On-Site Student Field Experiences

The McDonald Observatory is located 450 miles west of Austin, Texas. The Student Field Experience program is an opportunity for your students to visit the astronomical research facility in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

All school groups are responsible for their own transportation needs while at McDonald Observatory.

All Student Field Experience programs include three basic elements described below. For groups of 30 or fewer students, we offer an Enriched program for an additional fee, which includes a classroom activity. Your students may join the public Twilight Program and Star Party (available on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only) for additional fees. We encourage you to download and use these pre-visit and post-visit activities, which are intended to engage students before the trip, and to reinforce what they learned after they return to their classroom. The downloadable behavior expectation forms outline our expectations of your students.

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory features a full classroom, 94-seat theater, a telescope park, and the Decoding Starlight Exhibit Hall.

Student Field Experience programs:

• Engage students through hands-on, inquiry-based activities in an engaging environment.

• Reinforce and complement Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and the National Science Education Standards

• Encourage science teachers to co-facilitate students’ learning experience at McDonald Observatory

General Program

For up to 80 students

The following three elements are included in all Student Field Experience programs and facilitated in inquiry-based fashion.

Enriched Program

For Groups with 30 Students or Fewer

The Enriched Student Field Experience program offers the three elements listed above, plus an additional hands-on and TEKS based activity in our multi-media classroom.  The activity you choose requires students to work in cooperative groups to explore concepts and practice science skills at a deeper level.  We are happy to assist you in choosing the most appropriate classroom activity for your students. Recently, we have added new activities that focus students learning on our star the Sun. See a menu of classroom activities.

Planning Your Visit

Student Field Experience programs can accommodate up to 80 students. One adult for every ten students is required, and one adult receives free Student Field Experience admission for every five students. Larger groups can request an additional program. All school groups are responsible for their own transportation needs while at McDonald Observatory. If you need to plan for more than one Student Field Experience program in a day, be sure you have additional transportation. Up to two Student Field Experience programs are permitted in one day. We can only permit one group to visit McDonald Observatory at a time, except during mealtime.

We encourage teachers to think of the Observatory as an informal extension of their classroom and science instruction. To make the most out of the visit, teachers should download TEKS based Pre & Post Visit Activities and behavior expectation forms. After we approve your Student Field Experience request, we’ll email your itinerary along with a confirmation letter.

Request a Reservation

We strongly recommend planning your visit at least six weeks in advance. You can request a reservation with our online form. 

Request a Student Field Experience

Scholarships for the West Texas K-12 Student Field Experience program are available for schools in Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster counties as well as those in the Permian Basin region. We gratefully acknowledge the Permian Basin Area Foundation and the Trull Foundation for their support and for making these scholarships possible.

Pricing for Student Programs

We are happy to facilitate fewer than 12 students, but must charge you for 12 students. For all Student Field Experience programs, we require a $72 deposit payable on our secure online system by credit card to hold your reservation. The deposit is due two weeks prior to your program date. Your $72 deposit is fully refundable if you cancel more than 2 weeks prior to your program date. If the deposit is not paid within 2 weeks prior to your program date, your date will be given to another group. Groups that fail to appear, or cancel less than 2 weeks prior to their program date do not receive deposit refunds. A link to our secure online system will be provided when your date request has been approved.

  General Enriched
Per student K-5 $6 $9
Per student 6-12 $7 $10
Per additional adult (one free adult admission for every five students) $6 $6
  • Your entire group may join the public Star Party (Tuesday, Fridays, and Saturdays) for an additional $5 per student, and $12 per adult (one free adult public Star Party admission for every five students). Public Star Party charges are in addition to Student Field Experience charges.
  • Your entire group may also join our Twilight Program for an additional fee. The public Twilight Program is an engaging 60-70 minute learning experience that takes place before the public Star Party.