AAS 198th Meeting, June 2001
Session 15. Education: Projects, Techniques and Outreach
Display, Monday, June 4, 2001, 9:20am-6:30pm, Exhibit Hall

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[15.10] Observing Exercises in Astronomy: An Opportunity to Incorporate a Multicultural Approach to Astronomy Education

R. L. Phelps (California State University, Sacramento)

As part of an Introductory Astronomy course (AS 4), a set of "Night Observing Exercises" have been developed to help students learn about astronomical events and motions, and to help them better understand their place in the Universe. These exercises are specifically intended to help California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) students, who often have evening jobs and family obligations, fit the exercises in around their schedules. This differs from a traditional astronomy lab that requires a student to be on campus during evening hours. The observations (e.g., location of sunset on the horizon, motions of stars throughout the semester) are made at home or at work, and use crude measurement techniques (e.g., angles are measured using the student's outstretched hand), but they nonetheless give the precision needed to demonstrate astronomical concepts. Additionally, the measurements are used, at the end of the semester, to answer specific astronomical questions while incorporating the uncertainties associated with the student's measurements. In this way, therefore, students gain an appreciation of the beauty of the astronomical sky, understand the motions that occur, and get a sense of the importance of uncertainties in scientific measurements.

The CSUS student body is also among the most diverse in the Western U.S. A unique aspect of these Night Observing Exercises is the ability to enhance the multicultural component of astronomical teaching. The Inca and the Maya, for example, were maticulous observers of the Sun and Venus, respectively. This paper presents presents a report on techniques that can be used to show students, from cultures typically underrepresented in science, how astronomy is part of their own heritage.

This work was supported, in part, by a Pedagogy Enhancement grant from the California State University, Sacramento

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