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Web Sites for College Astronomy Instructors

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by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College & ASP)

Version 3.0; October 2004

© copyright 2004 by Andrew Fraknoi. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any form without written permission from the author is expressly forbidden. Contact the author at: fraknoiandrew {at}

Table of Contents

1. Guides for Instructors, TA's, and Students
2. Collections of Course Syllabi and Descriptions
3. Suggestions for New Teaching Approaches
4. Demonstrations and Activities for the Classroom
5. Introductory Textbook Sites
6. Laboratory and Observing Exercises
7. Applets, Shareware, and Other Web-based Exercises
8. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Astronomy Teaching
9. Organizations that Offer Resources for Instructors
10. Miscellaneous Sites of Interest

This guide is designed to assist instructors who teach introductory astronomy classes for non-science majors. It is not a comprehensive list, but rather highlights a number of sites that experienced teachers around the country have found useful. Suggestions for sites of general interest to add are welcome. Note however, that we do not list subject-specific or instrument-specific sites here, but only those which come in handy for figuring out HOW to teach (rather than WHAT to teach.)

1. Guides for Instructors, TA's, and Students

Astronomy Center
This new web site will feature listings and reviews of sites and on-line materials for astronomy instructors, including applets, labs, image banks, curricula, etc. (A project of the American Astronomical Society.)

Astronomy Education Review
An on-line journal/magazine on astronomy education, with research papers, articles on educational innovation, resource guides, opinion pieces, reviews, and news items. Good place to check for additions to this list.

Conceptual Astronomy & Physics Education Research Team (at the University of Arizona)
This is a leading group in astronomy education and their web pages have information about college teaching workshops, studies, and resources.

Field Tested Learning Assessment Guide
How to evaluate your students besides multiple-choice tests (and how to do those multiple-choice questions better too.) From the Nat'l Inst of Sci Ed group at U. of Wisconsin.

Goals for Astronomy 101
Workshops on the teaching of introductory astronomy were held in 2001 for astronomy department chairs and other leaders at selected major research universities to discuss the goals for "Astro 101" courses. The full report authored by Bruce Partridge and George Greenstein has been published in the Astronomy Education Review, volume 2, Issue 2, 2003.

Hints on How to Succeed in College Classes
Jeff Bennett (U. of Colorado) gives study hints for beginning astronomy students.

JPL Center for Astronomy Education
JPL, in cooperation with the University of Arizona CAPER Team, has begun a web site to serve as an on-line center for community college instructors and others who teach introductory astronomy, with teaching tips and discussion groups.

Review of Astronomy Education Research
Janelle Bailey and Timothy Slater give a nice overview of what we can learn from research on the teaching of astronomy.

Tips for Astronomy TA's
From faculty and students at the U. of Washington astronomy department here are some hints for beginning TA's that can help instructors as well.

Virginia Tech Study Skills Self-Help for Students
A nice summary of things students should be thinking about to succeed in college courses.

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2. Collections of Course Syllabi and Descriptions

College-Level Astronomy Courses
Reggie Hudson (Eckerd Coll.) has compiled web links to over 100 astronomy courses around the country whose instructors have posted a syllabus and other course information on the Web.

World Lecture Hall: Astronomy
An older, shorter listing of web-based astronomy courses.

Learning History of Physics
A short collection for history of science courses.

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3. Suggestions for New Teaching Approaches

Collaborative Learning Page
The National Institute for Science Education at the U. of Wisconsin has a useful introduction to the techniques, resources, and practical tricks of small collaborative learning groups.

Peer Instruction
Harvard’s Paul Green introduces the idea of students teaching each other, gives resources, and printable flash cards.

Role-Playing Exercises for Teaching Astronomy & Physics
Paul Francis & Aidan Byrne of the Australian National U. suggest collaborative group activity where students play roles in a scientific team.

Weekly Challenge in Introductory Astronomy
Doug Duncan discusses how to use a weekly challenge in large lecture classes to get out of lecture mode.

The Astronomy Diagnostic Test
A multiple-choice exam that tests student astronomy knowledge and pre-conceptions before an introductory course. You can print out the test here and add your scores to the national database.

The Lunar Phases Concept Inventory
Developed by Rebecca Lindell, this multiple-choice test allows you to assess how well your students understand lunar phases.

Note: New teaching approaches are often discussed in the articles in Astronomy Education Review (see section 1.)

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4. Demonstrations and Activities for the Classroom

Activities Clearinghouse from the University of Washington Astronomy Department
Solar system walk, edible comets, Kirchoff's Laws with tennis balls, and more.

In-class Activities at Michigan State University
Beth Hufnagel & Bob Stein's series of interesting collaborative group activities for large lecture classes. Some require images not yet on the site, but most can be seen and used in their entirety.

Physics Demonstrations on Line
Keith Warren's (N. Carolina State) collection of sites with demonstrations for physics classes, with some astronomy. See his 7500-entry bibliography of written demonstrations on the same site.

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5. Introductory Textbook Sites

Please note: Almost all textbooks now come in various versions, including shorter editions devoted either to the solar system or to the stars, or simplified editions covering most of astronomy. In the list below we give only the title of the main text; in general you can find the other versions at the same web site. While some parts of these sites are restricted to those who adopt the text, many are open to all users and contain useful teaching aids.

Arny: Explorations: An Introduction to Astronomy

Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, Voit: The Cosmic Perspective

Bennett, Shostak, Jakosky: Life in the Universe

Chaisson, McMillan: Astronomy Today

Comins, Kaufmann: Discovering the Universe

Fix: Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier

Fraknoi, Morrison, Wolff: Voyages Through the Universe

Freedman, Kaufmann: Universe

Goldsmith, Owen: The Search for Life in the Universe

Hartmann, Impey: Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey

Hester, Burstein, Blumenthal, Greely, Smith, Voss, Wegner: 21st Century Astronomy

Impey, Hartmann: Universe Revealed

Kaler: Astronomy: A Brief Edition

Kuhn, Koupelis: In Quest of the Universe

Morrison, Owen: The Planetary System

Pasachoff: Astronomy: From the Earth to the Universe
(Also see for additional materials.)

Pasachoff, Filippenko: The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millenium
(Also see for additional materials.)

Seeds: Foundations of Astronomy

Shawl, Ashman, and Hufnagel: Discovering Astronomy 5th edition

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6. Laboratory and Observing Exercises

Active Astronomy
Tim Slater's interesting curriculum of 21 hands-on activities, many of which take interesting approaches. Note, however, that some are missing crucial elements, like charts or images, in the web version.

Astronomy On-Line: The Experiments Shop
In 1996, ESO astronomers organized a series of astronomy and observing exercises at many levels. They vary widely in approach and style; but you can browse and find some gems.

Binary Stars
Suite of computer-based activities on binary star astronomy, by Claud Lacy of the U. of Arkansas.

CLEA Software Overview
Larry Marschall's Contemporary Lab Experiences in Astronomy project has produced some terrific and sophisticated computer-based lab exercises, which can be explored and downloaded.

Determining the Extragalactic Distance Scale
Diane Dutkevich of Northwestern has put a sophisticated series of activities on the web that begin with a Cepheid hunt in M100 and finish with estimating the Hubble time.

Introductory Astronomy Galactic Laboratory
Esther Zirbel at Tufts University has provided 17 lab exercises with pdf files and notes for the instructor. Includes topics from angles to the Hubble Deep Field.

Lab Archive of the University of Washington Astronomy Dept.
A collection of labs and exercises by U. of Washington faculty and grad students, including Bruce Balick's clever "Suntanning" lab and a number of good exercises on the distance scale.

Villanova University Astronomy Experiments
This is a series of lab experiments using Distant Suns and Dance of the Planets software, developed by Frank Maloney & David Steelman, retrievable in WordPerfect 5.1 format.

Subject Index of Astronomy Activities (K-12) on the Web
A listing of some web-based K-12 astronomy activities; many can be adapted to college labs or assignments. Organized by topic, with capsule reviews and recommended grade levels for each.

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