Learning Critical Thinking Through Astronomy, Week 13

I’m posting this on the Monday after the week named in the title.

This week is a slightly short week becuase Friday is a holiday (Veteran’s Day) so the MWF section loses two hours of classroom time.

Because of concerns raised by some students and some by me, I rearranged the groups this week. Some groups consisted of dominant personalities and I wanted to spread some of that around.

We spent this week, once again, ensuring everyone had fluency with the parts of the celestial sphere. More students are beginning to admit they’ve not been spending time on this outside of class and I’m hearing the same questions over and over in class: “How do I change the date on the sphere?” “How do I change the time?” “How many ecliptics are there?” and several others. I don’t know what more I can do to encourage out-of-class participation other than bribery with grades and I don’t want to do that because I think it would spoil my efforts to get students to engage without being bribed. I don’t want to cave in.

Early in the week we again went over formulating one sentence explanations for various celestial phenomena. I kept hoping students would see some common threads in these explanations (e.g. that they almost all have to do with Sun’s changing location along the ecliptic, the ecliptic and celestial equator don’t coincide, etc.). Now, I would expect to be able to ask students to turn these explanations around and use them as evidence that the ecliptic and celestial equation can’t possibly coincide. Think about it! Here are two imaginary great circles on the sky and just by looking at shadows of sticks on sunny days and by looking at constellations on the celestial meridian at midnight we can ascertain that these two “invisible” great circles can’t overlap or coincide (even though they intersect) and we can even measure the angle between them! Getting THAT particular sense of amazement across has proven difficult, almost impossibly so, but there are a few students who really get it.

Late in the week, we did a kinesthetic activity where students paired up (each pair having an Earthling and a Lunatic) and simulated Moon’s phases and found the correlation between phase and time of rise/meridian/set. One student in the evening section knew, and verified, that a full Moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. This same student then articulated the most intelligent question I’ve heard all week: “Why would other phases follow this same pattern?” I quite literally jumped for joy when I heard this question becuase it’s precisely the type of question this little activity is intended to address.

Feedback is welcome.

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