The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter #5 - July 17 - 31, 2021

Education Connection to the Sky, Teachniques, Research

Cover —Planet B?

See Astronomical Teachniques. Photo credit NASA.

In This Issue:

  • Cover Photo - Planet B?

  • Connections to the Sky - Help with Color Impairment; Landsat Art

  • Astronomical Teachniques - Teaching about No Planet B

  • The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners - 2

  • A Look at the Next Generation Science Standards, in Astronomy, Part 2

  • The Galactic Times Newsletter Highlights


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Connections to the Sky

  • Vera C Rubin Observatory is Looking for Color-Impaired Testers

    Ardis Herrold of the Rubin Observatory EPO writes we are “currently developing a classroom online activity, Coloring the Universe, which has a six-color tool to create astronomical images. We would like to test this with users who have color impairment. If you or some of your students can help give feedback, please contact me: . Thank you!”

  • LandSat Art

STEAM into the new school year in August/September with some science+art. NASA is launching LandSat 9 and, like many of its predecessors, it is launching it with an art celebration. Here is how to participate (their words):

  1. Search the Landsat Image Gallery for an image that inspires you.

  2. Get crafting! This can be anything from watercolor paintings to knitted accessories to a tile mosaic – whatever sparks your creativity.

  3. Share your creation with us on social media using the hashtag #LandsatCraft.

Information can be found at: Landsat Art Page.

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Astronomical Teachniques

  • In The Galactic Times Podcast, Exoplanetary Systems in Sound—How Many Planets?

    In the second of two parts, Dr. Frederic Hessman of the University of Goettingen, Germany explains how to use Kepler’s Harmony of the Worlds’ ideas about planetary music and apply them to exoplanetary systems. In Episode 21-02, three Exoplanetary systems are purposely examined after the main broadcast, without stating how many planets are in them, for the listener to determine that quantity. These three are also visible to the unaided eye, or at least borderline so for which binoculars would be helpful in more urban/light polluted environments. In The Galactic Times Newsletter are charts to find them.

  • There is No Planet B

A movement, and a session at the European Astronomical Society meeting, utilized this title.  Yes, it involves climate change, but it also has had some interesting astronomy teachniques…..

As mentioned by numerous astronauts, in Earth and lunar orbit back in the 60’s, seeing the Earth as a whole world rather than a political map provides an “overview effect” for them and for the rest of us (see cover photo).    Then there is the old standby, comparing Venus’, Earth’s, and Mars’ atmospheres and the effects of too much and too little Carbon Dioxide.

Graphing the sunspot cycles over the past 100 (or at least 50) years, and the Earth’s average temperature is a useful teachnique, in graphing and inferring correlations.

To get you started on this, here are two sets of data. One is the Global Mean Annual Temperature per Decade, from It might be instructive to find any similar data for your own city or state.

Here are the annual Sunspot numbers for each year since 1945 to 2016, from

The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

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

  1. A study of vocabulary learning using annotated 360° pictures.” Papin, K., & Kaplan-Rakowski, R. (2020). SSRN. [A final version was printed, slightly different, as “Learning Vocabulary Using 2D Pictures”, Kaplan-Rakdowski, Lin, and Wojdynski, International Journal of Human Computer Interaction, 23 June, 2021.]

    The authors in Canada explored an ESOL situation, where students who knew only Chinese and English, used three methods to learn French vocabulary—virtual reality (VR), 360 annotated (VR on a flat monitor), and 2D on a monitor. In these days where more technology is the battle cry, it was a bit of a surprise to find that the better scores were found by the middle method, where vocabulary displayed using a VR program but displayed on a flat computer monitor was the best learning device. The VR itself was considered far more entertaining by the students, but the cognitive overload was too much apparently for retention of the vocabulary terms.

    Editor notes—While this was done with environmental science, not astronomy, there might well be a lesson here for other science teachers, and not necessarily for ESOL situations, too. As someone who dabbles with VR, I have often found it difficult personally to concentrate on the textual aspects of VR programs, and find them much better for the conceptual aspects of a phenomenon. See the review of the WebbVR program in TCA Newsletter #1.

  2. “An Examination of Science Center Visitors' Interactions With Exhibits,” C. Laçin-Şimşek & M. Öztürk, Museum Management and Curatorship. 3 March, 2021. DOI:10.1080/09647775.2021.1891560

    This observational study in a Turkish science museum has value not only for science center personnel but also, I think, science fairs and teachers who want to make more interesting displays in their classrooms and hallways.

    Quotes from the article: “The exhibits more open to interaction gained more attention. Although the visitors’ interest in the exhibits was intense, that was often limited to manipulation and the visitors did not attempt to explain or understand the events they observed. This situation was more obvious among the children and young people. The adults and parents made more effort to understand the exhibits and they cared about this.

    “At this point, it can be said that the parents and adults observed in the study were more interested in the exhibits and they made more efforts to learn, which may be related to their personal agenda and motivations. It is possible to say that the groups of children and young people also had their own agendas, and fun was a bit more in the foreground among them. The exhibits that were fun and different and appealed to group interaction more, attracted more attention. The surprising, interesting, entertaining, and aesthetic aspect of the observed situation also raises interest in it. The exhibits providing beautiful occasions for photo-taking also attracted great attention in the examined science center.”

    Visitors were more interested in exhibits that could be used without reading the labels, in those that had high degrees of interactions and manipulations, that were colorful and illuminated, had—unfortunately—misleading perceptions, and had videos or cameras.

    A major conclusion is that the amount of interaction did NOT equal the amount of interest in what was told to them.

A Look at the Next Generation of Science Standards, of Astronomy, Part 2

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. In the previous edition of this Newsletter, a new column on NGSS was begun, and an initial look at the standards on astronomy was made. It wasn’t pretty. There is little continuity between elementary, middle school, and high school concepts. We begin this issue’s look from there.

As noted, the standards for the three levels seem like three separate courses. Furthermore, there is rarely a repeat of any of the standards as one progresses upwards through the levels. There are a considerable amount of common topics that are not mentioned—almost nothing about solar system objects in particular despite the large number of missions, say, to Mars in the news. How do they relate, how can you relate them TO the standards? And…there are a few real BONEHEAD statements in the standards….

In the high school venue, in Earth’s Place in the Universe, where there are the most standards anyway, Core Idea 1.A, the Universe and Its Stars states that “stars’ light spectra and brightness is used to identify compositional elements of stars, their movements, and their distances from Earth.” Spectra is indeed used to study composition, and movement in part. Distances…..not so much. Brightness….only in the most broadest of terms. That inverse square thing only holds for standard candles. For everything else, noooooo. Distance is primarily a parallax kind of thing, especially now with the Gaia satellite taking that to a new level across the Milky Way galaxy. Brightness has its uses; these aren’t any of them.

Among the *worst* of the textual word salads here in the astronomy parts of the NGSS are in the Middle School standards, in the 1.B Earth and the Solar System section. The first of three parts states the “solar system consists of the sun (small “s”??) and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids…” which is all true, but incomplete. What about comets? Interplanetary dust? The Kuiper Belt Objects? Oort Cloud? Meteoroids which become meteors in our sky? But that’s not the worst of the salad. In the second of the three parts it is stated “This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon” and “Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun.” Huh?? Let’s take these two sentences separately.

“This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon.”—This model has zip to do with eclipses. Eclipses were explained by Ptolemy in a completely other model, in case you forgot. The idea of a collection of other worlds has nothing to do with either solar or lunar eclipses—the other worlds, and other moons, and asteroids have not a thing to do with eclipses. Talk about your nonsequitors! Didn’t somebody proofread this?

Sentence two: “Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun.” The first clause and the second clause are unrelated to each other. Yes, in the short term the axis is fixed. Yes, the axis is tilted relative to the orbit. In the long term, it is tipped, too, but differently. So? That “but” should have been an “and”.

Notice that though the Big Bang is mentioned, there is NOTHING about galaxies of any kind. We go straight from stellar evolution to universe evolution, skipping everything in between.

What I wonder is…. should these standards be something built upon, that Elementary standards are added to and repeated in Middle School science classes, and that those, combined, are added to the High School standards? Otherwise, what was the point of teaching them because they aren’t re-used or part of the science taught at the next levels up. They are isolated concepts.

If you put them together, what is the NGSS course in astronomy?

Sun, Earth and the Daily Experience

  • The Sun and stars are different only because of distance.

  • 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. Specifically to be learned this way, the seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset, which should also be modeled.

  • Eclipses and seasons are mentioned but misconcepted(?) as a function of the solar system model!

  • Earth’s spin axis is fixed *and* has a tilt compared to our orbital plane (written incorrectly in the standards).

The Solar System and How It Works

  • The Solar System are planets, moons, and asteroids. Not mentioned but should be, are comets, and the Kuiper and Oort clouds and other objects.

  • The Solar System *appears* to have formed from a disk of gas and dust, because of gravity.

  • Kepler’s Laws refers to the planets and the three Laws.

  • Gravity and Newton are two mentioned causes of changes in orbits and it is a Cross-Cutting concept.

  • Studying moons, asteroids, comets are necessary because they have older and more pristine rocks than Earth does.

Stars and the Evolution of the Universe

  • We learn about stars and stellar evolution through studying stellar spectra and brightnesses. (Specifically, but not mentioned, changes in the latter.)

  • Starlight also teaches us about stellar composition and distances.

  • The Sun is a star and it evolves.

  • The creation of elements by the Big Bang and supernovae is to be taught, and the evidence for the former, as well.

Wow. Is there a lot missing……

We will look at what physics and geological standards in NGSS might be useful additions, and the various Cross-Cutting ideas are, in the next newsletter; see if any gaps can be filled there. Then, States themselves have a variety of standards, not always particularly smart ones. Nevertheless, comparing these to a couple of states might show somethings missing. We’ll add those into the mix later. -LK

In The Galactic Times Newsletter:

  • Cover Photo - Editorial on Richard, Jeff and Elon’s flights!

  • This Just In—
    Can They See Us Now? Exoplanets Who Might See…US.
    A Comet Driving Drunk
    A Lot of Spilt Milk Made Our Galaxy

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

  • The Galactic Times Podcast —  Exoplanetary Music Part 2, plus charts for three bright exoplanetary system stars.

  • Astronomy in Everyday Life - Birthdays

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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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Dr. Larry Krumenaker
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