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Physics First: Astronomy Units

Astronomy (literally, "law of the stars") is the science of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the Earth's atmosphere, such as stars, planets, comets, galaxies, and cosmic background radiation. It describes the physical and chemical properties of celestial objects with calculations of their motions. Astronomical observations provide essential information for the verification of fundamental theories in physics and to explain astronomical phenomena.

  Astronomy Resources For the High School Classroom (6)

Lesson Plans:

Impressive set of modules on astronomy appropriate for the advanced high school level.  Interactive web-based concept questions promote active group discussion.  Each topic is accompanied by animations and/or simulations.  This is a work in progress at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Item Type: Learning Modules
Level: Grades 9-12

Activities:

Explore both the Ptolemaic (geocentric) and Copernican (heliocentric) models of the solar system in this module that features two simulations, comprehensive student guide, pre-test, post-test, and content support for teachers.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Activity
Level: Grades 9-12

In this module, you'll find simulations for introducing terrestrial coordinates (latitude/longitude), celestial equatorial coordinates, and how Earth's seasons are related to its axial tilt. It will help build a foundation for understanding obliquity, the angle between an object's rotational axis and a line perpendicular to its orbital plane. Knowledge of obliquity is crucial for astronomy calculations and Earth-based observation. Includes detailed student guide, assessment materials, and background information.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Activity
Level: Grades 9-12

Here you'll find a rich array of visualization tools for a 3D exploration of our cosmic neighborhood. The website uses actual data and images generated from past and present space missions. Students can zoom, change lighting, "ride-on-board", do scale comparisons, and replay events in real or accelerated time. Adaptable for a range of grade bands and ability levels.

Item Type: Digital Tool
Level: Grades 9-12

References and Collections:

A well-constructed guide to non-technical books, articles, and web sites about black holes. Don't miss the sections on the large black hole at the center of the Milky Way and links to animations that model the black hole phenomenon. All resources are appropriate for high school level.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Grades 8-12

Beautifully organized website offers a wealth of information about the objects in our solar system, recent technology used to explore these worlds, space missions, and stories about the people behind the missions. Browse image galleries, explore multimedia resources, find lesson plans, or download videos and animations. Look under the sections on "Missions" and "Technology" for materials designed for high school learners.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Grades 9-12

  Astronomy Activities (14)

Lesson Plans:

How to measure mass in a weightless environment

This learning module introduces the search for planets outside of our solar system using the radial velocity and transit methods.  Planets around other stars proved very elusive to find until 1995, when astronomers in Geneva detected an exoplanet using the radial velocity (or Doppler) technique. Since that time, hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered in this manner. A second detection technique (the transit method, used in The Kepler Mission) is also explored in this module.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

Great inquiry-based lesson & Flash interactive explores atmospheric conditions on Venus, Earth, & Mars -- using data from real space missions. Students analyze spectral lines to see what gases & liquids are present in each planet. Then they mathematically compare the amounts of CO2.  Comparing CO2 levels for Venus & Earth will help learners see the role of greenhouse gases in warming a planet. But be prepared for a surprise -- Mars has 20 times the atmospheric CO2 as Earth. Why is it SO much colder?

Item Type: Simulation-Based Lesson
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: One Class Period

A collection of standards-based lesson plans for K-12 developed to help teachers integrate astronomy into the physical science classroom.

Item Type: Digital Lesson Collection
Level: Grades K-12

Activities:

Learn about space and the objects in it.

A unique method to gauge and evaluate astronomical distances

Hands-on activity that shows the scope and shape of the magnetosphere

This java applet models the motion of planets in the solar system, demonstrating Kepler's Second Law.

This website is a NASA-sponsored learning center for Grades 1-9.  Included are materials about the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and extra-galactic astronomy.  Materials are divided into two  levels:  K-8 and high school physical science.

A terrific interactive tutorial that integrates activities, graphs, quizzes, and animations to trace a star's life from protostar stage through "old age" and death.  Appropriate for grades 7-8, with teacher guidance.

A great simulation to help students understand that stars are not moving in the night sky......our planet's rotation on its axis just makes it appear so. This sim features Polaris as the focal point for investigating moving reference frames.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 5-12

This learning module introduces the search for planets outside of our solar system using the radial velocity and transit methods.  Planets around other stars proved very elusive to find until 1995, when astronomers in Geneva detected an exoplanet using the radial velocity (or Doppler) technique. Since that time, hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered in this manner. A second detection technique (the transit method, used in The Kepler Mission) is also explored in this module.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

Content Support For Teachers:

Supporting materials for astronomy and physics teachers

Student Tutorials:

  Astronomy: An Historical Perspective (12)

Lesson Plans:

Appreciate the origins of astronomical objects.

Weather in Space? How can that be?

This module lets teachers introduce the solar system within a cross-curricular framework that includes history, physics, cultural anthropology, and math. This module, sponsored by the Adler Planetarium, explores how past cultures observed the heavens. Don't miss the multimedia gallery!

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades 5-9

Activities:

A history and appreciation of the development of calendars

How did we find them and what this discovery meant to understanding the Earth's mechanics.

These simulations explore the universe as envisioned by early thinkers. Explore the Ptolemy's Model (geocentric) and Copernicus' Model (heliocentric). Contains student guide, pretest, post-test, and background info.

References and Collections:

How teachers are facilitating teaching strategies and leading innovation in science teaching

Looking for books and articles on Galileo written at the level of middle/high school? This resource guide will point you to book lists plus some excellent web sites and videos on the legendary scientist.

This gem of a resource lets students explore the background of 32 key women who have overcome prejudice and exclusion to make significant contributions to the field of astronomy. In addition, look for the annotated links to author-recommended web sites on the topic.

Content Support For Teachers:

Using a simulated telescope online

Student Tutorials:

Understanding orbital mechanics for students.

  Astronomy: Special K-12 Collections (8)

Lesson Plans:

More than 20 interactive Java science labs with downloadable simulations.  Half of the simulations are related to Astronomy and half pertain to general topics in physical science.  Each interactive lab is attractive and fun, yet mentally challenging for adolescents. Materials include complete lesson plans which were authored collaboratively by teachers and research scientists.

Item Type: Digital Labs
Level: Grades 6-10

Activities:

NASA's Kepler Mission was launched in 2009 with the focused goal of surveying regions of the Milky Way Galaxy to discover Earth-size planets in the "habitable zone" of a star, where liquid water and possibly life might exist. You'll find classroom activities, interactive resources, simple animations showing how the detection system works, and galleries of photos, videos and 3D images.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

This website, sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is dedicated to keeping the public updated about recent discoveries of extrasolar planets. You'll find information on exploratory missions, technology used to detect extrasolar planets, images and videos, and vignettes about the people involved in discovering other planets. Don't miss the Extreme Planet Makeover and the PlanetQuest Timeline.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Gradres 6-12

Here you'll find a rich array of visualization tools for a 3D exploration of our cosmic neighborhood. The website uses actual data and images generated from past and present space missions. Students can zoom, change lighting, "ride-on-board", do scale comparisons, and replay events in real or accelerated time. Adaptable for a broad range of grade bands and ability levels.

Item Type: Digital Tool
Level: Grades 3-12

References and Collections:

K-12 classroom activities and educational resources on infrared astronomy.  Sponsored by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, find lesson plans for elementary and secondary teachers, games, image sets and videos of infrared and UV phenomena.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Grades K-12

See virtual images of each planet and its moons as seen from Earth, the Sun, or from any other planet in the solar system.  Time parameters may be set from 1990-2025 to enable virtual viewing at certain dates.

Item Type: Digital Tool
Level: Grades 5-12

This comprehensive NASA website, intended for adolescent learners, provides timely news and information about space exploration and space science.  Included are many creative resources, such as "Ask an Astrophysicist", "You Be the Astrophysicist", "Satellite Showcase", and the Cosmic Times newsletter.

Item Type: News Publication
Level: Grades 7-12

NASA's Solar System Exploration website offers a wealth of information about the objects in our solar system, recent technology used to explore these worlds, space missions, and stories about the people behind the missions. Users will find image galleries, multimedia resources for teachers and learners, videos, animations, and other interactive features to explore the planets, comets, asteroids, the history of robotic exploration, and future missions.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: K-12

  Astronomy Resources for the K-8 Classroom (5)

Lesson Plans:

In this middle school lesson plan, students use colored pencils, adding machine tape, and file folders to create their own electromagnetic spectrum and analyze how wavelength and frequency are related.  An online student tutorial on the same subject can be linked below in the Student Tutorial section.

Here are ten standards-aligned lesson plans developed for grades 7-12 on space science and the evolution of the universe.  Some are specifically designed for middle school, including Electromagnetic Spectrum and satellite data analysis.

Activities:

Build your own system of heavenly bodies and watch the gravitational ballet! This orbit simulator lets users set initial position, velocity, and masses for up to 4 planets. It was designed to help students form deeper understanding of how a planet's orbit is affected by its mass, speed, and distance from its sun.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One Class Period

References and Collections:

A comprehensive set of images of all the planets with accompanying video, statistics, and NASA exploration information.  Appropriate for middle school.  The images would be enriching for an upper elementary classroom.

Student Tutorials:

A fun and readable tutorial on the electromagnetic spectrum appropriate for middle school students.  It was also developed by the Imagine the Universe project through NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  Try using this with the lesson plan above:  "What's The Frequency, Roy B. Giv?"