Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Journaling in Astronomy: The Domain where Astronomy meets Imagination!

Dedication: I dedicate this and everything I do to the one educator who helped me appreciate the value of learning in the grandest of fashions, my late father Ibrahim Nadji (RhA!) Thank you Didi and may Allah (SWT) reward you for your dedication to raising educated citizens!

Journals have been a staple of our Astronomy class since its inception three years ago. I reasoned that astronomers are all about record keeping and time keeping. And, as such it seemed natural to have the students keep journals of what they encounter in our astronomy class or outside of it. This also is to encourage them to do some research of their own or generate creative connections with their own art majors. What follows is a collage of samples of journal entries from this year's astronomy classes. The students did an admirable job crafting these piece of astronomy writing that featured wonderful objets d'art.

The above items do not show the many other examples where creative writing, music, and other art areas were the choice of their respective artists. 

Please, share your thoughts about the above items and more importantly how might journaling improve your students' learning experience?

Thank you for taking the time to read the post and always take the time to look up and marvel for the universe is too cool to ignore its free for all beauty!

Investigating the Interactions of E&M Waves with Various Materials

Dedication: I dedicate this and everything I do to the one educator who helped me appreciate the value of learning in the grandest of fashions, my late father Ibrahim Nadji (RhA!) Thank you Didi and may Allah (SWT) reward you for your dedication to raising educated citizens!

Understanding how electromagnetic (E&M) waves (light) interact with matter is quintessential in the filed of Astronomy. It is imperative that we know whether certain substances would absorb light completely, partially, or fully. This would enable us to build the right kind of detecting devices (broadly referred to as telescopes) for various light forms. Understanding the interactions between E&M waves and matter also helps students internalize and fully make sense of the properties of these ubiquitous waves. I was fortunate to attend one of the workshops that was conducted by NASA during one the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) national conferences. The subject of the workshop is this very topic and the material I have been using in class is from that workshop and I added a few twists here or there to flavor it the @AstroNadj way. Below is an outline of how this activity is conducted so that fellow Astronomy teachers and Physics instructors may adopt some or all aspects of it.

Material Used:
In this activity one needs three kinds of material, light sources, substances, and detectors.

A) Light Sources:

  • Visible Light Source: Flashlight
  • IR Light Source 1: Remote Control
  • IR Light Source 2: Heat Lamp
  • UV Light Source: Black Light Lamp
  • Radio Light Source 1: AM Radio
  • Radio Light Source 2: FM Radio

B) Substances:
The material used included a piece of fabric, a white garbage bag, a black garbage bag, a piece of metal screen, a piece of plastic screen, a piece of aluminum foil, and a clear plastic ziplock bag. One should not limit oneself to only these items but consider others as see fit. The picture below shows the items used.

Everything except the spectroscopes are used in this experiment.

C) Substances:
The detectors varied from one kind of light to another. I shall only refer to the non-visible light detectors in here. For the UV light I set a bunch of florescent decorations on a table next to the UV light source along with a credit card. The students may use their mobile devices to detect IR light emitted by the remote controls. I also made available a sound based system as a detecting device. It included a solar cell attached to a small amplifier-speaker system to hear the light (see the center-left portion of the above picture.) The students love this detector the most.
D) The Tasks:
1) The students are shown all the equipment and substances to know what they are going to test for and how to go about testing them.
2) The students were then handed out a sheet of paper (see image below) to fill our their predictions as groups.

Students are to circle the most applicable filtering level. 

3) The main idea is for the students to ascertain which substances completely absorb light, which ones allow for partial transmission, and which ones completely transmit light.
4) Depending on whether there is enough class time or not, sometimes I choose to run the verification process with all the students in the class. But if I have plenty of time, I would have the students carry out the testing themselves except for the cases of the heat lamp and the UV light. I conduct those myself for safety reasons.
5) The students record their observations for each of the tested cases.

The Outcomes:
As is customary in all my classes, and I hope it would become a staple for every teacher and instructor out there, the activity ends with a request that students reflect upon what they have gleaned from engaging in such activity. In reflecting students would summarize, connect, extend, apply, or wonder (Wonderism!) Preferably they should do all of these so that they internalize their learning and own it through and through. Below are samples of students' reflections.

An Example of Extension & Wonderism!

An Example of Connection & Application!

Concluding Remarks:
The activity is purely qualitative in nature but the students react to it well and they discover new things about light that they have never thought of before. I would greatly appreciate comments from fellow readers as to what else could be added to the activity to improve it further or add a quantitative aspect to it. Thank you

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fusing the Arts in Astronomy

Teaching Astronomy at an Art school (Interlochen Arts Academy) lends itself well to fusing the arts within the Astronomy curriculum. One activity that I have adopted for the past few years is the one described below that I hope would inspire other Astronomy teachers to emulate and improve upon.

The students are shown the following art piece and asked to examine it carefully.

Afterwards, the students are given instructions to extract three Astronomy questions of their own. The questions must be thoughtful and challenging in nature. Then, out of these three questions, the students are to select one of their three questions and answer it to the best of their ability.

The imagined questions and the hypothesized response to one of their own selected question are to be committed to their notebook. Afterwards, these are to be copied neatly onto a small colored sheet of paper that I would collect for grading purposes.

Once everyone is done, I select a few students names at random to have them share their written items. The conversations that ensue tend to set us on a good path toward discussing excellent Astronomy concepts such as properties of stars, properties of light, nature of color, and positioning of objects in the sky and the celestial sphere in general.

Another bonus of this activity and other ones like it, is the discussion of artists' prerogatives in depicting things in a specific way or another. And, more importantly how humans view the universe through their artistic eyes as well as their scientific eyes.

Finally, this activity does not end here. Instead it continues with some Astro-Forensic Science investigation whose details cannot be divulged in the blog to not spoil the element of surprise.

Please, share your own experiences with such instances where the arts are fused with the sciences.

Thank you

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Reflections Enrich Reading & Reading Informs Learning


Reading is a vital aspect of learning & so are reflections. Mere reading that is not accompanied by real reflections is empty and devoid of genuine effort in wrestling with the text at hand. What follows is a description of how this kind of assignment is handled and what are some of its benefits and drawbacks.

Why reflections & how?

In my classes, students are to read long prior to coverage of any given material. Lately, I have begun requiring that they write a reflection statement (minimum of 3 sentences) per section that they read. In order for any given reflection to be worthy of consideration, it must contain as many of the following elements as possible. 

  • A brief summary of the read section
  • A personal introspection on what has been read
  • A minimum of one Wonderism (thoughtful question)
  • A minimum of one statement connecting concepts to art or real life in general

The decision of insisting on the use of reflections was made to ensure that the following educational objectives are met.

  • To guarantee that some reading did indeed occur.
  • To, some reasonable extent, ensure that any reading was in fact done by the given student not mere copying from peers did occur.
  • To drive home the vital importance of reflections in the learning process.
  • To identify any misconceptions students may have regarding concepts they encounter in their reading so that I tailor my lessons to address such misconceptions.
  • To foster within students the importance of the interconnectedness between various areas of learning.

Where is the beef?

Following are samples of students' reflections and the highlights are mine to make sure that I address students' reflections to inform how learning would progress via discussions and elucidations.

Student 1 Reflection Sample!
Student 2 Reflection Sample!
Student 3 Reflection Sample!
Student 4 Reflection Sample!
Student 5 Reflection Sample!
Student 6 Reflection Sample!
Closing Thoughts!

1) When one keeps in mind that the above samples were reflection prior to coverage, one is impressed with the amount of thought the students had spent in crafting them. Kudos, dear Astro-Cools (as I call them), you did your instructor proud!

2) The questions that were raised were addressed in three ways, me answering them directly, me asking the class to discuss them in pairs and then as a class, or me suggesting that we postpone the answering till the right opportunity arises.

3) This method of formatively assessing students on reading has yielded a 90% - 95% completion level; a number that makes any instructor both proud and happy.

4) The only downside of the approach is that it is time consuming both in class (for the students and me) and outside of class (for the students.) But, my hunch is that in the long run it would be benefit both the students and me from pedagogical point of view. What do you think?

Thank you for reading the post and please feel free to add your own comments, suggestions, insights, and of course questions! What would be better than reflecting on a post about about reflections?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Big Bang, Let there be Astronomy a la Mr. Le Nadj!

Last year marked the first year ever that I began teaching Astronomy at my institution. 

This blog will begin with a review of Coolisms that occurred last year and then swings to current practices, pedagogy, and other items that I would like to share with the education community.

I look forward making this a useful medium through which ideas are exchanged, instructors benefit, and students flourish in the educational experience that my fellow educator and me will journey with them through it.

I leave you in this post with a teaser that I hope would be a prelude to the good that would follow in future posts. Thank you for being part of this educational journey!

Beauty! :-)

Thank you and take great care! :-)