The Teaching Astronomy - Part 1 Packet is available for purchase here.
Click here for Table of Contents.
Over 100 pages of ready-to-run materials covering: Teaching
Constellations and using Azimuth and Altitude to lcoate celestial
objects in the sky. The CD or Email-Delivered Packet contains: Detailed
and journal suggestions, labs and worksheets, test &
quizzes, active learning suggestions including a Star Wheel, and many
Team Game suggestions.
Also includes 2 Powerpoints! Several items from this Packet are also available below at NO CHARGE!
The Teaching Astronomy - Part 2 Packet is available for purchase here. Click here for Table of Contents. Over 100 pages of ready-to-run materials covering: Moon Phases, Moon Features, Eclipses and Tides, Evidence
for Rotation and Revolution, and Seasons on Earth. The CD or Email-delivered Packet contains: detailed lesson plans, bellwork and journal
suggestions, labs and worksheets with answers, tests & quizzes with
answers, active learning manipulatives including three
Foldables/Booklets, and Team Game suggestions. Also includes
8 PowerPoints! Several items from this Packet are also available below at NO CHARGE!
Looking back on my 30 year teaching career, this one lesson is most representative of my teaching philosophy: Hands-on, active, meaningful, engaging learning.
For many years, my Earth Science classes measured
the Sun's movement across the sky for three seasons and plotted and
studied what that meant. It was one of the most meaningful and exciting things I've ever done.
are welcome to use these ideas in your classroom, within your science
department, within your school district, or to distribute to any
teacher who may find these lessons useful. I only ask that: 1. You cannot sell these lessons or make a profit on them in any way. 2. You cite the lessons original source, and do not white-out the copyright footer on the pdf files 3. Do not copy and paste lessons onto your website. A link to the original is to be used. 4. Do not claim these lessons as your own work. NOTE: This disclaimer is modeled after a couple of my favorite websites: The Science Spot and Middle School Science. Thanks, teachers!
Some TYPICAL ASTRONOMY OBJECTIVES with related Lesson Ideas (if available):
I. The Earth and Moon System: A. Identify typical Earth features. B. Relate Earth’s night and day to Earth’s rotation. C. Relate Earth’s seasons to Earth’s revolution. D. Describe the Earth as a magnet. E. Describe the features and movements of the Moon. (Moon Features Lab and PowerPoint.) F. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to the Moon’s phases. (Moon Phases Activities.) G. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to both Eclipses. (Solar Eclipse Game and PPT.) H. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to Tides.
II. The Solar System: A. Apply the Nebular Theory of the formation of the solar system. (Nebular Theory Worksheet) NEW! B. Compare and contrast the four main layers of the Sun. C. Compare and contrast planetary revolution and rotation. D. Identify special characteristics of the planets in the solar system. E. Classify minor objects in the solar system such as meteorites, meteors, asteroids, and planetoids
III. The Universe: A. Identify, locate and describe the motions of several constellations. (Star Wheel) (Astrolabe and Compass Rose) B. Define and use several units of distance in space. C. Compare and contrast the properties of the sun with other stars. (Spectroscope & Telescope) D. Discuss the different ways star brightness is measured. E. Relate the original mass of a star to its life cycle. F. Discuss the evidence that supports the Big Bang Theory.
A great way to kick off
an astronomy unit is to have your students construct a star wheel. This
creates instant interest in the night sky and also touches on the most
basic of concepts: the periodic movements of the Earth and the sun and
how these relate to time. Click
here for a great basic Star Wheel. Once they are constructed, teach them how to use the wheel.
Then teach the counterclockwise rotation of the night sky; how stars
rise in the east and set in the west; and circumpolar constellations.
You can also touch on rotation and revolution of the Earth and how
these two basic motions cause changes in the stars at night. (Rotation
of the Earth causes stars to move across the night sky. Revolution of
the Earth causes constellations to change by season.)
the concepts of counterclockwise motion, backwards east & west
why (You have to hold it over your head, which makes it "right."),
rising and setting of constellations, and circumpolar constellations.
As soon as students have built their Star Wheel, teach a quick lesson
on how to use, then let them work on the worksheet in pairs.
work with them together, using an overhead to write in the answers. The
Star Wheel can be frustrating if they can't get past the backwardness
of its design. I often did this as a Guided Activity so they wouldn't
get too frustrated. It's all about building on their fascination with
the night sky! Click here
for a copy.
Wheel Team Game
game! Divide students into
teams. Each team separates into halves and goes to opposite corners of
the room with their game cards and star wheels. Give each team half a
stack of cards. The cards are either quick sketches of about a dozen
basic constellations or the constellation names. You give them all a
puzzle to solve and the teams have to match their answers to get a
point. If the answer is Orion, both the name and the sketch have to be
chosen. Have team "runners" bring the answer card, hidden from view, to
you on a signal, then show you the cards all at once. I color code them
so matching teams are easy to see. Blue constellation sketch-blue
constellation name = 1 point. I use simple questions, such as, "Which
constellation is rising (or setting) at 7 p.m. on December 10th?" or
"Which circumpolar constellation is directly over overhead (called the
"zenith") on June 15th?"
in connection with Star Wheels. Have them locate and connect the dots
of 20 constellations of their choice. Label with ALL CAPS. Bonus points
for labeling famous stars within the constellations. Start them off
with Ursa Major and the Pointer Stars to Ursa Minor. I sometimes give
Orion, too. Use an overhead to get them started. Fourmi
Lab has a nice site
where you can put in your location and if you fiddle with the many
choices, you can come up with a nice blank star map for your students
to connect-the-dots and find many constellations. (Suggestions: Click
off outlines, names, etc. for constellations. Click off deep sky
objects. You might try stars of magnitudes 4 or 5 and brighter. Depends
how many "dots" you'd like on the field. Color Scheme: Black on white
background.) I have a Constellation Lab which requires certain
constellations and stars, which are colored according to their
temperature. These same stars are later plotted on the H-R Diagram and
their life cycles discussed. Click
here for my Constellation Lab.
TO USE THE CONSTELLATION LAB:
hand the Lab out, directions on the front and star field on the back.
Direct your students to open their Earth Science books to the back of
the book. There are great star charts in the back of every Earth
Science book I've ever seen. The lab can be done just with the star
charts but I recommend your students use their Star Wheels as well.
Actually the Star Wheel is the VERY FIRST THING I have my students do
in the Astronomy Unit.
I do the entire circumpolar area with
them. I make an overhead of the lab's star field and start by having
them look for the Big Dipper. Then we connect the dots together, label
it BIG DIPPER in all caps and maybe label a couple of star names if
they come up with them. Otherwise, I show them how to use the Pointer
Stars to find the Little Dipper. We do the same for that one, labeling
it LITTLE DIPPER. Then we do CASSIOPEIA, the Queen, CEPHEUS, the King,
and DRACO, the Dragon, all together. We also talk about what
circumpolar means--seen every night, never seen in the Southern
Then I ask them to find ORION and wait till someone
does. I sketch ORION and label the stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, adding
the red and blue colors like the directions says. (See my answer sheet
in the Constellation Lab pdf.)
Now they are on their own. I tell
them they are required to do the list of constellations in the
directions, including connecting the dots, labeling constellations with
ALL CAPS and star names, with Lower Case. They must get the colors
They can get BONUS POINTS for more star names but only if the
CONSTELLATION is properly labeled and dots connected.
there are no hard and fast rules about connecting the dots. I give kids
tons of lee-way. If they have the right dots, that's good enough. I
walk around with a good sharp pencil (I recommend telling
kids to use pencil only) and sketch in some constellations for those
who are visually challenged. There are going to be a couple who
absolutely can't see a thing. No need to make them feel bad. I do the
sketching for them quickly and tell them to do the labeling and
coloring. You can carry the answer sheet around with you until you
really know them--you get better over time.
It helps to have the kids align the Star Wheel and textbook star chart
to the same angle as the Constellation Lab.
next day, I run the PPT, telling them they can make additions and
corrections during the PPT. They will “mostly scramble” to add more
star names because there are many on the PPT--some won’t--but many will
love the idea of getting up to 60 BONUS POINTS. Which has happened!
believe this is one of THE BEST LABS for fostering a real love of the
night sky for kids who've never looked "up" before. Happy
the constellations and stars that are required on the Constellation
Lab. I show this BEFORE I collect the lab. That way, students who've
had lots of trouble with connecting the dots have one more chance to
get it right! Email me
for this PowerPoint!
this immediately after the Constellation Lab. Teach a simple way to
determine the location of objects in the sky: AZIMUTH and ALTITUDE.
This worksheet introduces the terms. Follow by making and using an
astrolabe (along with a Compass Rose) to determine the location of objects
in the classroom, outside, and at night. Click here. OPTIONAL: Skip this worksheet for now. Make the Astrolabe and Compass Rose first, THEN do the Worksheet as a Review!
your students a template of the astrolabe, have one already built for
them to refer to, and let them go with little instruction. If you want
to instruct them first, here is THE best site on the Web for Making
a Simple Astrolabe. Project this site on your big screen T.V.
or SMART Board. This site includes THE
BEST TEMPLATE I've seen. Here is the same site's instruction
page for Using
a Simple Astrolabe.
here for a nice extension idea. Have students discuss in
small or large groups what they would like to have on the Astrolabe
after they've used one for a few days. What would make an Astrolabe
better? I've seen many suggestions: more degrees tic marks, a better
handle, a better sighting mechanism, an attached compass, a better
plumb bob, etc. Then have each student work on improving their
The Compass Rose
Click here for a nice review of the Compass Rose. Includes the 32 points on the compass.
Click here for a NEW Compass Rose template. Have each student glue on 8 1/2 by 11 inch
cardboard. Cut out and punch holes on left side. If you've also made a
pocket for each Astrolabe, they can have both in their notebooks ready
for Altitude/Azimuth assignments! Click here for my related Blog entry.
Turn your students into a giant compass by forming
a large circle along the outer wall of the classroom. Ask them to point
to North. Assign North to the student standing at the North point. Talk
about how North is designated both 0o and 3600. Repeat for all the main
compass points and NW, SW, SE, SW. Pick different compass points, such
as 90o and ask the students to point to the point. Also give odd
numbers such as 95o and ask them to point to that spot. Thanks to my
dear friend, Amanda George, for this great idea!
While in your "Human Compass" formation, review
altitude, also. Have the students point to the zenith
of the sky, which is 90o azimuth. Point to the nadir
of the sky, which is under your feet, directly opposite to the zenith.
Point to the horizon, which is 0o azimuth. Point to 45o azimuth. Now
combine azimuth and altitude. Ask such questions as, "Where in the sky
is 0o altitude, 90o azimuth?" (on the horizon, due East) "Where in the
sky is 45o altitude, 180o azimuth?" (halfway up, due South) Once you
feel they have a working idea of altitude and azimuth, give them the Astrolabe Lab.
for a nice assignment to be done at home, at night.
Parents are often quite impressed with this assignment! Harder to do if
they don't have compasses. You can solve this by showing them how to
use the compass
rose at home. They need to determine North at home by using a map or
asking a parent. Even the phone book's street map will work! Set the Compass
on the driveway or in the backyard, north toward north,
and site the azimuth by using their own self as the "pointer." Example:
Stand at the southern side of the Compass Rose and face north if the
constellation is north. They will always be on the opposite side of the
Compass Rose, facing their constellation.
3. Another tool Astronomers use is the Spectroscope. Students love knowing HOW Astronomers know so much about planets and galaxies so far from Earth!
The Spectroscope Lab
would urge you to purchase even just a few simple spectroscopes. They
teach such a wonderful concept and can be used when teaching the H-R
Digram, Red-Shift/Blue Shift, and Expansion fo the Universe. They are
show how we know the composition of the atmsopheres of all the planets
and of other stars and galaxies. Click here for a simpler version.
MAKE YOUR OWN SPECTROSCOPE! You can make your own or make it a class project. You need to purchase difraction gratings. Click here. for a similar lab.
PURCHASE A CLASS SET: Arbor Scientific has Spectroscopes for $10.00 each. Buy 10 or more for $9.50 each.
The stars mentioned in the
Constellation Lab are the ones I have my students plot on the H-R
Diagram. Mine is produced by our main textbook, Heath Earth Science. I
chose to have my students plot only 20 of the 40 provided and those 20
are stars in commonplace constellations. The most important concepts to
teach are probably the pattern on the Main Sequence (As temperature
increases, brightness increases.) OR (dim AND cool, bright AND hot) and
the exceptions to that main rule as evidenced by Red Giants and
Supergiants (bright BUT cool) and White Dwarfs (dim BUT hot). You may
want to ask your students to relate the position of a star on the H-R
Diagram to its age and life cycle stage. Click here for a good H-R Diagram Lab from the New York Science Teacher Site.
Having trouble teaching
your students how a star "moves" through the different parts of its
life cycle and how they change position on the H-R Diagram? Tape a
giant H-R Diagram on the floor. Or chalk it out on the parking lot.
Include the X-Y axes, the Main Sequence diagonal, the Red Giants and
Red Supergiants, and the White Dwarfs. Have students label with cards:
dim and bright, hot and cool, and draw arrows to show increasing
temperature and brightness along the axes. Use hockey pucks (or
anything else that won't roll or blow away) to add stars on the
diagram. Have various students walk themselves through the life cycle
of the sun and various other stars. Have them "drop off" the Diagram as
they become Black Dwarves, or Black Holes, relating a star's fate to
its initial mass.
6. The Moon Activities: Get to know our nearest neighbor! Click here for my related Blog entry.
An important objective: to
recognize and explain all eight moon phases AND be able to relate each
moon phase to the relative positions of the sun, moon, and earth. I
usually start with these flashcards. Have the students label them. This
alone is a challenge for most. I put a transparency
up and/or have them refer to their textbooks. Then the FUN starts! We
play the "Put Your Finger On" Game; separate into like phases, arrange
in order as if they are moving around the earth, etc.
Click here for my newly-made
Moon Phases Flashcards. Run off just the first page if you are making
Moon Booklets or playing games. Have each page of the booklet be one
phase, and have the students add a small white paper square to each
page with how they know it's the waning cresecent, for example; less
than half lit, light on the left. (NOTE: See my What Moon Phases Is This? PPT for all the "How You Knows.") I usually put this overhead
up so they can figure it all out on their own. Talk about the
definitions of Waxing and Waning, Crescent and Gibbous, Full and New,
13-15-year olds have trouble with the relative positions of the sun,
moon, and earth. They aren't even sure of the cause of the different
phases! We use a commercial kit of models that has the students
manipulate the earth, sun, and moon. They actually crouch down and look
at the moon from the earth's vantage point to see each phase. The moon
is half-black/half-white so, depending on their vantage point, your
students will actually see the crescent, gibbous, quarter, etc.
your own activity using black/white moon models, yellow sun models, and
blue/black earth models. This works great because you don't have to
have a really dark classroom and a bright light source. The lighted
side of the moon is white and manipulating the three models helps the
students visualize each phase.
teaching moon phases, I usually hand out a different worksheet for
several days in a row. Best way to keep them thinking of the names of
each phase. There are many out there, several on-line. Click here for one from Enchanted Learning.
& Paste Activity
love this one! Have them cut out the phases and paste into the correct
boxes. Label and then answer the questions. The trick is to come at
this concept with several different activities. They can learn this
concept! Click here for the worksheet.
I show this PowerPoint
that uses simple sketches of the moon phases after they have done the
Moon Phases Cut & Paste Activity. I have sometimes had my students
make a booklet using the falshcards. Then show the PPT. They have fun
racing to see who can recognize the phase first. Recently we have been
required to "kick it up a notch" by making our students know the
reasons for the name of each phase, a sort of "How Do You Know?" Click
here to download.
of my most favorite Astronomy labs. I don't get to do this one
very often because of time constraints, but sure wish I could! This
teaches kids what they are looking at when they observe the face on the
Moon. Click here for the Moon Features Lab. Email me for a Moon Features PowerPoint. Click here for my related Blog entry.
7. Some selected Astrophysics Topics:
to introduce several concept. Uses several textbooks so best to make an
overhead and do as notes. The second page is a neat way to
review/introduce Newton's Laws, via Tablecloth Magic Trick, pushing big
and small students in chairs, and balloon races. Remove Teacher Notes
before running off. Click here. Click here for transparency of Newton's Laws. (Want to know the secret to the Tablecloth Trick? Use a tablecloth without a hem! I use plastic dishes, of course!)
challenging worksheet reviewing the concepts of the three laws. They
should draw sketches with arrows of equal or unequal size depending on
the situation. Click here. Click here for an easier version.
that review the
at the high school level. Click
team game. Run off brightly colored game pieces that just say: Newton's
First Law, Newton's Second Law, and Newton's Third Law. Read aloud a
Newton's Law situation. Give each team a few seconds to decide which
Law MOSTLY applies. Then, "Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Show me the
Law!" Great to see students interact and argue about which law is the
best answer. Click here for suggested situations.
of fun! Get together a collection of 9 x 11 cardboard--thicker than
regular push pins, a circle of string, and two push pins per pair of
students. Strong message in this lab about how close to a perfect
circle the planet orbits are, yet still elliptical! Click here for the lab.