As a teacher of Astronomy and Earth Science in a high school, Celestia has become the most important tool I can use. In fact, four years ago, when my high school administrator first asked me to teach Astronomy, I refused. I had no way to actually get the kids out of the classroom and up into space. Who wants to learn about the universe while staring at me while I lecture? Although there are plenty of good videos to show, I simply could not see anyone getting really excited about the universe, unless they could go into it and see all of its wonders for themselves, preferably while piloting their own spacecraft.
When I discovered Celestia version 1.2.0 on the web, I instantly recognized its potential to get my students out of the classroom and up into space. I realized I could use the program two ways. First, I could load the program on my teaching computer, connect it to an LCD Projector, and use it to fly to different locales. Back in 2003, Celestia had relatively few add-ons, and was primarily a Solar System simulation, so the views I could offer my students back then centered around trips to the planets and their moons. Some spacecraft were also offered, but the list was short.
I tried this method and found it somewhat cumbersome (user-friendly scripts had not been put into use yet). The LCD Projector brightness was too low to display the stars properly. I had to hit lots of keystrokes. Nevertheless, it did work and I was able to display Celestia to my class via a projector, and take them to some neat places in the solar system. The downside of this was that they were still in their seats ... listening to me. I was not getting them personally into space!
The 2nd approach was to load Celestia on a class set of computers in a computer lab, and allow an entire class of kids to take their own journeys into Celestia space.
I felt this would be more enjoyable to the kids so I tried it out with my Earth Science class. I set up Celestia on our school's computer lab (with 30 computers). My students really liked it, but it had problems. I had to constantly speak, give them directions on what buttons to push, what keys to press, then lecture about what they were seeing. They liked the visual appeal, but it felt too much like a classroom with the teacher lecturing. There was also the MAJOR problem of them not paying attention to me while they played around with the program, and losing their way quickly (which I would then have to fix).
Instead, I tried something else. I wrote a guided tour of Celestia space, using MS Word. In it, I included complete step by step instructions for how to operate the program, while also including a detailed written lesson about the places they were visiting. They could read it and learn at their own pace. I also provided a written assessment worksheet for them to complete.
This initial written tour required no add-ons. Celestia default was all they needed. It took about 45 minutes to read and execute.
It was a BIG HIT! My students loved going at their own pace, without constantly listening to me yelling out instructions in the background.
The guided tour was placed on the Celestia website by Celestia's development team for others to use.
I joined the Celestia development team as a volunteer and learned that there were LOTS of plans for future versions of Celestia ... lots of new features. That convinced me that I had discovered a way to get my students into space. I, therefore, agreed to begin teaching a dedicated course in Astronomy in my high school.
Shortly thereafter, NASA discovered Celestia and its written guided tour and realized that something like it was exactly what they wanted to do on their own website ... give visitors a means of interactively going into space. They contacted me and under a consulting agreement, the Celestia development team developed a series of educational journeys through Celestia space. That was not simple to do. There was still very few custom add-ons for the program. It is one thing to tour the Life Cycle of Stars, but another to realize you have no protostars, pulsars, black holes or even nebula to take visitors to.
Since the old phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" has always been true, we began working with NASA and with some gifted designers to develop new add-ons for the educational activities, spectacular new places to visit in Celestia ... new planets, spacecraft, nebula, protostars, etc. Concurrently, the Celestia development team added new features that augmented the use of Celestia in education.
As a result of this collaborative effort by so many talented people over the course of a year, I was able to write/assemble six new detailed journeys through Celestia space in 2004. The add-ons were loaded into Celestia in my school. The written Activities were loaded on the computers. The software was upgraded to version 1.3.0 and my students were given a chance to not only visit the Solar System, but to go deep into space to see spacecraft, travel to the edge of the universe, learn the complete life cycle of stars or travel into the future to see Mars become a terraformed world of cities and oceans.
It worked so well in a school setting that my course became the most popular course in my high school. I began to turn away students wanting to get in. In the meantime, wholesale improvements to Celestia continued to be made in 2005 and 2006. Clickable links were inserted into the readable Activity documents ... nebula became animated in 3D, spacecraft of all kinds began to be designed, sounds were added to the program along with text scripts that appeared on screen, galaxies took a quantum leap in design and appearance. In particular, the use of links embedded in the Activity documents enabled any teacher to take his/her students instantly to any time or place in the Celestia universe.
Today, through the generous contributions of dozens of graphics artists and add-on developers, plus the incredible talents of the development team, Celestia 1.4.1-ED is approaching the level of a Star Wars movie in sophistication. That has enabled me to create and contribute 12 spectacular Activity journeys, with two more now under development ("The Origin of the Universe", and "The Impact that Shook the World" (the asteroid impact of 65 million years ago)).
These trips include detailed tours of the universe and our solar system, the complete life cycle of stars, an extensive visit to over 40 different spacecraft in the space program, trips to the future to see Mars terraformed and our Sun swell to a Red Giant, a trip 4 billion years back in time to witness the impact of Earth by Orpheus and the formation of the moon, and an exciting look at the world of SETI. There are over 400 destinations in the educational trip series.
My students absolutely LOVE taking these trips ... far more than listening to me lecture, or watching some documentary video. I play some ethereal space music in the computer room, turn out the lights and let them travel Celestia space at their own pace, following the detailed instructions and teaching lessons in the written Activities. They complete detailed assessment worksheets as they go, which they use as study guides and notes. The visual appeal is so extraordinary that they consistantly get top grades in the subject content that they are learning about.
All of the Activities can be downloaded one at a time for free, or a self-installing CD set of them can be obtained for a minimal fee. They are available on the Motherlode education site located at:
Contrary to a report in another review on this site, the total add-ons needed to enjoy everything Celestia has to offer requires about 1.4 GB of memory, not 8 GB as was reported elsewhere.
I can honestly say that the use of Celestia via these Activities has transformed my high school Earth Science and Astronomy course from a room with a teacher, some videos and a blackboard, into a high-tech space simulation experience far more exciting than anything these kids have ever experienced in a school.
That said, there are a few considerations in the use of Celestia Educational Activities. These include:
1. The documents and corresponding trips are detailed journeys, and can take from 1 - 4 hours to experience.
3. The Celestia program has gotten sophisticated and now demands modern computers in a school computer lab with a reasonable video card with OpenGL capability.
3. The kids have to read a detailed document. Some are poor readers and will tend to fall behind. This can be overcome if they are willing to stay after school, or you can tell them how to load the Activity on their home computer for free to complete at home (a real PLUS for some situations).
4. Not all schools have a full class set of computers that students can access (although that is getting better).
In closing, I believe Celestia is the best thing Earth Science/Astronomy education has ever seen. Using it in a guided way via scripts or written Activity documents is the absolute best way to stimulate kids today and give them a universe not only to learn about, but to EXPERIENCE!!!
If you haven't experienced a Celestia Educational Activity journey yet, visit the website above and see for yourself just where they can take you. Pick any topic that interests you. Just remember that you have to download the add-ons, and the customized version of Celestia-ED to run the Activities.