Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Astronomy Project

Posted on: June 22, 2008

This year I wanted to include a unit on astronomy in my Physics classes. Rather than teach the material myself, I felt this was worth having the students do as a project. I broke the material into the following areas:

  1. The Earth
  2. The Sun & other stars
  3. Space Travel & Space Ships
  4. The Big Bang & Cosmic Evolution
  5. Inner Planets
  6. Mars
  7. Jupiter
  8. Saturn
  9. Outer Bodies (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud)
  10. Telescopes
  11. The Night Sky
  12. Exosolar Planets & SETI

The order above is the order I wanted the material presented. While that didn’t work out because students were absent or unprepared, I developed the order so that the subject built on previous presentations. I will definitely keep it the order listed for next year.

Animation of Saturn\'s RingsEach group or individual had to do a Powerpoint presentation with at least 20 slides. I then gave them a presentation called “How to do a lousy powerpoint” where I did many things wrong to illustrate what NOT to do. It got a good laugh. I told them I wanted well researched information and lots of visuals, including movie files and simulations. To start them on the research path, I provided this page of links: recommended-astronomy-web-links

I had specific areas I wanted the students to include, so I helped them along by providing a sheet with suggested topics. Here is the word document: astronomy-outline-2

The handout is broken into the topic and suggestions specific to that topic. There isn’t a sheet for SETI because a couple of students asked to add it. They did a great job describing the different methods used to detect exosolar planets. The simulation below is a demonstration of the wobble method used to detect planets outside of our solar system.

Star and planet dancingStudents also had to provide a study guide for taking notes during the presentation and a quiz to be given the next day. I ran into problems with trying to fit two presentations and two quizzes into each class period. In the end, I randomly gave quizzes and they were allowed to use their study guides (as was the plan). I need to do something better here. I may up the requirements to 30 slides, then only have one presentation per class period. That would work out better for the quizzes.

No project of mine would be complete without the rubric: Astronomy rubric

Please add to this project by providing your comments.


5 Responses to "Astronomy Project"

Follow up:
I like the 30 slides better than 20, some of the kids did presentations that went the entire class period. Most were at least 30 minutes long, something they should all be proud of. I will change the quiz requirement for next year. This year and years prior, I had the students make up the quiz. In the future, I will make up the quiz from their presentation. That will insure clarity and fairness instead of the obscure information they tend to ask for.

And I need to upload a new Rubric, I’ve improved the grading a bit from last year.

I am going to be teaching a high school upper class astronomy course next school year for the first time. I really like this project. How long did you give your students to complete this project? Any advice is welcome!!

Thank you

Dawn Gilmore

We have an unreliable laptop cart as our only technology resource. As a result, what should be 5-7 days of research and PowerPoint development turns into more like three weeks of class time.

In the future, they will have to do more research on their own at home, but the presentation development will still be at school. I am also planning on having them present the information to me about 2/3 of the way through so that I can make corrections and focus their presentation on the pertinent topics.

Scott, great idea that I will try next year. Any updates on this since your last post? Thanks in advance.

I’ve been doing this project since 2007, so I’m pretty comfortable with it. I do look at the requirements each year and tweak them according to what’s been happening. For instance, the whole Mars One movement is something I want them to talk about this year.

I do still use 30 slides, I haven’t backed off from that. In fact, 30 is the bare minimum. I give them enough different areas to research that most do a full hour presentation. They all say it is their favorite part of the class. It’s a great way to end their senior year.

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