The Universe in the Classroom

Using Multicultural Dimensions to Teach Astronomy

Nalini Chandra & John Percy, University of Toronto

Activity 7: Observing the Sky for Different Purposes

Purpose: To investigate how different cultures have engaged in astronomical observations for both practical and interpretive purposes.


Resource materials that provide descriptions of astronomy as practiced in various cultures such as the: Chinese, Mayans, Muslims, East Indians, Pacific Islanders, Maori, Aboriginal Australians, Natives of North America, including the Inuit.


  1. Have students research astronomy as it is and was practiced by one of the groups in the list provided.
  2. Have students study how astronomical observations served the people of the group they are investigating.
  3. As an extension, students may investigate the people who are observing the sky in our society today and outline the purposes they have for observing the sky? How are the observations being made today similar to those made in other cultures, how are they different?

Some works to refer to when using multicultural astronomy in your classroom:

Hoskin, M. (1997). The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Krupp, E. C. (1991). Beyond the Blue Horizon. Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets. New York: Oxford University Press

Krupp, E. C. (1987). Echoes of the Ancient Skies. The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations. New York: Oxford University Press.

MacDonald, J. (1998). The Arctic Sky. Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore and Legend. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum

About the Authors

Nalini Chandra is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto in the Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning at OISE/UT. Her research interests include: (1) understanding the cognitive processes involved in conceptual change in science education; (2) the role of technology and discourse in science education and (3) using multicultural and issues-based approaches to introduce students to the nature of science. She is also an experienced science teacher with four years of experience at the middle-school level.

Nalini Chandra
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning
OISE-University of Toronto
252 Bloor St. West, 11th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6
Telephone: 416-923-6641 X2445

John Percy, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Toronto, is a Past President of the ASP, and is active in astronomy education at all levels. He recently edited "Amateur-Professional Partnerships in Astronomy" for the ASP Conference Series. E-mail:

ASP Multicultural Astronomy Resources

Here are some products from the ASP to help you find your way around the night sky. To place an order go to our web site:

AT 117 Native American Star Tales For all ages. Three audiocassettes, appx. 45 mins. each CANNOT be purchased individually. Titles: The Feather Moon, Tales of the Sun & Moon, and The Star Husband, Native American sky lore related by storyteller Lynn Moroney with music in background. Set of 3 for $32.95.

KT 101 Cycles, set of 10 booklets
Adults and older children will love this friendly pocket-sized guide! Restore a natural awareness of the cycles of our planet, lost today by modern man's dependence on clocks and calendars. Engaging illustrations graphically reveal the motion of the Sun and stars, phases of the Moon, and the reasons for the seasons. Remedy common scientific misconceptions with these delightful, enlightening cartoons. For ages 10 and up (1995, paper, 32 pgs.) $37.95

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