Getting Started in Skywatching (for School Year 2014-2015)
Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
by Robert C. Victor
The 2014-2015 school year has begun, and it will be a great one for astronomy! There will be exciting opportunities to have students observe the sky, keep journals, recognize patterns of change, ask questions, interpret what they see, and develop writing and mathematical skills. Students will learn to observe, describe, model, and predict some patterns of the movement of objects in the sky. For connections to Common Core, examine the NGSS performance expectations ESS1.A and ESS1.B Disciplinary Core Ideas.
There will be two eclipses, a total lunar and a partial solar, in October 2014 and a total lunar eclipse in April 2015. At dusk in late January 2015, the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will gleam at us from opposite sides of the sky. In the five months to follow, these two luminaries will gradually move closer together and attract everyone’s attention as they approach their spectacular conjunction in June, near the end of the school year. On one evening, the two planets will fit together within a single telescope field, and will appear very different from each other.
But don’t wait! Some phenomena can best be seen early in the school year. Effects of the changing season can be observed by marking the tip of the shadow of your schoolyard’s flagpole or other tall object at midday (midway between sunrise and sunset, when the Sun is highest) and checking every few days. Students at home can find their own vantage points with good views of the western or eastern horizon, return to the same sites every few days, and keep records of the locations of sunrise and sunset relative to their local landscape features. September and October are months of rapid changes.
Another manifestation of the revolution of the Earth around the Sun is the seasonal shift of the stars. In September, use our evening mid-twilight chart to locate Arcturus, brightest star in the evening sky, well up in west, Vega, nearly overhead, and Antares, low in SSW to SW. In September 2014, the planets Saturn and Mars are extra points of light in the southwestern sky. Don’t confuse them with Antares! Mars has a close encounter with that similarly colored star before the end of September. All five of these objects are easily observed near the start of the school year. In October, students will notice definite changes.
From November into January, the eastern sky at dusk will host the annual return of a large number of bright seasonal stars, and in mid-April through June they’ll all disappear over the western horizon, providing a rich opportunity to witness seasonal change.
Our monthly articles in California Classroom Science call attention to sky events such as Moon passing by planets and stars, and planets passing each other and stars. In early autumn 2014, follow the Moon during evening twilight Aug. 27-Sept. 9, Sept. 25-Oct. 8, and Oct. 24-Nov. 6, and during morning twilight Sept. 8-22 and Oct. 8-22.
But the Moon can also be followed in the daytime, during school hours. The best time, for the broadest range of dates, is right at the start of the school day. For example, at 8:00 a.m., the Moon can be seen during Sept. 10-20, Oct. 9-20, and Nov. 9-19. On the first morning of each window of dates, the Moon will be nearly full, and close to the western horizon. On the final date of each window, the Moon will be a crescent, still over 30° from the Sun, our arbitrary limit for easy spotting of the crescent Moon in daylight.
If you need to wait until 9:00 a.m. for your lunar observation, the lunar windows will start about a day later, but will still end on the same dates as above. Modeling the Moon’s phases. On different days during these windows, each student can stand in sunlight, and, using his right thumb and forefinger, hold a light-colored ball up to the sky right next to the Moon (taking care that his hand does not cast a shadow on the ball). The lighting on the ball and on the Moon should match! I’ve used even tennis balls with fuzzy surfaces, and have students hold them with the brand labels turned away from them.
Worthwhile telescopic viewing of the Moon can also occur in the daytime. Select mornings when the Moon is close to half full, or Last Quarter phase. Best dates this autumn are Sept. 15 and 16, Oct. 14-16, and Nov. 13-15. Use a single polarizing filter*, thread it onto your low-power eyepiece, rotate the eyepiece in its tube until the blue sky surrounding the Moon appears darkest, and your students will enjoy high-contrast daytime views of the Moon and its craters, especially near the lunar terminator, or day-night boundary. *Available for $40 a pair (use one per telescope), from Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, www.telescope.com
Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these activities with the aid of these four items: two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars and Mercury through Saturn, a table of data for plotting planets on orbit diagrams, and an activity sheet with a set of 15 questions on star and planet visibility in 2014-2016 and beyond.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…