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Suggest topics for a 1-sem HS Astronomy course

  1. Apr 26, 2009 #1

    I am planning to offer a one-semester elective course in astronomy at my school, and I am looking for suggestions and ideas about what to include in the curriculum. I do not have many examples to pull from around here--the rural schools don't often teach it.

    We're going to have to make do with a minimum of equipment for a while. I will be trying to acquire some decent large binoculars, but for at least the first year I wouldn't count on having much more than that. Star charts, Stellarium, and the local amateur astronomy club (which has a nice facility--computer controlled observatory with some very good imaging devices).

    I will incorporate some of the state Earth/Space science standards into the course (e.g., understand stellar evolution and the fundamentals of the H-R diagram). I do want the course to be enjoyable to the average high school student. I think it is unlikely that the lower level high school students will self-select to take this course (it should be seen as somewhat more difficult than the biology electives).

    I took a course like this in high school, and I took an astrophysics course in grad school. I have ideas of my own, but I want to hear yours!

    Target grade level: 11-12 (US)
    Target academic level: Average to above-average
    Interest level: Elective, self-selected
    Ability level: Total beginner to average high school amateur.
    Duration: One semester, block periods (84 minute) every other day for 18 weeks.
    Labs: Expect that nighttime meetings could be every other week. Not sure if I can require them or if they will have to be 'optional'.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2009 #2
    Great idea! I hope that more instructors follow your lead. Actually, I have been hoping that someone would do exactly this in the U.S. It might help if you checked with local universities and geared your course toward a college prep course. That way you could sell the course to students as a stepping stone to those who are interested in the many opportunities that space studies offer.

    If you have access to the internet, then you can use the Worldwide Telescope:
    and a favorite of mine (full access requires a subscription):
    For extra credit, actually have your students assist in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey:

    Good luck!
  4. Apr 28, 2009 #3


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    11-12 grade = final year of high school ?

    Are you planning to do astrophysics as well as astronomy, stellar evolution, big bang - formation of the universe is interesting!

    In astronomy - what about distance relations. You can explain parallax and other methods.
    If you are planning to do this over the winter (and assuming you are in the N. Hemisphere) you can have them observe Delta Cephei from home each night, estimate it's brightness from the two nearby stars and then plot a light curve and work out the distance from the magnitude relationship.
    You can do this easily with naked eye from most sites and it gives them a reason to go out and look at the sky each night.
  5. Apr 28, 2009 #4


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    This is a key point because your first post makes me think that you want the main focus of your class to be observational astronomy. Familiarization with telescopes, the night sky, how to observe, how stars move across the night sky, etc.

    You certainly can take the course in this direction as much as you please, but a good intro-astronomy course is very much like an intro physics course. Usually intro astro courses start with an overview of pertinent physics (newton's 3 laws and gravity, mostly), and then proceed to study everything else using the basic physics background. Things like calculating orbital velocities, escape velocities, and at least a qualitative understanding of the fundamentals behind stellar evolution.

    Now, this isn't exactly incompatible with a course in observational techniques of astronomy (much more practical things), but it might be hard to fit it all into a one semester course.
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