Learning Critical Thinking Through Astronomy, Week 7

The week began with my expectation that students had watched a YouTube clip showing an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s COSMOS series in which Sagan explains Eratosthenes’ work with shadows. Students don’t realize it yet, but this topic is the culmination of all of the previous activities. It’s the reason for the critical thinking activities. It’s the reason for the shadow activities. It’s the reason for everything they’ve done so far in the course, all embodied in Activit0206.

The first class day was spend working on some WebAssign content that provides formative assessment related to the first three shadow activities. I use WebAssign content in this course as as rough indicator of engagement. Two sections show nearly one hundred class participation, but the third section shows only about twenty-two percent participation. I said enough about my problems with motivating students in the last post so I’ll dispense with that here.

One daytime section and the evening section began Activity0206 on the second class day; each of these sections only meets twice each week. The other daytime section had to wait till its third class day to begin (today, actually), but that’s good because that was the only day that was sunny.

For this activity, students compared four models (flat Earth, nearby Sun; flat Earth, faraway Sun; curved Earth, nearby Sun; and curved Earth, faraway Sun) to actual data (most of which is simulated, but it’s still accurate) and eliminate the models that don’t support their observations. We used the whiteboards for flat Earth, yoga balls for curved Earths, and Nerf darts with suction cups for sticks. This activity is supposed to be the most scientific thing students have done up to this point and hopefully they will now see many connections to previous activities that built up the process they’re expected to go through here. Of course, many will still not be able to see all the pieces, but that’s to be expected. Most eventually will.

Part of the activity must be done outside with the best faraway light source we have available. However, the week was cloudy with the exception of today (Friday) so the other two sections has to improvise inside the classroom. That’s okay, and we made do with a “distant” light source in a far corner of the room and the various test Earth’s in the diagonally opposite corner.

It’s interesting that this has historically been one of the more difficult activities, at least according to students. This semester, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some students in one section (the section that seems the least engaged to me) to say they thought this was the best activitity so far becuase it was something they could immediately relate to. That puzzles me a bit, but I’ll take it!

As always questions, comments, and constructive feedback are welcome.

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