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Top 10 Hands-On Astronomy Activities?

  1. Apr 21, 2005 #1


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    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??


  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 21, 2005 #2


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    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 doesnt shake too much
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2005
  4. Apr 21, 2005 #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!
  5. Apr 22, 2005 #4


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    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.
  6. Apr 22, 2005 #5
    Go outside on a clement late evening and look up. :approve:
  7. Apr 22, 2005 #6


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    You can approximate a three body solution using tension as a constant in the string demonstration of orbits.
  8. Apr 22, 2005 #7


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    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)
  9. Apr 22, 2005 #8


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    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).
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