Astronomy Education Workshop 2002a

Friday, January 25, 2:00 - 5:30 pm

Ferguson 114, UNL City Campus

These workshops are targeted for college instructors of 100-level astronomy classes and high school instructors who presently teach astronomy or may be interested in developing an astronomy course. They have three goals: 1) to acquaint educators with the new innovative usages of instructional technology in astronomy education, 2) to introduce new developments in the UNL Department of Physics and Astronomy, and 3) to bring together members of the astronomy and physics teaching community to share ideas and identify potential collaborators.

This event is open to local high school and college astronomy and physics instructors who register in advance. You may register by email or by phone at 402-472-3686. Ferguson Hall and the Stadium Drive Parking Garage can be found on the following set of campus maps which allow one to magnify a region by clicking on it.

Rough Workshop Agenda

This presentation will detail progress at incorporating two relatively new approaches to teaching physics in our introductory classes at UNL. Physlets are simple java applets controlled by javascript that allow many processes in physics to be demonstrated in computer animations. They use very simple graphics and try to "get right at the physical concept". Students can make position measurements on the computer screen with the cursor and a running clock can easily be incorporated into a physlet. Animations covering projectile motion, vectors, simple harmonic motion, waves, and electric fields will be shown and these are a small subset of what is possible. Physlets can be included in lecture demonstrations or in homework assignments. We will demonstrate how randomized physlets have been incorporated into web-based homework assignments.

Peer Instruction actively involves students in the teaching process. The entire class is asked a multiple choice question focusing on a key concept and and each student votes for the correct answer. They then are asked to discuss the Concept Question with other students and to vote again. This process makes learning physics much more interactive and enjoyable for the student. It also provides the instructor with invaluable feedback about what the class understands and what they don't. Although peer instruction can be implemented with only a set of colored index cards for each student, we will demonstrate a Personal Response System whereby each student has a numbered mechanical "clicker" and sends their vote to a infrared detector at the front of the class connected to a computer. Thus, statistical reports can quickly be generated showing how the class voted and each student's voting record can be recorded and easily imported into a spreadsheet.

We will conclude with a demonstration of how Physlets can be used in Peer Instruction and a discussion of which aspects of these approaches are appropriate for teaching astronomy.

Though the value of hands-on learning has long been recognized by educators, it is difficult to design laboratories in astronomy classes that present realistic astrophysical techniques to undergraduate students. Unlike most other sciences, astronomy is largely observational, not experimental, and making useful observations involves expensive equipment over time scales incovenient for pedagogy. In recent years, however, astronomy has gone almost completely digital, and the advent of large on-line data bases and fast personal computers has made it possible to realistically simulate the experience of research astrophysics in the laboratory.

Since 1992, Project CLEA (Contemporary Laboratory Experiences in Astronomy) has been developing such computer-based exercises aimed primarily at the introductory astronomy laboratory. These exercises simulate,important techniques of astronomical research using digital data and Windows-based software. Each of the 10 exercises developed to date consists of software, technical guides for teachers, and student manuals for the exercises. CLEA software is used at many institutions in all the United States and over 60 countries world-wide, in a variety of settings from middle school to upperclass astronomy classes. We will describe and demonstrate some of the CLEA materials and talk about our design philosophy. Plans for future development will be presented.

Project CLEA is supported by grants from Gettysburg College and the National Science Foundation.

The UNL Student Observatory will be open for public viewing through the 16-inch reflector on this evening. More information on the facilities can be found on the Student Observatory Home Page.

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