Teacher Lesson Plans

Background Experience
The Task
Roles and Description
The Process


This activity uses a pedagogical approach of modified "jigsawing."  Students divide into research teams to learn different aspects of a topic then, break into new groups and teach each other.  In this extended MountainQuest activity, students will learn about astronomical observatories, consider cultural/environmental attributes, evaluate economic costs, create multi-media presentations, and hone their Internet-research skills.

Background Experience

animated GIF of star imagesThe Task

Divide students into five research teams to make recommendations for locating a new observatory site for NASA.  Students will evaluate scientific and cultural data for five potential sites in Antarctica, Japan, Chile, and the United States and make presentations to a formal review panel.  The research teams are listed below.


Team Roles and Assignments
Atmospheric Seeing Team Observatories are located in places where the atmosphere is very stable.  Team members will create digital movies from "test observations" to assess the quality of the seeing at various locations.  This team will download telescope images made at each location and use NIH_Image (Mac), ImagePC (PC), or GifConstruction Set (PC) to create digital movies of star images to determine the degree of "star twinkle" at each site.  The less "twinkle" or "scintilation" the better for long exposure photographs of dim/faint stars.
Cultural and Environmental Setting Team Observatories are used by astronomers from all over the world.  Team members need to analyze the language, culture, currency, geography, and history of the potential locations.  This team will use the Internet to search for cultural and environmental information about each country (example URL).  This could take the form of brochures, reports, or video presentations that would aquaint visiting astronomers with everything they need to know about the country.
Meteorology and Climate Team Observatories need to be located where there are hundreds of cloudless nights and predictable weather patterns (example URL).  Team members need to evaluate the quantity of clear nights and describe the local climates.  This team will need to use the WWW to conduct a synthesis of climate and weather for each location.
Travel Team Observatories are used by astronomers from all over the world.  Team members need to critically analyze the accessibility and costs associated with getting to these locations.  Traveling to distant countries can be very expensive and even ardurous (example URL).  Teams members should develop detailed travel iteneraries and budgets for each potential site.
Telescope Design Team Modern observatories are equipped with reflecting telescopes.  Team members will need to evaluate the benefits and costs of these telescope designs:  multiple mirror, single mirror, adaptive optics  (example URL), and recommend a type.
The Process
  • Divide the class into groups of four students.
  • Each group should select a role.
  • Define individual responsibilities within each group. 
  • Each group will create an action plan.
  • Establish a timeline to implement your plans.
  • Begin quest (research, collect data, design a product, prepare to publish, present). 

This activity will take approximately 15-25 class hours, preferably spread over a 9 or 18 week period.  Students will need time to access and search the Internet, synthesize research findings, prepare multimedia presentations, and present recommendations.  Practice presentations should be made to mock review panels consisting of a mix of students from other research groups (jigsawing). Final presentations should be made to a formal review panel composed of either peers, school personel, or community members. 

Student Instructions

Assessment Ideas