Astronomy Education Gets It Right – Interactive is Better

Lecture-Tutorials

I just finished reading an article published in the October 2009 issue of Physics Today by Prather, Rudolph, and Brissenden titled Teaching and
learning astronomy in the 21st century
.

As a high school astronomy teacher I have benefited from the techniques mentioned in the article over the past 2 years as I try to figure out how best to get students involved in their own learning.

Essentially what Prather, Rudolph, and Brissenden have been able to show is that when instructors use the right tools an astronomy course can cover difficult and meaningful material even with non-science majors and produce a measurable gain in student knowledge about the topics in question.

andromeda-lecture-tutorial

Look-Back Time Lecture-Tutorial Question

The lecture-tutorials, concept questions with peer-instruction, along with the general attitude that students should be engaged in the learning process has helped me to have some very fun and productive astronomy classes so far.

I have used the Astronomy Diagnostic Test in class with some success but I haven’t used the newer Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory although I will at the start of the Spring semester. Since I’ve never had any professional development or training with these materials I sometimes struggle to use them effectively, but a motivated instructor can go a long with with just what’s available out there and some willingness to work. Many of these concepts I myself had wrong in some way or another and that has helped me to look for the same sorts of mistakes from my students.

ranking-task-moon-phases

Moon Phases Ranking Tast

think-pair-share-radial-velocity

Radial Velocity Think-Pair-Share Question

Two great resources to get you started:

1) Astronomy 101 by the Center for Astronomy Education has ways to connect with others wanting to add to astronomy education research or to learn from those that have come before. Check out the teaching strategy section for some fantastic ideas.

2) Astronomy Education Review is an open journal of astronomy education that covers college as well as high school level issues.

I can attest to the fact that using these techniques and these tools really help to create an astronomy course that belongs to everyone and encourages active participation from everyone. It can be hard to let go of a full-class lecture but in the end everybody has a better experience if you just trust in the process.

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