The Hands-On Universe (HOU) project began in the 1990s when Carl Pennypacker, a supernova research astronomer at University of California Berkeley, invited a group of astronomers and educators to a meeting at the Lazy-K Ranch near Tucson Arizona USA. In sharing of ideas about how to make astronomy education better, the idea of making real telescopes and telescope images available to teachers and students took root. Along with that, image processing software tools became necessary to provide, as well as cooperation among astronomers and observatories to make telescope instruments available for use by schools.
Staff members at TERC, Jodi Asbell-Clarke and Tim Barclay, were enlisted to devise curriculum guides [www.lawrencehallofscience.org/hou/hs/terc.html] for teachers and students to use image processing software and observatory images in classroom activities. Hundreds of teachers were trained in the curriculum techniques. Lawrence Hall of Science (UC Berkeley) staff were involved at the first progenitor workshop at Lazy-K Ranch and then later starting in 1998, with NSF and NASA grant projects that involved hundreds more high school and middle school teachers.
The mission of HOU is to train teachers on the use of modern tools and resources for science education and engage students in international scientific projects. We also aim to promote interactive science projects among HOU countries and engage educators and students in a truly global cooperation. No borders or frontiers.
Over the years, countries besides the USA became involved and Global Hands-On Universe (GHOU) Association was formed as a non-profit organization with partners worldwide.
In Europe, the EU-HOU project is led by Dr. Ferlet & Dr A.-L. Melchior. The french project (F-HOU) is led by E. Rollinde. EU-HOU has been funded through the European Community (EC) program MINERVA (SOCRATES) for a two-year period (2004–2006), and through the European Community (EC) program COMENIUS (LifeLong Learning Program) for two two-year periods (2008–2010, 2010-2012). EU-HOU has extended up to 15 EC countries, with national websites. The Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris is the educational centre for the EU-HOU project. The EU-HOU project has developed numerous (free) pedagogical resources tested in classrooms and posted on the project’s website. The most ambitious ones are: (1) the multilingual SalsaJ software: it enables secondary school pupils to handle astronomical data and analyse them. An exercise series based on this software has been developed. Associated data can be downloaded directly from the software. (2) The EUHOUMW Small Radiotelescope Network developed in the framework of the Comenius project “Connecting classrooms to the Milky Way” enables secondary school pupils to access the instruments installed in five different European countries (France, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain). Kids can observe the hydrogen from the Milky Way with these 3-metres radiotélescopes
The project « Hands-On Universe, Europe – Bringing frontline interactive astronomy to the classroom » has been honoured with the silver award of the European Commission at the occasion of the conference « Innovation and Creativity in the Lifelong Learning Programme: Create, Innovate and Cooperate » held in Prague, 6-7 May 2009, in the framework of the Czech Presidency of the European Union. In the category « Information and Communication Technologies », this award has been handed out to Roger Ferlet (IAP). The aim was to award outstanding European projects which will serve as motivating examples of the best innovative practices to accomplish the goals set by European leaders in Lisbon to become “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world” by 2010 in the field of Education and Training.