Course Reflection: Astronomy (EASC 102)

It’s the end of the semester, so that means it’s time to reflect on my courses. Why not just write this as a blog post? That’s what I will do.

The Course:

I’ve already talked about this course when I started the semester. So, here is a short review.

  • It’s a service course for non-science majors. There are no pre-reqs, so you can’t include much math.
  • The course was added late, there were only 13 students in the course.
  • I had a room that was more like a lab or a studio rather than a lecture hall.
  • As I said before, this is a tough class. The material seems fun, but it’s really deep. You can either cover superficial things—like known values of planets or you have to really get dirty. You can’t understand a star without knowing some important stuff about light and matter.

The Good:

The best part of the course was the flexibility. I could pretty much do whatever I wanted since they didn’t need anything from this course for future classes.

The other things that worked well were the labs. I mean, what the heck. Why not do a lab in the lab room? I started off with some of the University of Nebraska online activities—but I think these are too high of a level for my students.

After that, I went to make up my own labs:

  • Solar panels
  • Angular size
  • Parallax
  • I did a stellar properties lab – it was sort of a modified University of Nebraska lab.

I think the students liked the labs for the most part. Oh sure, there were a couple of students that just said “screw these labs—not going to participate” but there’s not much you can do about that.

Another thing I worked on was simplified presentations. The powerpoint slides that come with the textbook pretty much suck. They have too much stuff in them for the students to really learn anything. It’s not that my slides were much better, but I did include some of the online applets and animations in them.

Since the class was small, I had a better chance to interact with individual students. It’s always nice to get to know people. I admit that I didn’t learn names as well as I usually do.

In the last few weeks, I started using multiple-choice voting questions in class. I think this is the way to go. The questions I was using were probably too difficult for the students. Quick tip: use plickers (voting cards). When you scan the cards with your camera, it also shows student names.

Oh, one more thing. I think I did make some progress on student understanding of the nature of science. Really, this is the most important aspect of the course.

The Bad:

I already mentioned the bad powerpoints and the material is too deep. The other big problem—student understanding of graphs, math and stuff like that. It’s tough to do a lab that involves graphing when they can’t graph.

Although I had fun with the lectures, some students fell asleep.

The Future:

Let’s say I was going to teach this course again. What would I do? Here are some ideas.

  • Pick fewer topics. I think it’s best to stay away from stars and stuff. It depends on too many background ideas.
  • Do more labs. I would probably need to make the labs myself.
  • I think making some stuff that’s similar to PET would be perfect for this class. In fact, I did some labs like this for forces and waves.
  • I would like to do some type of project, but I’m afraid what the students would turn in.
  • DON’T USE the textbook or the powerpoints. They are terrible.

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