Top 10 Hands-On Astronomy Activities?

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In summary, these teaching activities involve using common household items and basic resources to teach students about astronomy. Some of the activities are related to learning about the 4 main satellites of Jupiter, measuring distances, understanding angular displacement, learning about parallax, and more.
  • #1


What are the Top 10 hands-on teaching
activities for young beginning astronomy
students? These activities must be hands-on,
instructional and fun.

Here's what I have so far:

1. Ellipse Drawing
Using pencil, string, push pins and paper
draw an ellipse. Accompanied with
discussion of Kepler, orbits, conic
sections, etc.

2. Angular Distance
Talk about how your fist, at arms length,
is equivalent to an angular displacement of
10 degrees and apply to astronomical
dimensions and scales. Part of "Measuring
Astronomical Distances." Also part
of degree-radian and s = r*theta discussions.

3. Parallax
Some kind of ativity to intro and teach
parallax. Something like holding a
finger in front of your face and closing
one eye, then the other to experience
and analyze the parallax effect. Use to
measure, for example, the width of a
doorway then apply to astronomical entity.

4-10... any other ideas like the above
come to mind??


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  • #2
cj said:
What are the Top 10 hands-on teaching
activities for young beginning astronomy
students? These activities must be hands-on,
instructional and fun.

anything using a diffraction grating
spectral lines are arguably the most important thing observed by astronomers.

seeing the 4 main satellites of Jupiter with your own eyes using
a low magnification thing with a tripod so it doesn't shake too much
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  • #3
Safe solar viewing techniques and such, particularly good when there's an eclipse conveniently available. :wink:
Scale model solar system. If you want to make the planets any decent size (ie a sand grain) you will need to move a bit which is always fun.
Say how much time it takes for light to reach the Earth from the moon ("it's coming... it's here"). Then do the same thing for the sun by setting a timer and going onto something else. When the timer goes off remind everyone what its original purpose was. My third grade teacher did this in class once and that was the first time I began to think about just how big this universe of ours is!
  • #4
Figure out when the Moon will be visible in the daytime sky. As long as it's a sunny day, bring your students outside, and bring a volleyball (or basketball, or even a golf ball.)

Ask the students to hold the volleyball such that it blocks the Moon. (make sure the volleyball has sunlight on it.)

Look at the "phase" of the volley ball. It will perfectly match the phase of the Moon. Pretty neat and will help dispell the stupid notion that the Moon itself actually changes shape during the course of a month.
  • #5
Go outside on a clement late evening and look up. :approve:
  • #6
You can approximate a three body solution using tension as a constant in the string demonstration of orbits.
  • #7
Thanks a ton everyone -- very innovative feedback!

Here's the list I have so far... any other ideas or
variation suggestions??

All these activities seem to only require common
household materials or very basic resources found
in a typical high school, e.g., Microsoft Excel, diffraction
gratings, etc.

1. 3-Body Solution (tension in string)
2. Moon Phases (volleyball blocking the moon during daytime)
3. Scale Model of Solar System (scale objects, "light timer")
4. Light in Astronomy (diffraction gratings)
5. Satellites of Jupiter (binoculars)
6. Angle of Insolation (light, triangular block, thermometer)
7. Ellipses (pins, pencil, string)
8. Geometry of Space (Mobius strip, pencil)
9. H-R Diagram (Excel)
10. Is The Sun An Average Star? (Excel)
11. Angular Altitude of the Sun (meter stick, graph paper, calc.)
12. Moon Cycle Shapes (Moon Pop, flashlight, screen)
13. Scale Models of Planets (compass, construction paper)
14. Moon Spin (3 balls, data sheet)
15. Parallax Lab (still trying to develop something)
16. Sun Path (clear plastic dome, protractor)
17. Marketing Brochure for Visiting Mars (or another planet)
  • #8
The rings of Saturn and phases of Venus are also cool (like #5); other spectacular astronomical sights through binoculars somewhat depend on your location (e.g. in the southern hemisphere, 47 Tuc or Omega Cen), but other than the Moon (which can be a real blast the first time through a small telescope), few live up to the expectations of coffee table books.

The IR portion of the Sun's spectrum is also amazing (reproducing Herschel's discovery experiment) may require a more elaborate setup (not only thermometers and a good prism, but also the physical layout), but could really open eyes.

If one has the patience (and a cooperative climate!), creating the analemma could be fun (you could get to learn a lot about how a camera works, and how to process digital images too).

1. What is the purpose of these hands-on astronomy activities?

The purpose of these hands-on astronomy activities is to engage and educate people of all ages about the fascinating world of astronomy. These activities allow individuals to actively participate in learning about the stars, planets, and other celestial objects through hands-on experiences.

2. Can these activities be done by individuals or do they require a group?

These activities can be done by individuals or in a group setting. Some activities may require multiple participants, while others can be done solo. It is always beneficial to have someone to share the experience with, but these activities can also be a fun and educational way to spend time alone.

3. What age range are these activities suitable for?

These activities are suitable for a wide range of ages, from young children to adults. Some activities may be more suitable for younger children, while others may be more challenging and engaging for older individuals. It is important to choose activities that are appropriate for the age and skill level of the participants.

4. Do these activities require any special equipment or materials?

Some of these activities may require basic materials that can be found around the house, such as paper, pencils, and scissors. Others may require more specialized materials, such as a telescope or star chart. It is best to review the materials needed for each activity before beginning.

5. Are these activities safe for children to participate in?

Yes, these activities are safe for children to participate in as long as they are supervised by an adult. It is important to follow any safety precautions outlined in the activity instructions. Some activities may involve small objects, sharp tools, or potentially hazardous materials, so it is important to use caution and supervision when needed.

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