Thursday, August 5, 2010

Solar System Lecture Tutorials for Intro Astronomy

A new collection of tutorials by Jessica Smay and Karen Kortz helps to flesh out planetary topics.

I am recently returned from Boulder, Colorado where I attended Cosmos in the Classroom 2010, a conference on astronomy education held every three years and hosted by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. I'll be writing a few posts about the meeting, but I'll start with telling you about an exciting new resource for Astro 101 instructors.

Lecture tutorials have become one of the standard tools for reformed teaching in Physics 101 and Astro 101. I have been using them in my own courses for over five years. However, the original Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy by Prather et. al. contains a dearth of activities related to the solar system and comparative planetology. Jessica Smay, from the Community College of Rhode Island, and Karen Kortz, from San Jose City College, collaborated to develop a tutorial book with geoscience topics, Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Geoscience. Now, they have a new suite of tutorials focused on the solar system. These haven't been collected into a book yet, but they are available on the web at

At Cosmos in the Classroom, Jessica was on hand to present a poster about the tutorial collection and introduce them to the astro 101 community.

Here's the topics in the collection:
1. Earth's Tectonic Plate Boundaries
2. Earth's Surface Features
3. Auroras
4. The Moon's Crater History
5. The Moon's Surface: Order of Events
6. Planetary Positions
7. Terrestrial Planets vs. Jovian Planets
8. Rock Types on Other Planets
9. Planet Surface Features
10. Volcanoes on Other Planets
11. Mars Climate Change
12. Other Moons Surface Processes
13. Jovian Planets
14. Space Objects
15. Asteroid Impacts
16. Pluto
17. Missions

Anyone teaching a semester of planetary astronomy at the intro level could easily combine these topics with existing tutorials to fill an entire course. Jessica and Karen even have a nice webpage describing how to use and write tutorials for your own class.