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High School Freshman Cosmology

  1. Jul 18, 2015 #1
    Hello all!

    I've been instructed to construct a week long Cosmology class for High School Freshman. The class will run from about 8am-3pm everyday (with breaks and lunch or course).

    My first step in constructing this class is just to ask you guys what you would want to learn about cosmology/space/astrophysics wise if you were to take the class.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2015 #2
    Besides covering an overview of the usual major topics, I'd love to hear about current events like the NASA missions and etc. I think the goal should be to inspire and then show the real life practicality.
  4. Jul 18, 2015 #3


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    I'm interested in learning more about your project. HS freshmen means 9th graders? That is, 14 and 15 years old people?
    A. are you actually going to teach the course that you construct?
    B. or are you just going to do the research, gather the materials, write down the course outline, the lecture notes?

    Is this a student project where you will be judged on how well you complete the assignment?

    C. Did your instructor/advisor explicitly say COSMOLOGY? Or was it supposed to be more general: cosmology/space/astrophysics/solar system....

    This is important, how much latitude do you have, what is the actual definition of the project? As I understand it Cosmology is a very limited field of research concerned with modeling and observing the large-scale structure of the universe---its evolution over billions of years and its general layout on a scale of billions of light years. Cosmology has little or nothing to do with NASA missions to planets, or comets, asteroids, dwarf planets and the like. It does not have to do with planetary science (understanding how these things formed and, their chemistry, their geology, their magnetic fields, ...)
  5. Jul 18, 2015 #4
    Marcus - these are all great questions.

    A. I will be teaching the course.

    B. I will also be doing the research (I just received my PhD in Theoretical Cosmology so the "research" part will be how to explain it in a less mathematical, and engaging manner - also with fun "labs"), gathering the materials (although the school provides most things), write down the course outline and the lecture notes.

    C. This is explicitly Cosmology which you have defined accurately. However, I may put in potential space exploration things (like NASA) even though it's not strictly part of the field. Part of me signing on to teach at this high school was that I would be able to create a Cosmology course.

    I have full latitude and range to discuss and teach what I desire.
  6. Jul 18, 2015 #5
    Oh, I forgot to answer your first question - yes the students are in 9th grade.
  7. Jul 18, 2015 #6


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    Well what would I want to be shown and told about---re Cosmology--if I were a 15 years old?

    I would want to learn about all the new technology INSTRUMENTS, both orbital and on (and under) the ground. that are flooding cosmology with an almost overwhelming tidal wave of data.

    If you start reviewing the different categories of instrument you familiarize me (in a PRACTICAL way) with the theoretical context in which you work.

    we have to have infrared telescopes because lightwaves get stretched on their way here, by the distance expansion. WE SEE STUFF in the longer wavelengths.

    we have to have composite mirror telescopes and space telescopes to resolve very dim stuff, stuff at unprecedented distances

    we see in microwave wavelengths, there is visible light from hot gas from so long ago it has gotten stretched out to microwave and we see important patterns of density waves and fluctuations in that that light-turned-microwave.

    there are neutrino instruments, there are gammaray burst instruments, there are suites of instruments that work together, automatic robot observatories always looking for supernova explosions---because statistics matter too.

    there are spread-out instruments: widely separated dish antennas, and other detectors, fields of detectors.

    there are instruments that see atmospheric cerenkov fireworks SHOWERS caused by a single high energy particle and so reconstruct the energy and direction of the particle.

    there are instruments that see very distant quasars (black hole beacons) etc. etc etc-----oh yes and all the stuff in ORBIT, some around earth some around the sun (like the CMB mappers)

    So for starters I would want a SLIDE SHOW of all the new technology instruments.

    That first day presentation explains why cosmology is a HOT FIELD, because of a flood of new kinds of data, seen with a lot of new types of eyes.

    A. describing the instrument is a way to introduce ideas (like expansion, early universe, standard candles, redshift-distance (or luminosity), acoustic waves, weak lensing eyes that see DM) in PASSING. you can refer in passing to all these interesting contextual conditions

    B. describing the instruments is a huge SALES PITCH for why the field is interesting because it has all this NEAT STUFF. You need to generate intense interest among the 15 year-olds so they will come back eager the next day. so show them slides of the hardware.

    C. describing the instruments is a door to the EPISTEMOLOGY of the field. it is about fitting models to data. it is not about KNOWING THE FINAL ANSWER to every question. every model will have unanswered questions. what matters is getting the simplest best fit. and you are in the middle of a huge flood of data which you have to channel into models, some of the models get busted in the process and washed away.
    it is not about what you "believe" but about how well you can anticipate the next wave of information, the next higher resolution composite mirror telescope or space telescope, which models continue to predict best, where they are applicable and how to fix them where they fail to apply and develop glitches breakdowns (singularities.)

    Maybe what I've said is obvious and didn't even need to be said. Theoretical cosmology is a very OPEN rapidly evolving field because of all the new observational data from new, more, and better instruments

    Oh, there is also the computer simulation business. show them video or movie on the second day, of cobwebby structure formation. Like Smoot's TED talk about DM condensing into filamentary structure in early universe and forming the basis for baryonic matter to gather into clusters of galaxies

    The visual aspects of the observational and numerical simulation foundations that theoretical cosmology is BASED on will make a lasting impression. In that sense you will have taught them a lasting lesson in the first two days. Even if they don't fully understand the current models you introduce later, they will have learned something.

    then you have three more days.

    Or maybe do the visual stuff in the morning of each day, and then get to the modeling after lunch. That way they have something to expect, look forward to, starting at 8AM each morning, and they get jazzed up, and their minds get a lot of questions. then after lunch you cover more theoretical more mathematical stuff.

    Supernovas are very very important (standard candles) for cosmology. Maybe early in the week devote lecture and blackboard time to the different types of SNe, not just the standard candle type IA.
    understanding redshift-luminosity relation or redshift distance relation, and how this is influenced by H leveling out at a positive H instead of going all the way to zero is important.

    So one afternoon could be describing the various stars, and monster explosions which serve as standard candles, and how they work, and incidentally how some other similar things work, like black hole beacons

    and another afternoon could be about the redshift distance relation and the 1998 type IA SNe data and all that.
    they've got to understand that H is CHANGING. and how that change generates the distinctive slope and shape of the redshift distance curve.
    or maybe that is too hard.

    anyway those are my thoughts===possibly more reaction than you wanted. other people should respond, to get different perspectives.

    interesting challenge. 5 days 8AM to 3PM, with lunch and breaks probably at most only 5 hours a day, so teach cosmology to 15 year-olds in 25 hours. heh heh

    will they be video-recording the lectures? very challenging. if it is at all successful they will wish they had recorded it.
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