Unit 5: Exploring the Nature of Astronomical Phenomena in the Context of the Sun/Earth/Moon System

I. Introduction

The theme for this course is what happens when light from the Sun shines on the Earth?  Although labeled the fifth unit, these explorations extend throughout the course rather than occurring only near the end. While exploring these phenomena, you will be:

  • identifying resources such as what you already may have seen in the sky, heard in songs, and studied in school
  • developing central ideas based on evidence that you record in systematic observations of the sky
  • explaining intriguing phenomena such as why the moon seems to change shape and size
  • developing mathematical representations of the arrangement of the Sun/Earth/Moon system
  • using mathematical representations to estimate a quantity of interest such as how soon Earth will be where you are seeing the third quarter  Moon ‘is’ right now in space and
  • making connections to educational policy, such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the science standards adopted by many US departments of education.

While learning about the Sun and the Moon, you also will be learning about learning processes as you summarize and reflect upon your explorations. Discussions in class and assignments at home will include integrating science and literacy learning, such as speaking clearly, listening closely, writing coherently, reading with comprehension, and creating and critiquing media.

The main sections present questions with suggestions for exploring topics and for writing reflections about your findings. Text in gray font indicates that these are suggestions; you may think of other ways to explore the topic. Asking your own questions as well as those posed here will enhance learning both about physics and about learning. Check with your instructor if you choose to devise an alternative approach.

Keeping track of what one is doing and thinking is important. In this course, use a template for a physics notebook page on which to record your notes during class. The physics notebook page can help you remember your thoughts before, during, and after an exploration. An experienced elementary teacher, Adam Devittt, designed this notebook page to mirror the structure of before, during, and after reading strategies:

Before starting your exploration, think about and discuss with your group members what you know already about the topic, how you plan to conduct the exploration, and what you think you might find out.

During your exploration, record what is happening, what you are observing, and what you are thinking about what you are observing. Include sketches of equipment and observations. Note any words that are new and their definitions.

After your exploration, record any central ideas that have emerged from your observations and discussions. Also note the evidence on which you have based these ideas. State explicitly how the evidence is relevant and supports the claims you are making in stating the ideas. Also explain why this result is important. Then write a reflection about whatever you want to remember about this experience. In addition, briefly state what you are still wondering in this context.

After class, use your physics notebook pages and any handouts to write a summary of your exploration and findings. Writing such a summary after every class is a good way to prepare for the midterm and final examinations.

Next, to be sure you have understood the physics involved, read this text and some examples of student work. The student authors first wrote drafts, received feedback for ways to enhance content and clarity, and submitted these final versions. Also read about some nuances to be aware of in these contexts.

You may also find helpful students’ reflections about teaching friends and/or family members about what they had just learned in class, historical information about ways knowledge about the topic developed, and some relevant aspects of the nature of science in the context of the topic explored. These sections of the text may broaden your understanding of science and of science learning and teaching.


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Exploring Physical Phenomena Copyright © 2020 by Emily Van Zee & Elizabeth Gire is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.