When I worked as a Science Education Specialist in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at UBC with the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, I had the opportunity to create lab activities for the survey astronomy courses (aka “Astro 101”). These are courses aimed at students outside the Faculty of Science who need some science credits to graduate. One course was about the Solar System; the other is about stars and galaxies.
With the support of the CWSEI, I worked with some terrific course instructors to first write learning outcomes for each course. We then identified the outcomes that would be better supported by hands-on learning in the labs. For example, it’s well known students struggle to learn about the phases of the Moon by listening to the professor and looking at diagrams in a traditional lecture, whereas in a hands-on lab setting, students would be better able to
- use the geometry of the Earth, Moon, and Sun to illustrate the phases of the Moon and to predict rise/set times
- illustrate the geometry of the Sun, Earth, and Moon during lunar and solar eclipses and explain why there are not eclipses every month
I aimed to develop activities that gave students opportunities to practice thinking and acting in more expert-like ways, rather than replicating and confirming known results. So, some of these activities are a bit unusual, like figuring out the best night of the month to sneak across campus or spaghettifying a Playdoh astronaut as he falls into a blackhole.
Format and Files
All the activities have a similar format:
- The activities are designed to be completed in 50 minutes by 20-30 students in a basic lab environment (large tables to support teamwork and collaboration, some specialized equipment, space for students and TAs to circulate). They’re classified as “tutorials” because they’re only 50 minutes long, rather than 3-hour “labs”.
- Each activity has a brief intro that motivates the outcomes, one or more active, hands-on, discovery phase(s), and ends with a short assessment the students hand in on their way out the door.
- The activities are facilitated by 1 (or sometimes 2) trained and engaged Teaching Assistants and that required us to write guides for the TAs. It’s well known that “recipe” labs are less effective: students are able to follow a detailed set of instructions but often are unable to transfer what they verify to other contexts. We learned quickly that providing TAs with a recipe for running the activity (“1. Do A. 2. Get students to do B. 3. Do C….”) did not engage the TAs, gave them no opportunity to learn about teaching, and provided minimal professional development for those looking ahead to academic careers. So, I revised the TA Guides so they identify the required equipment and steps and also give recommended questions and scripts to drive the discussions and explanations for the pedagogical choices.
- The files linked here include PDFs of the materials handed out to students, the TA Guide, and a .zip file with LaTeX, .eps graphics, and any other supporting materials. The LaTeX files use several packages including pstricks. Overleaf has no problem compiling the files when you select xelatex instead of pdflatex.
You’re welcome to copy, borrow, and adapt to fit your context and outcomes. If there’s an opportunity to add some attribution, you can write
Unless other wise noted, resources are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY) license by Peter Newbury peternewbury.org. This work is supported by the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia.
The more you understand the nature of the Moon's phases, the more you can appreciate how astronomy influences our culture and the better you'll be able to predict when important events like Ramadan, Hannukah, Easter and Lunar New Year will occur.
In this tutorial, you will explore the changing geometry of the Sun-Earth-Moon system that produces each phase of the Moon, and then the connection between the geometry and the time of day the Moon rises and sets.Madden et al. (2020) use an adaptation of this activity in an interesting astronomy education research project that compares students' learning and experiences using VR, a desktop computer simulation, and this hands-on analog activity.
Note: this activity was built using the NAAP Motions of the Sky Simulator which doesn't function any more. You can easily adapt the activity to a simulation that shows the path of the Sun across the sky.
- Extrasolar planets activity
- TA Guide
- files (including a PostScript file of data from the MOST telescope observations of HD 209458. We custom-printed this file to create a 20'-long poster we hung in the hallway outside the astronomy lab. Students lined up along the poster to make the required measurements.)
- Eliza Miller-Ricci et al (2008) "MOST Space-based Photometry of the Transiting Exoplanet System HD 209458: Transit Timing to Search for Additional Planets" ApJ 682 586