Fascinated by images of bright stars and distant galaxies, students who take introductory astronomy courses are not always aware of how rigorous a science it is, and often do not have a strong background in physics and math. NASA's Center for Astronomy Education is a professional development program and Web site designed to help college astronomy instructors get the most from their students.
Image to right: The Center for Astronomy Education Web site is a resource for educators to get information about astronomy. Credit: NASA
The center conducts teacher workshops at colleges and universities around the country. Participants review the latest research about how students learn and are introduced to student-centered teaching tactics, such as interactive lectures, peer instruction and collaborative group learning. Other topics discussed include creating effective multiple-choice exams and implementing assessment strategies.
One of the points emphasized in the workshops is how important it is for teachers to set goals and objectives for their students that do not focus on fact-based knowledge.
"If professors want students to have more than a superficial understanding of astronomy topics, they have to, first, set course goals that emphasize that and, second, tie their assessments and evaluations of students to those course goals so that students are not obsessing about fact-based knowledge, but rather about concepts and higher-order thinking," said Ed Prather, a workshop presenter and research scientist at the University of Arizona.
In addition to the workshops, the center hosts a Web site that publishes a new teaching tip once a month and has several discussion groups related to the workshops and astronomy teaching in general. There's also a place for teachers to post their own ideas and suggestions.
The center is a collaboration between NASA and the Conceptual Astronomy and Physics Education Research Team at the University of Arizona.
Astronomy 101 Web site
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies