Old Time Astronomy Teacher Notes

This unit tries to get students thinking about how to record their ideas. Each student will have different artistic skills and different perceptions of the images we present. You should emphasize that there is no such thing as the best sketch. Even a relatively crude sketch can convey useful information, while the most artistically pleasing sketch can be misleading about the nature of the object.

You may wish to show more examples of sketches of astronomical objects. Numerous books have been published about astronomers such as Charles Messier, William Herschel and Percival Lowell, who were noted for their ability to sketch astronomical objects.

When you assign students an object to sketch, make sure you assign each object to at least two students. It is all right if three students all have the same object as well if you are more comfortable with larger groups or have a larger class If you need more objects for students to sketch, you may search the SkyServer database. All the objects in this exercise were taken from the “Famous Places” section of SkyServer.

Emphasize that it is OK for sketches to look different, sometimes drastically different. The lack of a good data collection method slowed progress in astronomy for hundreds of years.

If you click on the link to the sketches done by an amateur astronomer on the first page, you will see a black background. He used white paper and regular graphite pencils to make the sketches. When he scanned them into the computer, he inverted the colors to give a black background and white objects. If you have access to a scanner, you may try the same procedure with your students. Exact instructions should be in your image processing software documentation, but it is usually as easy as clicking on something that says “Invert Image”.

Background Knowledge

No real background knowledge is necessary for students to successfully complete this project. Some students may recognize what they are drawing are galaxies, but there is no need for them to even know this fact. It was not until early in the 20th Century that anyone realized galaxies outside our own existed.

Project Structure

The goal of this project is to get students to make careful observations and record them the best they can. Other than the importance of making good observations, discussion before you begin probably should be minimal. Let the students discover the pitfalls themselves as they progress through the project.

Correlation to Project 2061 Standards for Science Education

The Project 2061 Benchmarks in Science Education is a report, originally published in 1993 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), that listed what students should know about scientific literacy. The report listed facts and concepts about science and the scientific process that all students should know at different grade levels.

The report is divided and subdivided into different content areas. Within each subarea, the report lists benchmarks for students completing grade 2, grade 5, grade 8, and grade 12. In these notes, benchmark content headings are listed as Roman numerals, subheadings as letters, grade levels by numbers, and specific points by numbers after the hyphen. For example, benchmark IA2-1 means the first benchmark for second grade students in the first content area, first subarea.

The Old Time Astronomy project meets the following Project 2061 benchmarks:

IA2-1, IB5-1, IA8-1, IB2-1, IB2-3, IB5-2, IC2-2.


IA2-1. When a science investigation is done the way it was done before, we expect to get a very similar result.

IB5-1. Results of similar scientific investigations seldom turn out exactly the same. Sometimes this is because of unexpected differences in the things being investigated, sometimes because of unrealized differences in the methods used or in the circumstances in which the investigation is carried out, and sometimes just because of uncertainties in observations. It is not always easy to tell which.

IA8-1. When similar investigations give different results, the scientific challenge is to judge whether the differences are trivial or significant, and it often takes further studies to decide. Even with similar results, scientists may wait until an investigation has been repeated many times before accepting the results as correct.

IB2-1. People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens.

IB2-3. Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare their observations with those of others.

IB5-2. Results of scientific investigations are seldom exactly the same, but if the differences are large, it is important to try to figure out why. One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one’s work is to provide information on what might have caused the differences.

IC2-2. In doing science, it is often helpful to work with a team and to share findings with others. All team members should reach their own individual conclusions, however, about what the findings mean.