Since prehistoric times, astronomy had many applications in everyday life. It was necessary for agriculture, traveling, navigation, weather forecast but also gave new insights to the understanding of nature. Our course starts by introducing the students to classical astronomical themes such as the history of the theories about the universe and the structure of the solar system. Then deals with the practical applications of astronomy and astrophysics: How was the construction of spacecrafts and satellites made possible? How do satellites affect our lives? How important is the Greenhouse effect for life on earth to exist? Finally, we exploit the interdisciplinary character of astronomy and through it we introduce the students to some of the basic notions of epistemology such as the concept of a scientific law and the notion and the application of the scientific method. Our aim is to open to the young students the world of astronomy and show them the many new and exciting careers that they may follow by studying it.
Around 540,000 students study astronomy, physics, chemistry, and earth science in the EU. Besides astronomer or astrophysicist, there are many jobs available for which an astronomy degree is valuable. They include aerospace engineer, climatologist, computer systems analyst, data analyst, engineer, geophysicist, instrument designer, planetarium director, programmer, physicist, research scientist, science writer/journalist, software developer, statistician, teacher or professor, telescope operator. Jobs for scientists and engineers grew by 7% in the past five years. Jobs for technicians in the field grew by 2%. Overall, they account for 7% of all jobs in the EU. As of 2016, around 15 million European science and engineering workers are employed. They work in a variety of sectors, including professional services, utilities, manufacturing, and the public sector. In the next years, jobs for engineers and researchers will increase by 13%, and jobs for science and engineering technicians will increase by 2%.
RRI has been introduced in the astronomy course contents following:
Students learn to utilize and develop critical thinking skills throughout the astronomy courses. The inquiry-based lessons helps students to create testable questions; design and perform experiments; collect, organize, and analyse data; and use these results to decide on the next step in the scientific process.
All lessons are planned so as to promote inclusion in the classroom irrespective of the race, gender or socio-economic background of the students. They are also planned in accordance with the principle of gender equality so that more girls become motivated to follow careers related to STEM disciplines.
More information on RRI 10 Ideas: https://zenodo.org/record/1303805#.W1H_03jdhF0
• To begin with, the most important innovation of our course is the teaching of astronomy through STEM. We have used the term STEM not as denoting different disciplines but as a unitary interdisciplinary approach for the teaching of science. In every lesson the astronomical content is taught through the use of physics, mathematics and engineering.
• We have created a complete course that has its own about both the teaching of the object of astronomy as well as for its didactic methodology. All the ten lessons contain a complete educational ‘package’ (teacher guide, presentation, worksheet, evaluation sheet) for the teacher who will teach the lesson. This in itself is an innovation.
• The teaching methodology that we have used is inquiry-based learning combined with elements of constructivism. Our methodology is elaborated in detail in all the teaching scenarios of our lessons.
• We consider as an important innovation the introduction of the students through the teaching of astronomical subjects to some of the fundamental epistemological notions such as the structure of a scientific law and the structure and application of the scientific method. Moreover, the scientific processes are explicit in the teaching of all lessons. In this sense we have tried to instil the scientific method in all our lessons.
• We have tried to show that astronomy is not an arcane subject that cannot be understood by students. On the contrary we have tried to show that even some of its most spectacular achievements are based on simple principles of physics, engineering and mathematics, principles that are applied in our everyday life. In the same vein we have tried to show that even some of its most advanced instruments can be replicated with the use of cheap materials that we use in our homes. In this sense we have tried to demystify the subject.
• We have constructed a robotic vehicle that functions in the same way as robotic vehicles used in space exploration. The robot follows the light (any source of light) and has sensors that allow it not to fall from edges. It is a replica on a slightly smaller scale of vehicles that have been used for the exploration of planets. Although not a part of a lesson per se it has been shown in open days festivals and workshops. The response of students was impressive.
• Of particular importance to our lessons is the use of storytelling. Storytelling is an educational tool that has been applied recently in science education with promising results. Storytelling uses narratives to engage and motivate students about science. It may connect the scientific content to the history of science and unveil its social and historical implications and allow a variety of linkages. Storytelling develops emotional understanding that can be seen as a prerequisite for cognitive understanding. In our course we have used 6 storytelling videos that initiate lessons. The stories make linkages to the content by using themes from the history of science, Greek mythology (as a link that shows the development of scientific thinking in contradistinction to mythological thought), ancient Greek drama etc, modern history etc.
• We have applied Rasch analysis in our evaluation. Rasch Analysis is an innovative approach of measuring latent traits. It accomplishes stochastic conjoint additivity of a persons’ ability and items’ difficulty. Due to these characteristics, the measurements are independent of the sample to which they are applied. As a member of the family of the new psychometrics, Rasch analysis is being used in the international comparative studies of students’ achievement.
Most of the lessons include at least one simple hands-on construction, to ensure the Inderdisciplinary STEM approach in the teaching method. Some of the constructions which are included in the lessons of Astronomy are:
Lesson 1: construction of a telescope
Lesson 3: Construction of a robotic arm such as the one in operation in the International Space Station, with simple materials
Lesson 5: construction of a green house
Lesson 7: circuit construction for the detection of infrared radiation
Lesson 8: Construction of an ellipse
Learning via experiments
In the development of the ten astronomy lessons we took data in three different ways: experiments, real observations and simulations.
Lesson 5: Students perform an experiment to infer the influence of a greenhouse on the atmosphere temperature.
Lesson 9: Students collect data from simulations to infer the laws of gravity.
Lesson 10: Students collect real data to infer the relation between the altitude and the temperature and the pressure in the atmosphere.