Magazine article Technology & Learning

Four New Stars for High School Astronomers

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Four New Stars for High School Astronomers

Article excerpt

Now is a good time to build on interests kindled over the summer by the adventures of Sojourner and Pathfinder on Mars, or through recent articles on the International Space Station. Astronomy is a wonderful way to get students excited about science, and these products will bring the latest discoveries into your classroom.

You'll be pleased to know that the universe of astronomy software is continuing to expand, with an array of new titles that are as different from one another as any group of planets or moons. The four programs we've chosen to look at here reflect that diversity. One involves students in astronomical investigations; another invites them to build virtual models of the International Space Station; a third takes a more general multimedia encyclopedia-style approach, with animated slide shows, games, and interviews with scientists. The fourth program is a photographic sky atlas that until recently was available only to professional astronomers.

As with all teaching tools, these programs rely on the knowledge and skill of the teacher to ensure their effectiveness and best use in the classroom. With that in mind, please focus your telescope on each of these new stars and give some thought to which are most likely to offer your students inspiration and insight.

Astronomy Village

(NASA-CORE)

Built around step-by-step, month-long investigations, and incorporating the guidance and expertise of a variety of professional astronomers, this large CD/video/ printed document package offers students an amazingly authentic "real life" experience in the study of astronomy. For classes with the time to devote to the topic, this 10-project package (which was created by the Wheeling Jesuit College Classroom of the Future) can provide a full school year of solidly-grounded instruction for the bargain price of $24.

An appropriately awe-inspiring stage is set as students prepare for a month-long immersion in the field of astronomy. "Driving" up a narrow mountain road, they round a last curve to see a huge dome set against the night sky. Inside the dome is a world-class interactive telescope, a data processing center, lecture hall, library, and conference center.

First-time observers can take guided tours of the mountaintop "village." An observatory tutorial shows how to browse over 300 images from a variety of telescopes; another tutorial teaches the use of image processing software to help students investigate objects by manipulating the color, brightness, and contrast of images.

Although Astronomy Village would be useful simply as a classroom reference -- with over 100 articles and 335 images -- its core and strength is the set of research projects developed by astronomers and teachers, and tested in school settings. Students are guided through investigations by a Research Path Diagram. In one project, "Search for a Wobbler," they look for planetary systems by trying to find stars that appear to wobble due to the gravitational field of an unseen companion. Students use the library, attend a lecture on the topic (by an astronomer who is an expert in that topic), observe stars, use image processing software, and conduct measurements to determine if the unseen companion is a planet or a star.

In addition to lesson plans, the teacher's guide includes clear learning objectives and suggested assessment methods, and an introductory video provides clear and thorough information on how to use the software.

Though designed as a culminating activity for ninth-grade astronomy students, Astronomy Village would be a valuable addition to any part of the high school science curriculum.

RealSkyCD

(Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

RealSkyCD is a powerful, flexible, easy-to-use professional astronomer's tool that is neither a curriculum program nor a home entertainment product. Only recently made available to amateurs and educators, this nine-CD package includes more than 800 digitized plate images from the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (Poss) -- the first modern project to photograph the entire sky. …

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