Peer Instruction for Astronomy

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9780130263100: Peer Instruction for Astronomy

Peer Instruction for Astronomy is an instructor's guide to an exciting and easily-implemented enhancement for lecture classes in introductory astronomy. Application of this powerful and efficient teaching technique requires that the instructor have on hand a large number of thought-provoking, conceptual short answer questions aimed at a variety of levels. While significant numbers of such questions have been published for use in Physics, Peer Instruction for Astronomy provides the first such compilation for Astronomy, and includes hints on use of the technique and applications of the method. Covers peer instruction, incentives, a large database of conceptual questions for use in class, and a list of readings and resources. Ideal for introductory astronomy intructors at the undergraduate or advanced high school level.

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The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

A primary attraction of astronomy is that it provides a sense of the mystery and majesty of the Universe. The delights of astronomy are obvious even to the uninitiated. Every child wonders about the stars and planets, about where we came from, and where we might go. For many people, astronomy is a life-long interest, fueled by the rush of discoveries emanating from the astronomical community. Every day astronomers both professional and amateur, using telescopes in space and on the ground, are unveiling the spectacular dramas of the creation and evolution of the cosmos. Besides hosting a wild menagerie of exotic phenomena, the Universe now seems to be pervaded by dark matter, and dark energy. Theorists are probing back to the Big Bang, and far into the future toward the ultimate fate of the Universe.

Few people can escape the intrigue being communicated by astronomers and the media to the public. So while astronomy is a window to the Universe, it is also one of science's primary portals to the public imagination. Many undergraduates never enroll in any science course other than astronomy, and introductory astronomy is a common course for many science majors. For those who seek a deeper understanding, the most common college-level introduction of all is the introductory college astronomy course. This is also one of science educators' best chances to emphasize the methods and relevance of scientific inquiry. Astronomy education thus provides an important boost to scientific literacy—the public understanding and enjoyment of science. Public support and the long-term health of the discipline of astronomy also depends on good astronomy education.

Counting only degree-granting physics and astronomy institutions, the AIP reported in 1994-95 a combined introductory astronomy enrollment of about 155,000 (Fraknoi 1998). A crude projection to include all 4-year colleges and 2-year colleges boosts the number to about 230,000 astronomy students each year (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). Nevertheless, the huge range of distance, size, and mass scales often presents particularly challenging conceptual problems to introductory astronomy students, even those with substantial science and mathematics preparation. The incredible diversity of astrophysical phenomena, from shooting stars to the cosmic microwave background, in all their exotic splendor, seems to defy a unified understanding. But it's not just the exotic that escapes people. In 1988 the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University surveyed 2,041 American adults to get a sense of their scientific literacy. When asked whether the Earth goes around the Sun or the Sun around the Earth, 21% got it wrong and 7% said they did not know. Of the 72% who answered correctly, 45% said one year, 17% said one day, 2% said one month, 8% said they did not know (Fraknoi 1998).

Educational innovations that have been shown to improve learning are crucial to boost students' scientific literacy, to enhance their understanding and enjoyment of science, and to prepare them for a rich and rewarding life in the Renaissance that is the 21st century. Peer Instruction is such an innovation. Sharing ideas and engaging in debate with their peers has proven to be an engaging and effective method for students to begin to understand and appreciate the breadth of the Universe. Under your direction as instructor, students personally confront the conceptual puzzles of astronomy, while you get the chance to assess their comprehension in real-time.

A substantial library of conceptual multiple-choice questions, or "ConcepTests" provided in this book in Chapter Five, and on CD-ROM, constitutes a primary tool for the implementation of Peer Instruction for Astronomy, and forms the bulk of this book. The ConcepTest Library includes problems that address many common misconceptions. Instructors are encouraged to contribute more to this Library, to make it even more useful. You are also invited to share your thoughts and experiences, either informally or as part of more formal assessment efforts being launched to evaluate the particular challenges and benefits of applying Peer Instruction to undergraduate astronomy. By helping students replace the shaky struts and oddly tilted pillars in the foundations of their knowledge, by helping them develop and use a tool chest of physical concepts grounded in their own experience, we can help them to build a stronger and longer-lasting structure that supports a real understanding of astronomy.

Of the many people who have contributed in some way to this book, I would most like to thank Eric Mazur, whose work in Peer Instruction for physics has inspired science teachers all across the world, and who continues together with his Galileo project to encourage and facilitate the extension of Peer Instruction to chemistry, astronomy and other science disciplines. Thanks to Suzanne Brahmia at Rutgers for being the first to mention Peer Instruction to me. Thanks to Lillian McDermott and the Physics Education Group at University of Washington in Seattle for my early positive experiences with Collaborative Learning in a laboratory setting. The Harvard Science Education Department has provided input and advice; special thanks go to Phil Sadler, Bruce Ward, and Judy Peritz. Himel Ghosh at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics provided some welcome programming help in reformatting the ConcepTest database. Thanks also to composer and teacher Howie Frazin (Longy) for an early critical reading, and most especially to Beth Hufnagel (Anne Arundel Community College) for a careful review, useful suggestions, and insightful comments.

I am delighted to name the many astronomy faculty members and researchers in the field who have contributed to the library of ConcepTests, by submitting questions or ideas, and by reviewing, editing, and testing ConcepTests. The ConcepTest Library for Peer Instruction for Astronomy has been and continues to be a community effort, where any instructor is encouraged to use and contribute ConcepTests.

The following colleagues have been the most helpful and encouraging, and their community spirit and generosity have expanded the range and depth of this book. These are Fran Bagenal (U.CO), Bernard Bates (LT.Puget Sound), Andreas Berlind (Ohio State), Caroline Cox (U.VA), Steve Danford (UNC, Greensboro), Rodney Dunning (Wake Forest), Peter Edmonds (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Kenneth Gayley (U.IA), Peter Garnavich (Notre Dame), Margaret Hanson (U.Cincinnatti), Joe Heafner, Robert Hill (Maranatha Baptist Bible College), Jennifer Hoffman (U.WI), Doug Ingram (Texas Christian), Vinay L. Kashyap (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Craig Kletzing (U.IA), Amy Kolan (St. Olaf), George Kraus (College of Southern Maryland), Jodi McCullough (Lisbon High School, Salem, OH), Peter R. McCullough (U.IL, Champaign/Urbana), David McDavid (Limber Observatory), Tony Morgan (Dickinson College), Gerald H. Newsom (Ohio State), Alberto Noriega-Crespo (JPL), Bryan Penprase (Pomona College), Eric Sandquist (San Diego State), Edward G. Schmidt (U.NE, Lincoln), Stephen Schneider (U. Mass), Liliya WilliamsRodriguez (U.MN), Katherine Wu (U.FL), Mike Vaughn (Northeastern), and Maria Womack (St.Cloud).

Many thanks to Alison Reeves and Christian Bolting of Prentice Hall, who encouraged me and helped this project become a book. Finally, my deep abiding gratitude above all to my wonderful family, to my loving wife, and faithful friends.

PJG
Cambridge, MA
May 2002

Review:

"With this book Paul Green has removed the largest obstacle in implementing interactive teaching in introductory astronomy classes. His questions will help you turn passive students into active learners with a renewed sense of appreciation for astronomy." - From the Foreword by Eric Mazur, Harvard University, Author of Peer Instruction: A User's Manual "Paul Green's sets of quick, in-class questions on topics of both traditional and contemporary astronomy are just the thing to keep students paying attention and to give continual feedback on what they are comprehending. I am glad to see ideas of collaborative learning extended to astronomy in such a useful way." - Jay M. Pasochoff, Williams College "I have been using peer instruction for freshman astronomy for three years. Peer instruction works-the students become engaged, they think. Most of all, they seem to get the concepts." - Fran Bagenal, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics "Straightforward talk about teaching astronomy to undergraduates. I found myself nodding and saying, 'Yes, that's exactly what it's like!' I know I'm going to encourage everybody I know who teaches astronomy to get the book. Peer instruction is a relatively painless way to segue into the world of collaborative learning for professors who may never have experienced it as undergraduates." - Beth Hufnagel, Anne Arundel Community College

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