The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter #4 - July 1-16, 2021

Education Connection to the Sky, Teachniques, Research

Cover Photo - How The Earth Tilts

Two views of Earth show the difference in its tilt — on the left, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun, and on the right, it's tilted towards the Sun.
These views, captured from the Sun-facing side of Earth, show the change in Earth’s tilt between the December (left) and June (right) solstices. These images were taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's DSCOVR satellite in December 2018 and June 2019. Credits: NASA/DSCOVR EPIC

In This Issue:

  • Cover Photo - How The Earth Tilts

  • Connections to the Sky

  • Astronomical Teachniques

  • The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners - 2

  • A Look at the Next Generation Science Standards, in Astronomy, Part 1

  • The Galactic Times Newsletter Highlights

Welcome to this edition of twice-monthly The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter.

There now is an index of articles on the newsletter’s website on  www.classroomastronomer.com—yes, that is also the website of its antecedent magazine from 2009 and not the address of the site from which you subscribe, but subsidiary webpages such as an index are not allowed on Substack. A link takes you the Index and Tables of Contents of past issues.

I am Dr. Larry Krumenaker, a long-time astronomer, writer and educator.  Two weeks ago I was virtually attending the American Astronomical Society annual meeting. This week, in the midst of the European Astronomical Society’s! 2am to 10am. No stars, just headphones and computer monitor. Sigh…..Anyway, welcome to my Universe! If you like what you read, (1) subscribe if you haven’t already,

(2) use the link below to send a copy to your friends and colleagues!,

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Connections to the Sky

  • An Activity Relating to Mars and Too Much CO2 on Earth

This activity is focused on Mars and specifically the Planet 4 project on the Zooniverse platform. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Zooniverse,  https://www.zooniverse.org/ is the world's largest online platform for citizen science, with over 2 million registered volunteers worldwide. This activity and pilot effort is being run by postdoc, Dr. Christine O'Donnell. 

Christine's description of the Planet 4 Activity:

Our Planet Four curricular materials are intended to take 1.5-2 class sessions with a homework/out-of-class activity in between. During the first class session, students will explore the rationale for studying Mars: by analyzing the Martian surface, we learn about seasonal and interannual variations in Mars’ climate history. Since the Martian climate is driven by carbon dioxide, we can use this research as a gauge for what might happen on Earth as the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere increases. Next, students will classify on the Planet Four Zooniverse platform, thus contributing to ongoing research projects. Throughout this first class session, students will reflect on how these activities compare with their prior notions of science research and science practices, and they will draw parallels between science and their own lived experiences. Between the two class sessions, students will complete a homework activity where they will choose whether to further investigate planet habitability or the planning required for crewed/uncrewed missions to Mars. Finally, in the second class sessions, students will share their findings from the homework in small groups, followed by scaffolded dialogue in their groups about the complex interdisciplinary challenges posed by future human activity on Mars. Our curricular materials will also include discussion prompts and related activities for instructors who wish to incorporate additional content, such as Indigenous knowledge and beliefs and how their voices and history should be represented in decisions about future and current Mars exploration efforts.

If you are interested in piloting the Planet 4 activity this Fall, please let Christine know as soon as possible.  Her e-mail is: christine.a.odon@gmail.com .

  • Astronomy’s Connections to Everything Else We Do

When people tell you “Yeah, space is cool, but what is it good for?” what do you have to answer them? Inspiring students? The calendar? The IAU Office of Astronomy Development has this chart, and just in case you can’t read it, here are the connections to other areas of human endeavors that astronomy connects to, and to which you can point out the connections to others:

Optics Computing (computers, and wi-fi came from radio astronomers) Electronics Space (satellites, for example) Physics Chemistry Biology Mathematics Inspiration History Anthropology
Perspective (Global, climate, that ‘there is no planet B’ thing)

(Credit IAU Office of Astronomy Development)


[Is it time for some cool lemonade? Check with the Hermograph Sundial T-shirt!]

Astronomical Teachniques

  • In The Galactic Times Podcast, the Solar System in Sound—Useful for the Visually Impaired

    The podcast returns, and in the first of two parts, Dr. Frederic Hessman of the University of Goettingen, Germany and Dr. Larry Krumenaker explain how Kepler thought the planets (Mercury through Saturn then) made a kind of Cosmic Music.

    One educational part of this is not only how the whole System ‘makes’ musical chords, major and minor, but how just listening can help the visually impaired detect (1) how many planets there are, (2) how eccentric their orbits are, and (3) even when and which are in resonance! This will also come in handy when in Part 2 we explore not our own System but those of multi-planetary exoplanetary star systems!

    Additionally, this can be a good interdisciplinary activity with your music or electronics people, for non-visually impaired children. To make planetary music, you must first pick one planet as the base sound (Earth, usually) and assign it a certain frequency (orchestras use 440Hz, a common tuning fork, or a certain note—ask the orchestra leader). As explained in the podcast, you have to proportion the sound of each planet to the Earth by the ratio of the planets orbital period, or speed—by its number of years/days or degrees per day or average miles per hour, or whatever—and find the proportionate frequency of sound to use. Sounds that are a ratio of whole numbers—one half, or twice as much, or 3:2, or 6:1 or some such—are all those notes that are used in making chords when played together with the base note. You can explore the planets’ and see what chords might be made. To explore the eccentric motions, you have to do a little more math, and find how much faster and slower the planets get at perihelion and aphelion, and adjust the sounds accordingly. You might be able to do this all better with stringed instruments or electronic instruments. Can you get three or more planets to mimic a major or minor chord? Or a seventh?

    You can listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast service or directory (Spotify, Apple, and about a dozen more) or using your web browser, you can use a player provided on the website at www.thegalactictimes.com .

The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

What’s in the scholarly astronomy education journals you can use NOW.

  1. “Visitors’ Attendance Motivation and Meaning-Making at a Public Science Event, A Carver”, J. Garner, A. Kaplan and K. Pugh, International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 24 January, 2021. 11:1, pp 75-89.

    In this unusual and rare study, the authors engaged with nearly 100 persons at a public solar eclipse event to learn what their motivations for attending were, and what they hoped to gain out of the experience. Given that, unlike a museum visit, or planetarium show, they had no control over the circumstances and timing of the event, they were limited to brief questions and an amount of time to do them, this provided some rare insights into the thoughts of visitors to public events that could be useful to those who provide public sky talks, eclipse parties, meteor show watches and other sky event happenings.

    At a partial solar eclipse they asked visitors’ about their motivations for attending a public, science themed event,, and what kinds of engagement was ‘manifest’ when they are “prompted by a VINES-based brief intervention. This latter essentially asks how the prompt questions solicited content, and uses induction and themes to identify common responses to each question—a kind of coding in this case such as “Social, Cognitive, Introspective responses”, etc., and “Experience Seeker, Facilitator, Hobbyist” and more.

    Their four question were….

    1. Please tell us why you came to the event today, and what is it about the eclipse that is interesting to you?

    2. People in different places in the world may see no eclipse, a partial eclipse, or a full eclipse. Some travel far to see a total eclipse. Seeing a total eclipse is like being in the right place at the right time. How can you use this idea of an eclipse as an analogy to something in your own life? Please explain.

    3. During the total solar eclipse, the temperature is expected to drop 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. What does this tell you about the sun’s rays? What are the sun’s rays exactly? What in your everyday life is like the sun’s rays? Please explain.

    4. A solar eclipse takes place when the Moon temporarily moves between the Sun and Earth . This event briefly allows us to see objects in our solar system differently. How might an eclipse, or the idea of an eclipse, relate to your life? Be creative and think of any connection that is meaningful to you.

The responses were that most people sought to witness the event with or without additional purposes. ‘Because of its rarity’ was a common phrase used. ‘Social experience’ was also mentioned. It was common to have more than one of these responses given in a single person’s answer.

Many people came for Experience Seeking, and many others as Facilitating, i.e. for their children’s sake.

Most analogies were metaphorical, and were about gaining perspectives.

One might try these at other public events, in place or in addition to the normal “Why are you here” questions, and see what your audience is really getting out of the event!

2. “Tell me a story, professor! The effect of historical science stories on academic achievement and motivation in a physics class”, M. Guler & S. Unal. Research in Science & Technological Education, May 2021 DOI: 10.1080/02635143.2021.1928046 .

These two Turkish professors tested the effect of using historical science stories on academic achievement and motivation towards future teachers (pre-service teachers). The story-based approach—in this case on free fall movement—using a control group of a standard lecture format lesson showed that the story format enabled better comprehension. It focused on Galileo’s free fall experiments and used a video on the topic.

A great quote: “Science education aims to support the understanding of basic concepts, to provide students with the skills to access knowledge and activate their higher order thinking (attributed to Bevins and Price 2016).

Surprisingly, both groups increased both their test scores and motivations, with no statistical difference though the ‘story’ group scores were higher. For most, the story format was more interesting in appeal and would be more valid, they thought, for middle-schoolers, ‘who have more imagination.

Editor’s comment: I have found that historical stories have worked wonders at the college level, particularly in the Aristotle—retrograde motion—Copernicus—Kepler—Newton—Halley sequence, especially since in my travels I have had access to many of their historical books and places some of them have lived at, especially Kepler, so I have many photographs to use. I relate these to common experiences—the throwing of balls, tennis playing, charting of planetary motions on strip charts in labs and sky observations they make, parallax demonstrations, human orreries—and I have never failed to see good test scores and reviews from the experiences. Story telling and any kind of relatable and active experiences always engage the students.

A Look at the Next Generation of Science Standards, of Astronomy, Part 1

In the original The Classroom Astronomer magazine, an article was written for it on the developing but not finalized standards called the Next Generation of Science Standards, or NGSS. I thought it was time to revisit the topic. Recently I went to the official website for NGSS and printed off pages that contained content information, or Discipline Core Ideas, that related specifically to astronomical topics. The reasoning behind NGSS was to integrate Core Ideas, Science Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts together, much as real scientists often do, but for now we’ll just look at the Core Ideas, through K-12.

The first thing I noted was that between Elementary, Middle School and High School levels, astronomy appears like three separate courses! There is little that appears in one earlier level that is built upon, or repeated, let alone referred to again, in a later level of education! In the Elementary level, the principal Core Ideas are that the Sun and stars are different only because of distance, and that we see things happen in the sky because of the motions of the Moon and Earth. Seasonal patterns of motions of the Sun, Moon and stars can be observed, described, predicted. That’s it. Granted you don’t expect much out of first or second graders but you can do more than that!

Things aren’t much better in the Middle School level. Or the same. Except for that last line above about seasonal patterns, NOTHING from the Elementary level is repeated, or enhanced. Well, it amplifies that the seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset can be observed, described and predicted, and also modeled. New stuff is introducing the Solar System, which does not include comets, and the Kuiper or Oort clouds. A weird Core Idea is that the above Solar System model actually explains eclipses, our spin axis and seasons. Huh? More on that later. Finally, the Solar System *appears* to have formed from a disk of gas and dust, because of gravity. Appears? Notice, by the way, not a word about stars.

High School is a whole ‘nother course! All our probes of the planets, the latest Mars landers, comets in the sky…there is not a word about the Solar System. Well, except by implication. Kepler’s Laws refers to the planets and the three Laws are something required to learn—Yay! Gravity and Newton aren’t actually much stressed here, but it is one of two mentioned causes of changes in orbits and it is a Cross-Cutting concept mentioned as well. Studying moons, asteroids, comets are necessary because they have older and more pristine rocks than Earth does so that’s where we get a more accurate history of the Solar System than from Earth.

Really, much of the High School lessons on astronomy are expected to be on the stellar systems. The Sun is a star and it evolves. We learn about stars and stellar evolution through studying stellar spectra and brightnesses; we also learn about composition and distances. Interestingly, and probably with controversy in some places, the creation of elements by the Big Bang and supernovae is to be taught, and the evidence for the former, as well.

But nothing about patterns of observation of the Moon, seasons, etc. In fact, the only thing from Elementary that shows up is that stars have vastly greater distances, and from Middle School is that fact that we learn from observing, describing, and predicting, and using models.

I’ll take a look at some of the of the specific Ideas in the next newsletter. -LK


In The Galactic Times Newsletter:

  • Cover Photo - Mars and Ingenuity in 3-D!

  • This Just In— Astronomy News
    Largest Comet Ever Discovered?
    The Milky Way Seen Extragalactically using Neutron Stars!

  • Sky Planning Calendar
    Moon and planets for the two weeks, and other matters

  • The Galactic Times Podcast —  Exoplanetary Music Part 1

  • Astronomy in Everyday Life - Sun Stamps; A Visit to Orion

Subscribe to it here! It’s Free!


Back issues of the original The Classroom Astronomer magazine, with articles, Teachniques, Activities (all still perfectly good today!) are all still available for purchase in PDF format, at the Classroom Astronomer homepage. An Article Index and Tables of Contents to all issues are available on the Web.

Coming Soon!

Learning Astronomy Under The Northern Stars – A 365-Night Per Year Textbook

Use the stars that are ALWAYS visible to understand basic astronomy, stellar evolution, galactic structure, with the naked eye and common binoculars.  EBook and print book coming (summer).  Detail description and advance orders coming soon.


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Thanks for visiting our Universe! Stay safe in yours!

Questions, suggestions, comments? Email them to:
Dr. Larry Krumenaker

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