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: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…