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