Astronomy: Day 1!

Astronomy VAMPY Class

Hello! My name is Amar Patel, and I am the teaching assistant for Astronomy this year (my third year). I am very excited to get to know all the students as is the course instructor, Catherine Poteet. We hope this course will be a great opportunity for the students to grow in their ability to think abstractly, read critically, and discover the night sky. Our biggest philosophy for class is that lecture time is reduced and students are working collaboratively with content oriented activities to facilitate the learning process.

The first day of class was an extremely fun, community-building day. One of our major goals is to build a strong, positive learning community of astronomers. As class began, the students discussed some basic expectations of the course. They came up with the following expectations:

1) Be respectful to all students and instructors at all times.
2) Be on time for class and study hall.
3) Be prepared with all materials.
4) Maintain high expectations for yourself and the class.

Afterwards, the students were paired based on their birthdays. They then interviewed their partners and created a presentation about them. This presentation required all class members to speak and prepare a visual element to present to the class (such as a drawing, PowerPoint, or Prezi). We staggered these presentations throughout the day and will continue until finished.

Astronomy VAMPY ClassLater on in day one, students delved into learning terms that will allow them to describe the night sky. This is important so that when content vocabulary is used to find an item in the sky, each student will know where it is. Students were also given a map of the night sky and a planisphere (see picture). The planishpere is a map of the sky that is adjustable for time and date.

The next activity for the day was covering constellations. Instead of lecturing to the students about constellations, we had each student choose his or her favorite constellation from the planisphere. The students did some research on the mythology of their constellation and created a drawing of it.

Astronomy VAMPY ClassDuring study hall, we finished the constellation project, and students were given a book: The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. This book is a collection of short stories that convey deeper meaning than is presented on a superficial level. We hope to use these stories as a starting point for critical analysis discussions. Students were asked to read “The Dragon in My Garage.”

As you can see, the class is full of fun activities and opportunities to work in groups, practice astronomy, and hone presentation skills. Please leave any comments you have!