Course Description | Course Philosophy | Instructors | Texts | Activities| Course Units and Schedule

Course Description

Recent space missions have increased our ability to explore and understand the structure and evolution of our universe. This course will provide the conceptual framework and scientific background needed to understand and interpret the results of space missions related to galactic and extragalactic space science. We will make heavy use of Internet and WWW based resources in astronomy. Students will gain skills in using electronic image manipulation and analysis software that they will use in completing homework assignments and also in creating lesson plans for their own classrooms. This course will stress NRC science content and education standards for the 9-12 grade levels.

Course Philosophy

This course is designed for the student to achieve three basic objectives:

  • To gain an understanding of the ideas and concepts in the areas of stellar and galactic astronomy.
  • To gain an understanding of how data is collected and analyzed to arrive at the conclusions discussed in the first objective.
  • To examine ways in which these ideas and methods can be integrated into high school level curricula.
We will use a variety of methods to achieve these goals:

The first and most important of these will be collaborative learning. Much of the work in the course will be done in groups, with students helping each other learn, and the instructors acting as as resources. Studies have shown that people learn and work better in groups when directed by an expert. Further, we subscribe to the constructivist viewpoint that students learn best when they are allowed to build their own understanding within a guided framework. This means that students will be given substantial responsibility for their own learning.

Second, due to the wide range of topics that will be covered, students will be expected to do considerable reading. In addition to the texts, there will be on-line articles to read and understand, Powerpoint presentations to view, and research to be done.

Third, whenever possible the course will be structured to make learning an active process. Students will not only develop an intellectual understanding of how data is processed and analyzed, but will do that processing and analysis with real data taken from NASA missions.


Dr. Chad L. Davies
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Gordon College
Barnesville, GA

Dr. Cassandra Runyon
Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences
College of Charleston
Charleston, SC


  • Discovering the Cosmos, Bless
  • Interactive Lesson Guide for Astronomy, Zeilik
  • Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, Adams, Prather and Slater


The course is organized in topical units, with the following activities for each.

  • Reading Quizzes: Each unit will have an associated online quiz, consisting of about five questions taken from the assigned reading. Quizzes have a two-hour time limit and are "open-book" (though consultation with other students is prohibited). The types of questions range from conceptual to mathematical, and are not multiple choice.
  • Discussion Questions: Discussions are key to the success of an online course. For each unit, the instructors will pose a number of questions for open class discussion, and each student will choose two of these (one focused on science, and one focused on education) to respond to in depth. The written responses will be graded on accuracy when the question has a definitive answer, and otherwise on logical support and clarity.
  • Agent Provocateur Discussions: For each unit, one student is appointed "Agent Provocateur" (AP), with the reponsibility of posting a discussion question to which the rest of the class responds. The instructors evaluate discussion contributions based on originality of thought, insight into the subject matter, and clarity of expression.
  • Study Buddies: For each unit (except the first) students will be paired together as "Study Buddies" (SB's), as a way of enhancing online interaction. Each student will be required to forward to the instructors two communications that they originated to their SB. Study buddies will be changed occasionally during the course to allow participants to get to know more of their fellow students.
  • Projects: Each unit will involve one or two projects, of a scientific or educational nature. Typical scientific projects may include downloading and using software, downloading and processing images or other data, or doing on-line lab work. Educational projects may involve creating lesson plan outlines, evaluating curricula, or assessing outcomes.

Course Units and Schedule

Dates (Summer 2004)
6/1 - 6/6
Overview of the Course
6/7 - 6/13
Introduction to Light
6/14 - 6/20
Telescopes and Detectors
6/21 - 6/27
6/28 - 7/4
Stellar Spectra and the HR Diagram
7/5 - 7/11
Stellar Evolution
7/12 - 7/18
7/19 - 7/23
Hubble's Law