Astronomy Summer School of East Texas (ASSET)

Project Name:
ASSET (Astronomy Summer School of East Texas)

Project Description:
ASSET is a summer workshop program for grades 6 - 12 in-service and pre-service science teachers from academically underachieving school districts. ASSET will instruct teachers on how to convey the nature of science to their students, as well as cover astronomy concepts, using NASA data. Each year 15 teachers will be selected from a group of applicants to participate in a two-week astronomy workshop. They will be instructed on the use of a number of lesson modules that incorporate NASA data, in a format that will allow them easily incorporate the material into their classroom lesson plans.

Over the course of the next few years, we intend to meet the following goals and objectives:

I. To develop a suite of inquiry-based activities that guide rural East-Texas high school teachers and pre-service teachers to a better understanding of the tools and methods of astronomy. As a result...

   A. participants will be introduced to the critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills that are an integral part of modern science; 

   B. the teaching and classroom leadership skills that the participants already possess will be bolstered; 

   C. participants will be able to develop their own learner-based activities modeled after activities performed by themselves during the workshop.

II. To train current and future educators on the methods of science

   A. The ASSET environment will be closely aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) so that educators can apply this experience to their own classrooms. 

   B. The ASSET environment will be closely aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state standards.

III. To disseminate our results via educational and astronomical channels (e.g. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific; American Association of Physics Teachers; Society of Physics Students; American Astronomical Society).

   A. We will interact with other universities/summer ‘camps’/outreach programs, sharing our methodologies, successes, pitfalls, and resources.

   B. We will write articles for publications such as Mercury, The Physics Teacher, or American Journal of Physics.

   C. We will present our results at local, regional, and national meetings with large numbers of science educators.

When the participants complete their time at ASSET, they should have a clear understanding of how astronomy operates within the framework of the scientific method. Namely, they should have a grasp of the basic sequence:

   a) Learning the fundamental background information, which leads to…

   b) Posing research questions, which lead to...
   c) Proposing projects to answer those questions, which lead to...
   d) Assessing the success of the project and asking new questions.

A solid fundamental background also arms participants with the knowledge needed to feel comfortable enough with the material so that they can then turn their lessons into learner-centered activities and guide students through the discovery of astronomical concepts by themselves. Participants will experience examples of these types of activities themselves and ideally come away knowing that they have participated in a genuine scientific endeavor, even if they are merely answering questions that have already been answered. The process of obtaining answers for oneself is, as echoed in NSES and Project2061 benchmarks, immeasurably valuable.

To realize this vision, we intend to create a series of lesson activities for middle school and high school teachers, and then instruct them in their usage during a two-week-long summer program. For the first few days, activities that allow participants to explore the most basic questions will be developed or adopted from established sources. NASA has a number of educational resources on their websites (too many to list!), including lesson activities using actual NASA data, which are listed by grade level and topic. We will make use of a number of the NASA activities that directly relate to the topics covered in the workshop lessons. The lessons that we develop will supplement the NASA activities and be based on current pedagogical research regarding some of the most effective ways for students to learn astronomy and the nature of science (e.g., Ashcraft & Courson 2003; Prather et al. 2004; Slater, Slater & Shaner 2008; Slater & Adams 2003; Slater, Carpenter & Safko 1996; and Zeilik et al. 1997). Reports from the National Research Council (How Students Learn: Science in the Classroom, Donovan & Bransford 2005) state what many educators by now know, if not practice – it is vitally important for educators to engage students’ misconceptions, promote a metacognitive awareness among the students and guide them through structured learning environments. The report also states that in order to effect true gains in understanding among students, the structured learning models must be consistent. Therefore, we will develop or adapt all of our lessons using the BSCS 5E Instructional Model (Bybee 1997). The 5E model is a popular and well-designed lesson plan format used throughout the education field and strongly advocated by the Texas Education Agency. It frames lesson plans into five stages: learners ENGAGE in scientifically- oriented questions, EXPLORE problems through hands-on activities, EXPLAIN their understanding of the concepts and processes, ELABORATE on their understanding by applying the concepts to other problems, and EVALUATE the development of their knowledge and abilities.

In addition to the hands-on instructions of the lesson plans, we will also make use of Sam Houston State University’s state-of-the-art planetarium to demonstrate astronomical concepts that cannot easily be observed in real time or during daylight hours, as well as have at least one night time session at the department’s observatory. To keep ASSET from becoming a two-week-long lab exercise, we intend to incorporate as many non-traditional, kinesthetic learning exercises into the curriculum as possible. For example, participants can simulate the phases of the moon with a lamp (Sun) and ball (Moon), or explain refraction with a row of participants marching across a boundary at an angle, slowing down and “refracting” as they cross.

The summer workshop will have a main theme each year that addresses a number of TEKS standards. This theme will change from year to year so that participants may return to attend another workshop and gain new information and strategies every time.
This year’s theme is:

Our Solar System (Satisfies TEKS 6.11, 8.7, Earth & Space Science 5, Astronomy 5 - 9)

• Investigate how gravity controlled the formation of our Sun and planets.

• Create scale models of the sizes and distances of Solar System objects.

• Simulate the Earth-Moon-Sun relationship to understand seasons, lunar phases, etc.

• Understand the motions of the planets as described by Kepler’s laws and governed by Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity.

• Investigate the latest discoveries from space probes visiting Mercury, Saturn, etc.

• Catalog planetary features to find similarities/differences.

Future workshops may be centered around themes such as:

The Elements for Life (Satisfies TEKS 7.9, 8.8, Earth & Space Science 4, Astronomy 11 - 13)

• Evaluate evidence in favor of the Big Bang model and the creation of light elements. Explore the formation, evolution and motion of galaxies over time.

• Describe how stars evolve over time and create heavy elements.

• Discover how stars die and cause successive generations of stars to form.

• Investigate the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe.

The Observable Universe – a study of light (Satisfies TEKS 8.5A&B, Astronomy 6 & 14, Physics 7 & 8)

The Earth/Moon System (Satisfies TEKS 6.10, 8.9, Earth & Space Science 9 & 10)
The Life and Death of Stars (Satisfies TEKS 8.8, Earth & Space Science 4,
 Astronomy 10 & 11)

During the second week of the workshop, participants will work on a research project of their own that is associated with the main theme for that year. Participants will be granted access to a variety of databases from real astronomy sources (such as HST, Hipparcos, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Galaxy Zoo, etc.) that contain actual astronomical data with which they can work. With the guidance of the investigators, they will use the scientific method to determine a research-level question, analyze their data, draw meaningful conclusions and present their results to their peers. The format of the presentations will either be in the form of oral reports or poster presentations, similar to the types of presentations actual astronomers give at astronomy conferences, so the participants gain a greater understanding of how real astronomers disseminate new findings.

Lead Institution:
Sam Houston State University

Evaluation in Progress

Effectiveness and Impact:
Evaluation in Progress