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Promoting outreach to students and educators...

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Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Promoting outreach to students and educators...

Welcome!

This forum is all about supporting AAVSO members reaching out to and mentoring students and educators who want to do real astronomy. We want to present variable star science as a great way to learn and teach fundamental stellar physics with real data and the opportunity to genuinely contribute to the advancement of the same. Not only is mentoring students and educators fun, but it can set a young person's direction for life - creating the next generation of astronomers one young person at a time!

If this is what you do, would like to do better or what you would like to START to do, then this forum has you in mind.

  • Do you need help finding suitable variable star projects for student/educator projects?
  • Do you have a success story to share?
  • What worked for you and what didn't?
  • Help lighten the load: share, adapt and extend materials.

Let's encourage one another, help where we can and set students and teachers up for the sort of success that makes lifetime astronomers!

- Carl Knight.

dedricksond
Variable Stars in Education

Hello,

I’m very much interested in this topic and would like to participate in it’s development. I will reply soon with a more detailed reply with an explanation of my situation, capabilities, and possibilities.

Duane Dedrickson

cpmalo87
cpmalo87's picture
looking for projects

 

Count me in.  I've already involved a few of my students in some 'light'  visual observing.  I'd like to do more, especially now that my college in the process of purchasing some nice equipment under a STEM grant.  Let's collaborate.

Chris Maloney

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Hi Chris, Thanks for taking

Hi Chris,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. There is an article detailing my efforts (limited as yet) in the upcoming October newletter... so forgive me for not saying more until after that is available.

What equipment is being purchased? And what is being taught that we can tailor projects towards?

Cheers!

- Carl.

cpmalo87
cpmalo87's picture
equipment

 

What equipment is being purchased? And what is being taught that we can tailor projects towards?

We already have an inflatable 6m diameter planetarium from digitalis education.  I've presented a few times already to various groups.  Students will be helping me set up, and eventually write and present shows.  It would be neat to have full dome content related to variable stars.

Some time this semester our new LX-850 with 14 inch OTA will arrive.  We will also have an SBIG camera with 8 position filter wheel to install.  It will need a place to live on campus, so I am investigating options for rolltop roof type configurations.  Current students and work-study students will hopefully be helping us to install the equipment.  Hopefully we'll achieve first light by the end of January; perhaps before Christmas.

Currently I am teaching physical science and math.  I also teach general physics, technical physics and intro to astronomy.  The latter has made only two or three times.  I am hoping that the planetarium will generate interest.

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
More information...

Hi Chris,

Thank you for that information. I presume you will be purchasing Johnson/Cousins or Sloan photometric filters?

If you think outside the box a little you can use astronomy in more than just the astronomy paper. For example, why teach ionisation and recombination just using a text book or in lab example, why not do it using a Cepheid light curve? The onset of He ionisation and the heat trap, then the effect of recombination. Examine the cause of the asymetery in the light curve especially comparing the slope of the rise to maxium to the descent to minimum. This could be pitched to a suitable level with some work.

With more information we could probably contrive more ways to use variable star science to teach fundamental physics - and what a great teaser for then doing astronomy! Create the interest in the students' everyday physics and then get them into astronomy!

Feel free to contact me directly: sleeplessatknight@gmail.com

- Carl.

cpmalo87
cpmalo87's picture
Astronomy to motivate physics

Hi Carl,

We have already received a set of UVBRI filters from Astrodon which conform to the Johnson/Cousins system plus an OIII and Ha filter.

Actually I do things in the reverse of the order you suggest.  I teach a short unit on astronomy for the beginning of my physical science course.  Your suggestion in the second paragraph might work for my LSAMPS student researchers.  So you've taught the kappa mechanism to your classes?  Which ones and what levels?  I assume your suggestion is for high school physics at least.  I occasionally get to teach general (trig-based) or technical (calc-based) physics.  I also teach alot of math.

I'll email you for more details.

Chris

BHU
project: visual double stars

Hi, Chris:

   I've been involved off-and-on with helping high school students do projects to measure visual double stars (separatoin and position angle):  they take CCD images at my observatory, do the image reduction, determine the image scale factor and orientation, and report their results.  It turns out to be a bit more complicated than it sounds, but it has great learning outcomes.  The kids are intrigued by the idea of helping to determine the (possible) orbit of the pair; they get to think about Kepler's laws and 3-D projections of elliptical motion; they need to do useful algebra to determine the image scale and orientation; and they get a taste of statistics (averages, std deviation, standard error of mean, and the phenomenon of "outliers") in order to do the data analysis.  Plus, if they publish their report in JDSO, then their results are added to the Washington Double Star catalog, so that they have a permanent contribution to the study of "their" double star.

   Last year, a similar project (not one of my students) got a prize at the County science fair.

Bob Buchheim

KRS
KRS's picture
Outreach

 

Hi,

I have been involved in our outreach for many years. I would like to hear from others who are interested. I have several presentations that I would be happy to make available to you.  Let me know topics and I will get back to you.

Roger

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Outreach

Hi Roger,

That is great to hear. Thanks for your willingness to give others a leg up in their own efforts.

- Carl.

 

dedricksond
promoting outreach

Hi,

  I’m interested in developing a presentation module on variable stars for an astronomy course at a community college. This would probably be a 2 hour session. My current idea is to give an overview of variable stars followed by a little deeper look at cataclysmic variables. I would like to finish with considering what can be done that is scientifically useful by anyone with modest means and equipment. This outline may change as I get further into the project. 

  I would appreciate comments, suggestions, resources, or any kind of help I can get.

 People can reach me directly at dedricksond@lanecc.edu

Duane

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
CV projects...

Hi Duane,

Great to hear about your proposed variable star module.

CVs are indeed fascinating. I believe Stella has just recently returned from a CV conference among other things in Europe. There will be people there who are in need of good data that she knows of for sure.

Moving on, my questions are:

  • What do you mean by modest equipment?
  • Are you hoping to do some photometry yourself with students?
  • If so, can others assist by taking photometry for you?

Roger (KRS) has very kindly offered materials. You may find that you can adapt and extend any that are useful.

I'll also make contact via email to the address you shared and see what if there is anything further I can do to assist.

- Carl Knight.

 

KRS
KRS's picture
Presentations

Hi all,

It looks like we have considerable interest in presentations for groups.  Please contact me at rskolman@yahoo.com and we can discuss how I can modify the presentations I have (all PowerPoint) to your needs. We can work together in terms of audience, level, and subject.

Best regards,

Roger

mau
mau's picture
want to do research with students

Hi All,

I'm near Detroit, MI and have several high school students who are looking for astronomy research projects that involve working with authentic data and doing "real science" as much as possible, as opposed to a cookbook lab.  I think working with variable stars would be a great area but I just don't know where to point them or how to find a topic that is both suitable and tractable. I would love it if someone could give me specific help now or soon, since before we get too much farther into the school year. I would welcome a mentor if there are any in the area.

Ardis Herrold
MAU

 

BHU
project: eclipsing binary time-of-minimum light

Hi, Ardis:

   The kids I've worked with seem to enjoy the idea of taking their own data (rather than working with data that someone else gathered); plus, if they take their own data then they are complying with the (California) Science Fair rules.  A telescope and CCD brings a broad array of variable star photometry projects into range, but don't overlook the capabilities of the modern consumer-grade DSLR.

   For example, a DSLR with its standard "kit" lens (preferably on a polar-aligned tracking mount of some sort) can do excellent photometry of Algol's eclipses.  Timing of the eclipse's minimum light is real science (since the eclipse period drifts gradually), and timings can be reported either through AAVSO's EB program or directly to IBVS to become part of the permanent science archive.

 Bob Buchheim

mau
mau's picture
Algol project

Bob,

Thanks for the idea. I actually have an observatory in AZ outfitted with a CCD suitable for Vstar work- but the problem is that it's not really convenient for students!  I agree that I would rather have the student collect his or her own data, rather than mining a database. 

However, I was thinking that if all the data necessary could be collected within a few nights, it might be viable that someone could visit for a few days (say over winter break) and actually do their own observations.  I was thinking maybe if there are extremely short period variables (say, of a few hours) that need to be studied, that might be a possibility. But I don't know how to find suitable candidates, if they exist.

Ardis

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
Reply to Ardis

There are a number of very short period variables that will allow a good light curve in a single evening.  I know some of the RR Lyrae stars would fit the bill, and AAVSO puts out an annual list of these stars, their mag ranges, periods, and their expected peaks so you can time your sessions.

Target selection of any type of variable will depend a lot on the magnitude limits you can live with.  The larger the telescope, the more potential targets you can study.

Brad Vietje, VBPA

Newbury, VT

 

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Going short...

Hi Brad,

That is an excellent suggestion, and if like me you live in the roaring 40s, the wind alone necessiates an observing program based around going short or going long. I operate a roll off roof observatory - a dome was beyond my funds when I built. Cloud and wind mean I do a combination of short period targets for which an entire light curve can be obtained in a night, or I do SRCs and their kin where a single observation each week is sufficient.

The former suit work with students more than the latter. My one example (UU Muscae with Tessa Hiscox - see the latest AAVSO newsletter) was actually quite difficult with an approx 11.6 day period and we had difficulty finding enough consecutive clear nights for observations.

Cheers again Brad.

- Carl.

 

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
New Original Student Data

I will quickly agree with Bob B., and even go a step further.  We've seen students time and again that would prefer to stay up late and run the controls to get their data, as opposed to downloading data collected for them via robotic observations.  This is certainly true of "pretty picture" astrophotography, though I expect it would pretty quickly fall apart with a 200-image time series over an 8-hour night, but students do prefer to get their own data, if possible.

For those learning about research techniques, they should also see or experience the process of taking and applying calibration images, too.  Even if these frames are gathered robotically (oh, how I wish mine were!), or provided by a telescope operator behind the scenes (me), even a video showing the process would be a good learning tool.

Clear skies,

Brad Vietje

Newbury, VT

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Students learning astronomy like they learn chemistry...

Cheers Brad,

Its early days in NZ trying to get astronomy taught more hands on. So far one thing that has become apparent is that its not just young people that want to experience obtaining their own data but teachers. In a meeting with High School teachers I had recently the majority of their questions were around what data could be obtained so that instead of, for example, teaching about black holes from a dry text, they might do so from a light curve. BL Lac object, AGNs, light curves that the teachers and students might obtain for themselves.

I don't think we necessarily want to become teachers ourselves, and perhaps I had better qualify that by saying that I don't want to necessarily, but we can help get some of those dry topics out of the text books, to the telescope, to light curves and analysis of data students took for themselves.

- Carl.

 

BHU
exotic objects

Hi, Carl:

  At the Mount Wilson Observatory summer school (California USA), each student selects a project or target that they are interested in, and there is indeed quite a bit of curiosity about exotic objects.  Almost any "galaxy" project (other than color imaging) has turned out to be too difficult, too faint, etc.  However, a couple of years ago one of the kids was fascinated by black holes, so I guided him through doing the lightcurve of Cygnus X-1 (black hole in orbit with a more-or-less-ordinary star).  The gravitational tide of the black hole distorts the shape of the star, creating a very obvious lightcurve at the system orbital period of about 5.6 days.  (Alas, probably too far north for you to see from New Zealand).  The result was a really educational discussion of the visible effects of the otherwise "invisible" black hole, the effect of gravitational tides, roche lobes, etc.and a rudimentary model of the system (using Binary Maker).

   Maybe there's a similar object in the southern sky?

Bob B.

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Southern black hole with companion...

Hi Bob,

I'm hopeful as a light curve like that of Cygnus X-1 would be facinating just for the exotic nature of the objects involved let alone anything else!

- Carl.

 

adastragrl
finding targets

I run the campus observatory at UMD. Three years ago, I had to restructure one of my classes and I turned it into a hands-on observational research class. After training on the telescopes and cameras, the students are split into teams. They have their choice of a number of photometric projects, including variable stars. The most difficult part is finding suitable target stars.

Elizabeth Warner

tcalderw
tcalderw's picture
Yester-Tech

Pine Mountain Observatory has a yearly astronomy workshop for high school students, and this year I led one of the activities.  We used SSP single-channel photometers in an experiment in simultaneous photometry (JAAVSO paper in progress).

One of the things I like about the SSP is that it is a "hands-on" device.  The students actually operate the instrument, as opposed to CCD systems where the students operate a computer.  The SSP is fundamentally simpler to understand and use, and I think it makes a great teaching tool (I even had the kids hand-reduce some of their data).

No, single-channel photometers are not as sexy as CCD cameras, but I think every CCD photometrist would do well to try single-channel first, to get insight into processes that are "behind the curtain" in the CCD world. 

Tom

 

dedricksond
Pine Mountain

Tom,

Are you refering to Pine Mountain Observatory in Oregon? I live in Springfield and work at LCC.

Duane

 

 

MJB
MJB's picture
finding targets

Project ideas:

1. Our club has a small University with an astronomy program nearby.  The professor say he can provide projects for our program.  Good thing here is they can expect it to be published. Others might find such a partner.  

2. Alert projects, ditto on the publishing, but timing could be an issue - though seems to be a fairly steady stream of late.

3. Perhaps AAVSO could set up a pool of suspected variables to be followed, analyzed with vstar and if warranted “published” via the VSX; a process which itself is instructional.  I can think of two sources for these.  One, would require data mining, from the various variable star surveys, for candidates.    Or, perhaps mining  could be a complementary parallel program for the schools, particularly those without instrument access? (Query, any potential for grant funds to pay for a position at AAVSO to manage a target program, if the purpose was to feed school projects?) I confess, I am not sufficiently familiar with the mechanics of minning to judge the feasibility of schools doing that.  Another source for suspected variables, observers who find “comps” that seem to be misbehaving, could turn them in for review.  I have documented several variables that way and am following two more now.  There are others, but I can’t go running after everyone, I often just choose another comp and go on.  

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
Promoting Outreach

Thank you Carl for starting this.

I do a lot of general Astronomy outreach at a small observatory in northern Vermont (www.nkaf.org), so this topic is of great interest to me.  I'm a bit under the weather, and in the midst of a CHOICE class right now, so I'm a bit busy, but I would like to follow the conversation.

I usually work with high school students doing independent study, or an entire class getting their first experiences with astro-imaging, H-a solar viewing, etc...  Some of these projects involve monitoring variable stars.  I've just started working with a college junior on an independent research project involving a few CV's and getting spectra of Wolf-Rayet stars.

I think it would be wonderful to share project ideas and try these out -- either with or without students to start -- to build our own comfort levels and work out how we would teach or share these projects, and exchange ideas, challenges, solutions to common problems, etc...

A class of very short-period variables are the RR Lyrae systems, some of which have periods as short as 4-6 hours, and  can rise by 1-3 magnitudes in just an hour or two.  I've had some fun with these, and want to share these with students.  AAVSO publishes an anual listing of these with their rise times, etc...  I'm hoping to learn of some other interesting short-period systems that can hold student interest and perhaps help lure them in for taking on a longer-term project in the future.

Clear skies,

Brad Vietje

Newbury, VT

dedricksond
variable Star Education

Hi,

After some interruptions, finally getting back to thinking about my outreach presentation and another project.

I’ve been tentatively been given the O.K. by the senior instructor to do a presentation about variable stars during the winter term stellar astronomy class at Lane Community College. At this point no time limit has been discussed. I’m going to assume that it will be one 2 hour class period.

My thoughts are split between two options. The first being an over view of variables in general, followed by contributions to be made by interested amateurs. The second would be to quickly get to a specific class of variables (CVs) then follow with the same type of end discussion as the first option.

The last part of the presentation would cover visual observations, the possibility of CCD photometry (which I have only very basic knowledge), and light curve analysis. I would include reference to some papers done by undergraduates and high school students as examples of data analysis.

I would like any advice that anyone has to offer or resources.

The other task that I was given by the senior physics instructor is to make a cost estimate for an undergraduate astronomy research lab. Since my interest and knowledge mostly lie in variable stars I was given permission to initially quote what is needed for photometry and data analysis of variables. The images would be obtained elsewhere. I will most likely add the cost of iTelescope or Sierra Stars subscriptions or a small number of student AAVSO memberships to the quote. Since we have a couple of 8” SCT’s I may also add the cost of a good mount, small CCD, and filters so that the students can obtain their own images when weather permits.

Much of the cost would include computer stations, software, and reference materials.  Software is one area where I would appreciate some advice. I am familiar with VSTAR and know of  VPHOT, but unless I can get membership for the students, I’ll quote for other software.  What imaging and photometry software are best?

Again, any comments, suggestions, or advice is much needed.

Duane Dedrickson  dedricksond@lanecc.edu

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Teaching in a community college environment...

Hi Duane,

Teaching is not my area of expertese by any stretch of the imagination. My day job is software engineering.

Very quickly, your first option, "overview of variables in general" with contributions from "interested amateurs" has variety and "divide and conqueor" in its favour. The second option of "CVs" should certainly be able to draw upon the expertese of observers specialising in them of which we have plenty but may be going too deep too quick. I am willing to be corrected on that.

I can help with some materials if you go the general route and additionally cover SRCs like Betelgeuse. From my point of view attribution would be sufficient. You would be very welcome to embrace, extend and adapt the materials. I can't really help on CVs as I don't have anything prepared to the same depth.

I won't comment on the undergrad research lab. I hope others will have recommendations there.

Software of choice will come down to price in all likelihood. You'll probably get a variety of opinions. I use MPO Canopus and MPO Connections and they serve me well. I suspect the learning curve might be too steep for your environment.

Perhaps others reading this can chime in and make a recommendation?

- Carl.

 

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
Teachers ? Reply to Carl

You raise a good point.  Some people on this list may have extensive teaching experience, but if you are offering your experience as an amateur or professional astronomer/photometrist to assist area teachers and their students, you should not be expected to know all about teaching, as well.  You can be the astronomy expert, and the classroom teacher can be the educational expert (we hope).  It would be best to have a number of meetings with the professional teachers involved, so everyone is on board with the process, and the software, time and learning curves involved.

I've really enjoyed working with hogh school groups, and most middle school groups, but I find that Elementary level students just don't have enough science & math behind them to feel successful with variable stars, unless they're going out and estimating naked-eye variables like Mira or Algol.  They DO really enjoy taking photos of bright nebulae, but the image processing can be a bit involved for this age group.

This fall I'm workig with a highly motivated college student, and he's been learning all about image acquisition, calibration frames, analysis with MaxIm DL and VPhot, and is willing to go out and research targets, analysis, theories about how the target systems might work, etc...  a real pleasure to have someone hungry for more information.

Brad Vietje, VBPA

tcalderw
tcalderw's picture
Laboratory Cost

Duane:

An important consideration in a proposal for an astronomy laboratory is the manpower required to keep all the equipment and software working.  It is very easy for an observatory to succumb to entropy if no allowance is made for maintenance.

Tom

 

WBY
WBY's picture
Entropy and a Different Approach to Astronomy in Education

Entropy

I am a member of the Central Texas Astronomical Society that has a substantial observatory near Waco that is dedicated to research and education. Tom has raised a really important point. The man hours and money required to keep this observatory operating correctly I substantial. I actually think having a support group with the skill set and dedication needed to keep things operating is a much more difficult than raising money for required equipment and software replacements and upgrades. This is perhaps a more ambitious undertaking  with a 24" RC capable of remote operation over the internet. The observatory is also a prolific contributor to the WET. However, the software and IT and communications complexity required for an installation that is really useful for educational purposes is independent of the size of  the telescope. It increases almost exponentially with the amount of automation and to be useful in a wide range of applications associated with secondary schools, community colleges 4-year colleges and universities, a high level of automation is required. It is difficult to get people to travel to areasonably dark sky site, even when the site is only an hour or less from a small city like Waco, Texas. Also don't fail to consider insurance issues associatedwith on-site operation by people who are not members of your club. 

A Different Approach to Astronomy Education

I have mentored students each year for the past 10 with ISEF projects and have tried to assist high schools with astronomy topics for the Science Olympiad. In Texas, middle schools get accreditation credit for student participation in the ISEF. Therefore, middle schools are receptive to assistance. High schools do not get accreditation points for ISEF participation. Therefore, there is little or no school interest or support in many (certainly not all) cases. We have found trying to assist in preparation for Science Olympiad topics dealing with variable stars and astronomy to be a frustrating and non-productive experience. The normal request for assistance is a belated call from a school asking our club to make someone available "after school for two hours next Wednesday" to "teach the team about variable stars" (or  astronomy as the case may be). There is no thought, no preparation, and no direction as to the topics that need to be covered by the team advisor resulting in a completely fruitless waste of time. 

So I am trying a different approach that Texas Parks and Wildlife and my wife's local chapter of Texas Master Naturalists has used successfully with middle schools in our area. Several area schools repeatedly had low student scores in earth science topics dealing with classification and habitat. Our local state park interpreter together with members of the Master Naturalists designed a one day, highly-structured field trip to provide hands, on observations and exercises with workbooks that had to be filled out during the day. The different exercises are structured to the school curriculum and directly address the problem topics.  It has been a huge success. Scores increased dramatically and the program has been part of the school curriculum for almost 10 years now. 

The key was that the volunteers were helping the schools solve a problem that was hurting their ranking by the state department of education. So what can we do to help the schools boost student scores in problem areas? The first thing is to get someone's attention in the school with responsibility for improving the scores that there is a FREE resource willing to work with them to achieve their goals. Astronomy is not even part of high school curricula in most schools in my part of Texas. However, I have learned that one of the big problem areas is in graphing. Students learn techniques but have trouble applying them. Creating graphs from data and analyzing them to extract information is a large part of what we do. We are in a prime position to construct real world exercises with real world data to give students the opportunity to apply graphic techniques to gain real understanding rather than "education by rote." Pre-calc is full of opportunities for us to help. You might not believe (or, unfortunately, perhaps you will) the number of high school juniors and seniors in college prep who cannot supply a cogent answer to the question "what is an angle" and have never heard of the small angle formula, when and why it works. Similarly there are myriad opportunities to support AP Physics or AP statistics courses in schools that offer them. 

The approach based on, "we want to do something to get kids interested in astronomy." meets with little success with schools. The response you get is typically: "That's nice. Have fun with that, but don't expect support or participation from us. We have enough to do teaching our required curriculum." An approach that seems more likely to be successful is one based on helping the school solve teaching and learning problems they are experiencing with their curriculum. In Texas, It appears to me that high school math is the most promising area for us to render assistance and maybe, just maybe, exposure to exercises based on analysis we actually do in astronomy will get students more interested in astronomy as well as more proficient in math and more able to apply the math they learn. 

Have any of you tried this approach? If so what results have you had? How did you make contact with the "right" person in the school system? What were your first steps to get the ball rolling and what did you end providing to assist the school?

Please don't think I am arguing against our normal outreach activities with star parties, etc. I am not. It may only spark sustained interest in one out of a hundred that look through the eyepiece, but that is one more person who becomes interested in astronomy, or science  and the scientific method in general. Exposure is a necessary step toward developing interest.

Brad Walter, WBY

stellakafka
stellakafka's picture
Showcasing science

Hello Brad,

Thank you for your post. Changing people's perceptions about astronomy (and variable stars) can be a real challenge. The school system may be inflexible (especially when it comes to its curriculum), but I want to believe that there are ways to convince people that astronomy can be used as a learning tool for students at all stages of their education. You brought up an excellent point: students building light curves acquire a great variety of skills, and analyzing data is one of those skills. Considering that they will be working with data no matter what career path they choose to follow, you have a very good argument in your hands with which you can approach teachers. (We live in the era of “big data”, light curves _are_ such data, students need to learn how to work with data etc…)

Teachers are overwhelmed with coursework, and I understand why they wouldn’t want to get out of their way to build a new observing program with you (or with any astronomer), especially if they think that this is “yet another class”. Tessa (the student form NZ) approached Carl when her teachers told her that she shouldn’t do astronomy because it was “too difficult” and that it “required resources they didn’t have access to”. After they saw how the process worked, the amazing work Tessa and Carl did, and how successful her project was, they changed their mind, and are now expressing interest in doing research themselves. Perhaps teachers in your community think similarly? Perhaps showing them how the process works can help? For example, if you find students from a school’s astronomy/science club and work with them on a couple of projects which would lead to results that can be published in a journal (think JAAVSO), the teachers in the school would appreciate how fun variable star research is and would be more open-minded to the idea of incorporating astronomy to their classwork. Would that work?

Best wishes – clear skies,

Stella.

Carl Knight
Carl Knight's picture
Supporting the school curriculum...

Hi Brad,

Thank you for that lengthy piece. I cannot speak to the US situation but certainly the New Zealand and Australian situations are similar.

I think this is very important:

An approach that seems more likely to be successful is one based on helping the school solve teaching and learning problems they are experiencing with their curriculum.

It is very early days in my attempts with my local astronomy society, the AAVSO and Variable Stars South (VSS) to do hopefully that. The overarching theme in questions asked by teachers at the presentation I did to a local high school here was to be able to obtain - directly or indirectly - real world data to teach the science curriculum (particularly astronomy) from.

Your remarks that "[t]he response you get is typically: "That's nice. Have fun with that, but don't expect support or participation from us. We have enough to do teaching our required curriculum"" fairly well echo the response I received initially - until there was an exemplar. Hopefully you have read about the project in question in the AAVSO newsletter for October 2015.

In addition to your statement that "[w]e are in a prime position to construct real world exercises with real world data to give students the opportunity to apply graphic techniques to gain real understanding rather than "education by rote" I'd like to add that we also rely on statistical techniques, for example, sample size to drive down error - particularly observing in less than ideal conditions as I do - and students rather than learning by rote could see the affects of their sample size on error directly.

Regarding your question: "How did you make contact with the "right" person in the school system?" It remains to be seen if we've contacted the best people - I hope so. The science faculty at Freyberg High School are now hosting an event for the region's science teachers' association having been sufficiently impressed with the presentation made to them. That is taking place this Thursday and we hope to have an audience of reasonable size. The key was someone other than me going to the school (see the newsletter) and saying what a wonderful experience learning astronomy by doing real science was for their daughter. Without that I fear the response would have remained tepid.

And: "What were your first steps to get the ball rolling and what did you end providing to assist the school?" That is our next step to be honest. I don't believe we best help schools by becoming de-facto teachers so much as lending our expertese where schools lack - obtaining data, assisting students to get their own photometry or making visual estimates, i.e. the most practical aspects of what we do. Others may disagree.

It is early days for my efforts and those of my local astronomy society (the "we" I refer to above). Hence I am very interested in anything that anyone else can offer!

Clear skies.

- Carl.

 

B.P.Vietje
B.P.Vietje's picture
Lab For Variable Star Work

I'm just getting caught up here, so I'm chiming in a little late.

One idea would be to tie a little low-rez spectroscopy in with variable star work.  Many intrinsic variables change color and spectral class as they go through their periodic changes, and you should be able to record some great data with a very simple setup.

I use a Star Analyzer-200 diffraction grating in the filter wheel of a 17" telescope, but another option is a DSLR on a tripod -- fixed would be OK, but a small EQ mount would be even better -- and a Star Analyzer-100 on a 150 - 200 mm telephoto lens.  The diffraction grating is mounted in front of the objective, carried by a spare lens cap drilled out to accept the grating.  The advantage of this sort of setup is a wide field and pretty good spectral resolution, around 5-10 angstroms per pixel, but limited to around 7th - 8th magnitude due to the 35mm aperture of the SA-100.  If you put one in the filter wheel of a telescope, you gain in magnitude range (depending on the aperture), but if the grating is in the converging light path, the resolution is reduced.  So the trade-off is photon gathering vs. resolution.

Field Tested Systems sells the SA-100 and SA-200 gratings, plus RSpec software, which is a very user-friendly platform for calibration and analysis.  They also offer a very slick classroom demonstration setup with a grating mounted on a small video camera, allowing flame spectra, tube spectra, and even spectra of streetlights, etc. Many people use Visual Spec, or "VSpec", which I have not tried yet. ..

As for photometry software, AAVSO membership allows for use of VPhot, which is also very easy to learn how to use.  Given the price of student membership to AAVSO, that's pretty hard to beat.  For cost savings, you could consider freeware like AstroImageJ, which is used by a colleague with his high school students.  MaxIm DL is a very nice package, but pretty expensive for what you're doing.

Good luck & clear skies,

Brad Vietje, VBPA

dedricksond
Thank you for the comments.

Thank you for the comments.

Carl, as for the presentation, I think that you are right in going the more general route. I would very much appreciate seeing your materials.

As for the lab proposal, it would become part of my job as physics lab tech to maintain the facilities.

Duane

jji
Undergraduate Astronomy Lab

Duane

I have a permenant observatory just up I-5 from you south of Wilsonville.  I am pretty much 100% committed to observing CV's for the CBA.

In putting your proposal together, I suggest you spend some time thinking about (and writing down) a description of the this observatory and the role you expect it to fulfill. In some detail.  What we used to call a Requirements Document.  It will have the effect of sharpening your thinking and avoiding unpleasent surprises down the road.  Ideally this is done before you even start to think about hardware and software.  

Where will the equipment be located?  Permenant installation?  Is the observatory to be automated? What do you expect the students to get out of it? Knowledge about variable stars and/or photometry or hands on observing experience? 

In addition to manpower for maintenance don't lose sight of the constant need for $ to keep running.  Observatories are hungry buggers and always seem to need something.

I'm not trying to be negaive at all.  I think it is a heck of an idea and really hope you succeed.  

For Tom Calderwood:  I was raised in Tumalo many years ago.  Right after I retired I too helped out at Pine Mountain.  I'm envious of your location.

Jim Jones

 

stellakafka
stellakafka's picture
Some thoughts

Hello all,

Thank you for taking the time to post here! It is great to see all the interest in involving students in research, and I understand there are many challenges. As was mentioned above, there are three possibilities: 1) students taking their own data on specific targets and do original research with their data alone; 2) students using existing data from the AID to work on research projects; 3) a combination of 1 and 2. In all cases, students need to have some basic background on variable stars. Here’s where Roger’s great powerpoints can be very valuable, providing introductory material that can be used in a seminar. The ten star tutorial can be another resource for beginners – students can use it to learn their way around the night sky (https://www.aavso.org/10-star-training). If you need targets that are observed in one night, RR Lyrae and W UMa stars have periods of less than 12 hours. For longer period targets, there are more possibilities. It all depends on what equipment you have in your hands. I really like CVs, and there is usually at least one at any time doing something exciting (like having an outburst). I understand people like “exotic” objects; there are some bright (13-14 mag) quasars that show flickering, and they can be fun targets to observe. And is anyone interested in observing sunspots? (daytime observing, not requiring students to stay up late…)

VPhot, VStar, and the JAAVSO are some of the resources we offer for work with students. (Some teachers find it attractive to work on a project that leads in a journal publication – and JAAVSO papers are included on ADS). And university observatories can contribute data to our campaigns and alerts; those data are parts of larger studies by the astronomical community (just an idea).

I could post a list of targets for projects. Would that help?

Best wishes – clear skies,

Stella.

LKR
LKR's picture
Slightly off topic

an amazing visual for anyone trying to teach scale

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/417309/our-place-in-the-universe/

 

Kris Larsen

roshaan100
roshaan100's picture
My first light curve of a 2-hour variable!

I joined AAVSO in 2015 and took my first photometric data this month (December, 2015) of a short period star, a Delta scuti in Ursa Major, AE UMa! And was it SPECTACULAR!!!

I've been doing astronomy outreach for more than a year now and I just recently left my medical school to follow a career in my life long passion and love...ASTRONOMY! The first time my name popped up on AAVSO's website with the observed code and the actual data set? Oh my goodness! Especially from a country like Pakistan, where there is absolutely no career opportunities in Astronomy. I will continue to post new and better data and spread the good word of variable star astronomy in my community through our local astronomy society and the electronic media.

LKR
LKR's picture
Welcome!

Roshaan - first of all WELCOME!

Your enthusiasm is what we love to see in the AAVSO. Congrats on seeing your name in lights - or at least in a light curve :)

Can you tell us about your astronomy society and what you do with the public?

Kris Larsen

mangle
mangle's picture
Educational Outreach

Hi All,

I am a new member to AAVSO. I recently took an online class from Mike Simonsen and liked it so much that I decided to join. I am a retired science teacher, having taught middle and high school students as well as teachers in a highly populated, urban area in Southern California. (I moved to an area with" dark skies" after retirement) I wish so much that I had discovered AAVSO when I was still in the classroom. You have an absolute wealth of material for teachers to use to design student lessons at many levels. I really like the Student Projects that you just listed. Hands-on science for students of any age is the best! However, you have lots of resources that would be useful in designing Next Generation Science Standards based STEM lessons and that is what teachers need right now. My middle schoolers analyzed seismograms when we studied earthquakes. They could have studied some of the light curves when we investigated light, waves, stars etc. if I had known about your wonderful organization. I have a few more ideas for outreach and in-class lessons if anyone wants to brainstorm or discuss.

Best,

Maureen Angle

 

LKR
LKR's picture
Please share your ideas!

First of all, Welcome! We would very much like to hear your ideas.

Kris Larsen

stellakafka
stellakafka's picture
Welcome!

Hello Maureen,

Welcome to the AAVSO! We’ll be very interested in hearing any feedback you may have on the projects we propose for educators (https://www.aavso.org/student-observation-projects ) and any new ideas you can bring on the table. Also, we are interested in avenues you may think are appropriate for us to advertise them. (Please feel free to email me :) )

Any chances we’ll see you in our meeting in St Louis?

Best wishes – clear skies,

Stella.

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