Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Importance of One Activity to Teaching Astronomy

Looking back on my 30 year teaching career, this one lesson is most representative of my teaching philosophy. Hands-on, active, meaningful learning.

The bottom line is this: by measuring the azimuth and altitude of the sun for the entire school year, you have set up many wonderful learning objectives.

Here are a few:
  1. Making scientific instruments
  2. Learning to calibrate and properly use same
  3. Taking accurate measurements over time
  4. Make qualitative observations using the five senses
  5. Collaborating with teams to work on a long-term project
  6. Recording and interpreting data
  7. Relate units of time (i.e., day, month, year) to the regular and predictable motion of the planets and moons and their positions in the Solar system
  8. Illustrate and explain a year as the time it takes a planet to revolve around the Sun
  9. Explain seasonal phenomena (i.e., weather, length of day, temperature, intensity of sunlight) as a consequence of a planet’s axial tilt as it rotates and a planet’s orbital position as it revolves around the Sun
  10. Predict the moon rise/set times, and eclipses when given the relative positions of the moon, planet, and Sun
  11. Relate changes in the length and position of a shadow to the time of day and apparent position of the Sun in the sky, as determined by Earth’s rotation
  12. Describe the pattern that can be observed in the changes in number of hours of visible sunlight, and the time and location of sunrise and sunset, throughout the year
  13. Recognize, in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun appears lower in the sky during the winter and higher in the sky during the summer
  14. Recognize, in winter, the Sun appears to rise in the Southeast and set in the Southwest, accounting for a relatively short day length, and, in summer, the Sun appears to rise in the Northeast and set in the Northwest, accounting for a relatively long day length
  15. Recognize the Sun is never directly overhead when observed from North America
  16. Relate the axial tilt and orbital position of the Earth as it revolves around the Sun to the intensity of sunlight falling on different parts of the Earth during different seasons
Whew! And that isn't all! So amazing to cram so many important objectives into one activity.
Source for most of these objectives:

NOTE: Here are the links to the rest of this series:
Measuring the Sun's Movement
Building the Sun Clinometer
Teaching Azimuth and Using a Compass Rose
How to Teach Altitude
Using the Clinometer
The Clinometer Activity

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