A FOUR-POINT CONTENT FRAMEWORK for SPACE SCIENCE COURSES, K-14


by Rick Kang, Public Outreach Coordinator
Friends of Pine Mountain Observatory
June, 1998
http://pmo-sun.uoregon.edu/~pmo/ 541-683-1381 rkang@efn.org

Introduction:


Space Science/Astronomy includes a wide variety of content
topics, ranging from planets to dark matter, quarks to superstrings, history
to biophysics, and everything in between. This paper suggests how an
instructor can organize a comprehensive modern astronomy course based on four
key topic areas. These areas became apparent as I've developed, presented,
and received feedback on a wide variety of astronomy outreach programs for a
wide range of grade levels and audiences over the past six years.

I don't pretend that these ideas encompass anywhere near the
full range of the subject, and I respect that many instructors have their
favorite topic areas of emphasis, many other syllabi, and many other plans and
methods of instruction.

I present my content guide with the primary goal that you
can use the list to build a manageable program that will convey what I feel
are the key concepts of modern astronomy that scientifically literate students
should be familiar with. I also urge you to use observational/inquiry based
methods, as outlined and made available through University of Oregon's
Professor Greg Bothun's Electronic Universe and Java Labs (visit
http://zebu.uoregon.edu) where students can obtain and use real data and/or
accurately simulated data to develop concepts.

This approach of observation, discovery and formulation
of logical conclusions is the basis of science literacy and needs to be
experienced and practiced often. Pretty pictures and collections of "facts"
will not do the job. You need to promote data collection, analysis, and
conclusions as the method to overcome the vast scientific illiteracy problem
that currently plagues our society.

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The Four Point Framework:

A content guide based on digitized resources
that makes LEARNING ASTRONOMY RELEVANT FOR THE STUDENTS and
makes TEACHING ASTRONOMY MANAGEABLE FOR THE INSTRUCTOR:

1. Objects in space are separated by vast distances.
2. There is a hierarchy or structure to the observable Universe.
3. Observers need technologies to examine distant objects.
4. Our local conditions are part of a much larger scale environment.

These points translate as goals such that you and your students will be able to demonstrate observationally that:

1. Stars are many light years apart.
2. Solar Systems are tiny parts of Galaxies.
3. Our eyes cannot see very far into space.
4. Planets have fragile environments.

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PROJECTS to illustrate the four points:


1. VAST DISTANCES:
a. Investigate Photometry - relationship of distance to brightness.
b. Investigate Proper Motion vs. Radial Motion - relationship of
distance to observed motions, appearance of object.
c. Investigate Triangulation, Investigate Red Shift/Hubble Law.
d. Develop the concept of a "Light Year", a large unit of distance.
e. Translate real distances into scale models (see Point 2).

2. HIERARCHY - STRUCTURE:
a. Classify objects by size, temperature, origin, source of
illumination, composition, location and motion relative to other
objects, etc.. Locate images and data on the Web.
b. Create maps and models of various portions of the
observable Universe, to scale, on various scales.
c. Address a futuristic postcard from an imaginary world in
a distant Universe, to your current home.
d. Model the movements of various objects relative to
Earth, investigate why we see what we see in the sky.

3. TECHNOLOGIES TO EXPLORE DEEP SPACE:
(See accompanying sheet that discusses telescope and CCD details.)
a. Observe the night sky with naked eye, binoculars, telescope,
and camera (film and/or CCD). Compare what you can see
using various instruments and technologies. Record observations!
(Visit an Observatory, contact an Observatory like Pine Mountain
to arrange remote imaging, or contact local amateur astronomers.)
b. Perform an observing project: track the moon(s) orbiting a planet,
locate Pluto or an asteroid, monitor a comet, monitor galaxies
for supernovas, monitor variable stars, count stars in a field as
you change exposures and change fields across the sky.
c. Perform image enhancement and image analysis on digital images that
you take or images that you obtain from a site on the Internet.

4. RELATIONSHIP OF OUR LOCAL AND LARGE SCALE ENVIRONMENTS:
(This could be Point 1, as students should be reminded continually of the
influences that objects in space have or can have on daily life on Earth,
therefore, why studying deep space is relevant to students' everyday lives.)
a. Investigate how the Sun and Moon effect the Earth.
b. Investigate Earth's orientation and motions with respect to the Sun,
what local effects result.
c. Investigate how chemical elements are naturally produced.
d. Compare climates on other planets to climates on Earth, reasons for
evolution of climates, potential evolutions of our climate.
e. Investigate potential sources of life on Earth and elsewhere.
f. Investigate nature of natural hazards to life: collisions, radiation,
Solar evolution, potential contact with other life forms.

This site maintained by The Friends of Pine Mountain Observatory.
If you have any comments or questions please send them to:
Amy McGrew, WebWeaver, or to Rick Kang, FOPMO Education/Publicity Chair
Last updated 22 June 1998.
All artwork by Amy McGrew. Not to be re-published in any form without permission.