School Programs

Teacher / Leader Resource

Before Your Visit

The Cincinnati Observatory is one of the most unique museums in the country.  We are excited to share this Cincinnati treasure with you and your class and give you a memorable, astronomical, historical, and hands-on experience.  However, the equipment we use is expensive and many displays include priceless historic items so we ask that you please review the following rules with your students before your visit and help us maintain them during your visit.  

1. Dress for the weather.  The domes that house the telescopes are kept at the same temperature as outside.  So please dress warmly in case of cold weather.

2. Prepare your quiet “Museum Voices” and “Museum Feet” for your visit.  Since you’ll be in a museum we ask that there is no running, jumping, or loud talking in and around the buildings.

3. Remember to keep your hands to yourself and only touch displays or equipment when directed so by the tour guide.

4. Be observant.  Since you’ll be visiting an Observatory we want your eyes to notice everything in and around the building. 

5. If you have questions please raise your hand and the tour guide will answer them

Viewing through a telescope can be a new experience for both students and adults.  We recommend practicing a number of fun experiments before your visit to enhance your experience.

  • Practice winking. (Don't laugh - you'd be surprised how many adults have trouble looking through our telescopes). You only use one eye to look through the telescope so students can practice winking or holding one eye closed with their hand.  The students will soon learn which is their dominant eye.
  • Make practice telescopes.  You can turn paper towel rolls or any cylinder into a practice telescope.  Having the students sight objects through these items can dramatically help them when they view through a real telescope.

Telescope Etiquette

If skies are clear, each student will get a chance to look through the telescope. They will have to view from a platform with steps. One person will view at a time.

  • When viewing through any telescope, please do not touch it because it will move. Then we will have to find the object and center it again for the next person.
  • Take your time. Sometimes it takes several seconds to find the image in the telescope. Wiggle your eye around until you catch the light coming through the eyepiece.
  • Many people still have trouble seeing through a telescope so do not hesitate to ask for help. We will be happy to readjust the telescope or move your eye.

Dress for the weather. The Observatory dome is kept at the same temperature as the outside air. In the winter, it can be very cold. In the summer, it can be very hot.

Questions for your visit

Below are some sample questions for your students to uncover during their visit to the Observatory.  These can act as sample questions for your students to ask during the tour.  Feel free to print these for each student to bring and they can fill in the answers as we go.

  • Why is the Cincinnati Observatory a National Historic Landmark?
  • What are some interesting facts about our founder and first director of the Observatory, Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel
  • The first Observatory was built on Mt. Adams.  Why was it called Mt. Adams?
  • Why did the telescope have to move to Mt. Lookout?
  • How do the telescopes work?
  • How do we open and move the dome so that we can see the whole sky?
  • How did people predict the weather over 100 years ago?
  • What are some great things to look at with a telescope this month? 

After Your Visit

At the completion of your field trip, your tour guide will provide you an evaluation form.  Please let us know how we did so that we can make the experience even better in the future.

Use the sample questions above after your visit to see what parts of the tour impacted your students the most.

Have your students write an essay about their visit to the Cincinnati Observatory which answer three main questions:

  • What did they learn about Cincinnati history?
  • What did they like best about their field trip?
  • What would they like to learn more about?   

Homework Options

Find out what were the top ten largest cities in the country in 1843.

Research the history of the Cincinnati Observatory at: 

Learn more about John Quincy Adams’ journey to Cincinnati in order to lay the cornerstone of the first Cincinnati Observatory:

Mount Adams and Mount Lookout get their names because of the Cincinnati Observatory.  Research how the other “Mounts” of Cincinnati got their names: Mount Airy, Mount Auburn, Mount Echo, Mount Healthy, Mount Storm, and Mount Washington.

Interdisciplinary Connections

The old telescope made several trips in its life.  Chart the path it took from Munich, Germany to downtown Cincinnati in 1844.  How did it get there?  Then the telescope moved from Mt. Adams to Mount Lookout in 1873.  Map the route they took, figure out how they would have moved 2,000 pounds of equipment, how fast they could travel, and how long it would take to make the trip. 

Original location on Mount Adams:,-84.498851&ie=UTF-8&ei=4JYYU_GpNaOdyQG5p4GoBw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ

Current location on Mount Lookout:

   3489 Observatory Place
   Cincinnati, Ohio 45208

Technology Connections

To better predict the weather the Cincinnati Observatory used the telegraph to connect with other cities.  In fact, the telegraph was the “Internet of the 1900s.”  Research how the telegraph worked and explore how you would send messages over great distances without a computer.

Learn how to build a working telescope.  The Cincinnati Observatory can loan your class a set of telescopes that you can build in your classroom.  They can be assembled in one class period and disassembled in another.  If you are interested in borrowing a set of Galileoscopes, please contact us.  For more on the Galileoscopes, please see: