. They are not subsidized but instead are his way of giving back in his retirement, he says.

“I was a product of rural poverty and I longed for someone to do a program such as mine,” he said. “When I was in the 5th grade, I was really into the space program and loved the night sky, but I never had anyone speak to me or my classmates about the path one could take to end up at a place where your passion and intellect would intersect. Also, there was a lack of examples of how learning could be an enjoyable experience.”

Hix conducted his fist STEM program for schools in 1986 — the first of thousands, he said. He worked at NASA for a decade, and with a friend he started an educational consulting group. He also worked for the Space Foundation of Colorado, which led to him teaching around the world. His other experiences include making PBS shows and being selected as science teacher of the year in Tennessee.

The grand tour

Last school year, Hix said, he showed his planetarium at 131 schools to more than 14,000 students and teachers. In six years, more than 43,000 have visited his planetarium.

“I have met so many young students that are so excited about learning and I see much potential in so many students and I hope that I have been able to show them someone who is passionate about learning and how far that passion can take you,” Hix said.



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