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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

September 7, 2009

I have been thinking a fair amount about connecting kids to something that will interest them long after science class. I know that there are lots of connections but the one that I keep coming back to is Astronomy. This was fostered by the Labor Day tradition of sitting beside a roaring campfire as the folks around asked me what planet that bright star could be. That discussion led to a short tour through some of the constellations and a spectacular moonrise of an almost full moon.

Many of the campfire folks remembered studying about the rotation and revolution movement of the earth around the sun and some interesting misconceptions about the planets and the stars. There is a lot we did not teach them deeply enough for it to “stick”

The consensus is that all of those around the fire would like to know enough so that the night sky is a bit more familiar. Things become familiar when we can name and identify them. This is true of cities in our own state, rocks in our backyard and types of animals that frequent our neighborhood.

So, the teacher in me could not resist the teachable moment. Should you find yourself in the same situation it is easiest to start with either the big or little dipper and work your way around the sky from there. There is a great free sky map available for every month at:

http://www.skymaps.com/

Should you see a bright object in the sky that does not twinkle it is probably a planet.

Both Mercury and Venus are both evening and morning stars. That is because they are nearer to the sun than the earth is, so they never appear far from the sun in the sky. Since Mercury is so faint and only visible for a few weeks a year that bright morning or evening star is probably Venus. There is something intriguing about the moon in autumn. I will be encouraging my students to spend some time away from the TV and watching the greatest show on and off earth.

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