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The "Stargazers" Project and National Science Standards

The material in "From Stargazers to Starships" meets several important requirements of the national standards.

Pages cited below are from National Science Education Standards National Academy Press, Washington 1995.

(1) "Stargazers" is inquiry based. As stated (p. 174)

    "A critical component of successful scientific inquiry in grades 9-12 includes having students reflect on the concepts that guide the inquiry... Teachers of science should engage students in conversations that focus on questions, such as 'How do we know?' 'How certain are you of those result'?..."

This approach is the main thread of the entire course. Scientific explanations are always presented with the rationale behind them, and often with their story of discovery. For instance:

  • the retrograde motion of planets is explained before the Ptolemaic and heliocentric systems are presented as possible solutions ("Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models", p. 175)

  • Newton's concept of mass is evolved from questions such as "If a large stone is heavier than a light one, why doesn't it fall any faster? Why is a heavy wagon not only harder to get moving (you might be facing greater friction), but also harder to stop?"

  • Newton's law of gravitation is presented essentially as the discovery of a connection between two unrelated observations--the period of the Moon and the acceleration on Earth due to gravity.

(2) "Stargazers" consistently covers "Motions and Forces" (p. 179).

    Acceleration, energy, Newton's laws, gravitational and inertial mass, momentum, moving frames of reference, centrifugal and centripetal forces (also Coriolis, qualitatively), gravity, Kepler's laws, rocket action and elastic collisions--all these are covered in a natural sequence, with many illustrating examples.

(3) "Stargazers" thoroughly integrates science and technology (p 190).

    It does so by presenting a large number of applications of science, to both everyday and space-related problems. Particular attention is given to aerospace technology--e.g. the way NASA solved the problem of measuring astronaut mass in "zero g," the reason jetliner wings are swept back (related to the resolution of vectors), the inherent limitations of aircraft propellers (also related to vectors), the way satellite orbits obey Kepler's 3rd law and the way planetary fly-by maneuvers can give spacecraft extra velocity.

(4) "Stargazers" extensively incorporates the history of science. (p. 200),

    It also includes detailed timelines, placing the science in the context of the society and technology of the time. We believe that the history of science forms a natural framework for organizing the student's understanding, and that stories of discovery help students understand the nature of scientific inquiry.

    For example: the sections on astronomy not only describe calendars and sundials (including their construction), but also the astronomy of the ancient Greeks, including two different ways in which ancient Greeks estimated the distance to the Moon. Students are then given an opportunity to duplicate one of them, using data of the total solar eclipse of 11 August, 1999.

    Further along, the story of Newton's apple is traced to its 17th century origins, Robert Goddard's development of the modern rocket is described, including the way he used a ballistic pendulum to measure rocket efficiency. As a side-trip connected to the discussion of the planetary gravity-assist (itself a demonstration of an elastic collision), the story is told of the Pelton water turbine, invented in the California gold fields.

Many other such stories and examples are included.

Consider the question of the size and shape of the Earth, presented in the "National Standards" book (page 215) as an example of an inquiry-based study. It is also covered in detail by "Stargazers." The concept of the horizon is not only described, but the distance of the horizon is calculated as an application of Pythagoras' theorem (derived independently and quickly in an appendix) and is illustrated by the story of Zebulon Pike first observing Pike's Peak in Colorado. The early estimate of the Earth's size by Eratosthenes is described (with references to other early estimates, including the idea of sailing west to India which first emerged in ancient Rome), and in this context, the voyage of Columbus is described.

(5) "In historical perspective, science has been practiced by
    different individuals in different cultures...
" (p. 171)

    Because "Stargazers" presents its material in a historical setting (unlike many high-school texts), this point, and related ones mentioned in the standards, are a constant part of the presentation. The roles of different cultures and traditions--from the early calendars to modern spaceflight ventures--are clearly pointed out, along with their cultural interplay.

    And the international character of science is clearly presented. For instance, the student learns that electromagnetism was discovered by Oersted in Denmark, was explained by Ampere in France, developed by Faraday in England, electromagnetic waves were then proposed by Maxwell who who was Scotch, and they were first generated by Hertz in Germany

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   stargaze("at" symbol) .

Last updated 25 November 2001