East Grand Forks students take journey through solar system in inflatable indoor planetarium

In the gymnasium, students entered the portable inflatable planetarium to take a journey through the universe, complete with music and images of objects moving through space.

031723 Planetarium.jpg
Preschoolers at South Point Elementary view space in a portable, inflatable planetarium during a presentation by Mobile Ed Productions, Inc., on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in East Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minnesota – If the chorus of “wows” and “ohs” was any indication, the “sky dome” was a big hit among students Thursday, March 16 at South Point Elementary School.

In the gymnasium, students entered the portable inflatable planetarium to take a journey through the universe, complete with music and images of objects moving through space.

“The brightest star in the solar system is the sun,” said Stacy Kuhen, as she described the scenes on the dome’s “ceiling” with the use of a digital projector and laser pointer.

“Mercury is the planet that’s closest to the sun, and Venus is the hottest planet,” she explained, identifying each planet in order of distance from the sun.

A teacher with 16 years of experience in New Jersey schools, Kuhen works as a presenter for Mobile Ed Productions, Inc., based in Redford, Michigan, and travels with the inflatable, making presentations in schools around the country.


Inside the darkened interior of the dome, she gave a running narrative about the images students could see overhead, in a space that encompassed them like a massive bowl. The dome itself measures 36 feet in diameter, stands less than 15 feet high, and can accommodate 90 students at one time. Access is gained through an inflated tubular “tunnel”; students sit on the floor.

031723 Planetarium3.jpg
Preschoolers at South Point Elementary listen for instruction from Stacy Kuhen, the presenter, as they prepare to enter a portable, inflatable planetarium at the school Thursday, March 16, 2023.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Kuhen’s presentation Thursday highlighted Greek constellations, the Milky Way Galaxy, and the sun, moon and planets in this solar system.

Her talk guided the students through the stars of the Northern Hemisphere as they appeared on the day of the presentation, and introduced them to Greek mythological characters and how these heroes of the past can be found in the stars.

As he was about to exit the dome, one child pronounced the experience as “good.”

Later, in Holly Abbey’s classroom, Eliza Novak, 5, also described it as “good,” noting, without hesitation, that what she liked most was the visual “roller coaster ride” through the solar system. She was far less enthusiastic about shooting for a career as an astronaut. “No,” she said.

Although these kids and their classmates had heard about the display earlier, they still seemed to be awestruck.

“We talked about it beforehand, so they would know what to expect,” Abbey said.

Students were ‘pretty excited’

Livia Zitzow, a third-grade teacher, also talked with her students about the dome and covered aspects of the solar system to stir their interest and prepare them for the experience.


“We started talking about in November” after it became clear that the dome would be brought to South Point Elementary, she said. “They’re pretty excited.”

031723 Planetarium2.jpg
(L-R) South Point Elementary preschoolers Caellum Angley, Jack Jenkins, Weston Holter and Tidus Dundas experience a view of the solar system during a presentation in a mobile, inflatable planetarium Thursday, March 16, 2023, in the school gymnasium.

She envisions the interactive learning opportunity having a lasting effect.

“I hope it creates a curiosity for things other than what we’re able to explore in school,” Zitzow said. “(Her students) have a high interest in things they can see and touch,” which makes this experience more impactful for them.

Students are used to screens, she said. “This is more of an adventure than just a screen.”

Also, “up north here, we have to drive so far” to experience things like this, so hosting the indoor planetarium is a great advantage, she said.

South Point Elementary School, which offers third, fourth and fifth grades and a preschool program, has an enrollment of more than 400.

Each group, except for Zitzow’s group of 18 students, included about 90 students. They experienced the 45-minute virtual field trip from 8:15 a.m. to mid-afternoon Thursday. Preschoolers were also able to see the exhibit and hear from the instructor, but in a much shorter time period.

Zitzow wanted to bring this educational opportunity to South Point students because of her own positive childhood experience, she said. She saw the dome several times at an Alvarado, Minnesota, school more than 30 years ago.


“It made an impression on me. It was so fun,” she said. “There are things I saw that I still remember.”

Thursday’s presentation marked the first time this sky dome has been set up in an East Grand Forks school, she said.

The event was made possible with funds, about $1,500, provided by the East Grand Forks Education Association, said Zitzow, who applied to the association for that support.

“If (the sky dome project) is a success,” she said, “it would be nice to be able to make it available on a three-year rotation to visit each building, K-8, in East Grand Forks.”

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
What To Read Next
Get Local