Workshop for Educators

Welcome to our Astronomy Workshop for Informal Educators! 

This is where you can find all workshop content, including videos, PowerPoint documents, activities to try and resources to explore. 

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I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Julie Bolduc-Duval and I'll be your teacher for the next three weeks. For over 20 years, I've been sharing my passion for making astronomy knowledge more accessible to all. I studied physics, astronomy, and education at the university level. I've worked at different observatories delivering public programs, and I also taught college physics and astronomy before founding Discover the Universe in 2011. 

 

I'm here to help you learn astronomy; so don't hesitate to contact me!

HOW TO ASK QUESTIONS

There are a few options for interacting with me and your fellow learners: 

Use this Padlet to ask questions and interact with other workshop participants. 

Office hours: 

I will be available for questions and discussions during my office hours in this Zoom room:

  • Thursday, June 10 at 3:00pm EDT 

  • Tuesday, June 15 at 4:30pm EDT

  • Wednesday, June 23 at 4:00pm EDT

 All times are Eastern daylight time (UTC-4) or Toronto time. 

 You can contact me directly at julie@ discovertheuniverse.ca or 1-418-332-0428

ACCESS THE WORKSHOP CONTENT

WEEK 1 - The Night Sky

WEEK 2 - Celestial Phenomena and Events

WEEK 3 - From the Earth to Infinity

Back to workshop description

week 1 - The night sky

SOLAR ECLIPSE - JUNE 10, 2021

 

Before we start with this week's content, I'd like to draw your attention to the resources we have created to help you enjoy this week's rare celestial phenomenon: an annular solar eclipse. Canada is well placed to observe it, particularly in the East and North. But you will have to wake up early!

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In particular, I'd like to show you this video which was created for our Eclipse Kit project and featuring Innu astrophysicist Laurie Rousseau-Nepton. This video was a collaboration with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, where Laurie works, and the Dunlap Institute. It's available with many subtitles (Oji-Cree shown here). 

I wish you all clear skies on Thursday morning to observe the eclipse! I invite you to share your experience in the Padlet

WHAT IS ASTRONOMY?

 

This week we will be learning about the night sky, and what can be seen when we look up. Astronomy started when the first humans looked up and started to wonder about the points of light that were visible in the sky. It has gone a long way and we now know much more about the Universe. 

But what is astronomy exactly? The basic definition is: the branch of science that studies celestial objects. I'd like to take this definition a bit further...

Astronomy is the study of all celestial objects. It is the study of all that has been,

all there is and all that there ever will be.

Let that sink in for a few seconds. Astronomy is a vast concept that covers everything. It's the study of the entire Universe! Therefore, it's the study of everything in existence. And since the Universe changes over time, astronomy also studies the past and the future. Are you starting to feel overwhelmed? That's normal! The good news is that you don't need to know everything to enjoy and teach astronomy. . .

 

Did you realize that this definition includes us as well? We are part of the Universe! We often think of Earth and Space as separate content, but in reality, our planet is part of Space and we are part of the Universe. So, astronomy means we also study our place in everything

I really like this video. It covers what I love about astronomy: how it makes us think about our place in the Universe and how we're all connected. Do you feel connected to the stars and the sky? When was the last time you looked up? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the Padlet, which includes a column specifically for this video.

 THE NIGHT SKY 

If you'd like to become familiar with the night sky and learn to recognize the main stars and constellations, I highly recommend the planetarium program Stellarium. It always seems to be a favourite among workshop participants and with kids in general. If you are planning an observation activity with a group, Stellarium can be used to introduce the sky before going outside or as a backup activity if it's cloudy. It can be also used to show the sky during an online activity. 

There are different ways to use Stellarium:

  • You can download it on your computer. It has more options and is available in many languages.

  • Stellarium Web, which runs directly in a browser. 

  • Mobile version, on Android and Apple. A few $$.

Stellarium is very easy to use. I will start by showing you the main options in the downloadable version: 

Constellations visible at night vary throughout the year because of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Here I will show you the main stars and constellations visible in summer with the goal of helping you orient yourself in the sky. In a few months, these constellations will have shifted towards the west, while new constellations will appear in the east. If you observe the sky regularly, even for just a few minutes, you will become familiar with the stars and be able to recognize them. After a few weeks and months, you will definitely understand the sky better, especially how it moves (or appear to move, since we're really the ones moving!). 

To finish the week, here is a quick introduction to Stellarium Web. 

I wish you all nice observing sessions under the sky (or in Stellarium - useful when it's cloudy!). Next week, we will discover many interesting phenomena which are great opportunities to do astronomy activities with your groups! 

week 2 - Celestial Phenomena and events

You don’t need to wait for a special event to organize astronomy activities with your groups. The night sky is always there (sometimes behind the clouds!) and the Universe is always inspiring and mysterious. However, there are special occasions which you can use as the subject for your themed day or special activity. This week, we will cover a few of them which will happen over the next few weeks and months.

PHASES OF THE MOON

The Moon is probably the easiest object to observe in the sky. Whether you live in a city or a rural area, you can see it go through its phases day after day.

 

This week, the Moon is back in the evening sky as a thin crescent. It was new moon last Thursday, June 10 (during which we had the solar eclipse) and the Moon always reappears in the evening sky after new moon.

 

This is a good time to observe it day after day and note your observations. You’ll notice how the crescent gets thicker night after night and the Moon gets higher and higher in the sky.

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The image on the left is taken from our educational module Looking Up (in our Resources section) where you can find many activities to do with your groups.

 

The image is from the activity Evening Moon, in which you draw the Moon night after night from the same location to observe the changes in its shape and position. You can do this activity starting a few days after new moon and until full moon, so you could already plan it for the summer or fall with your groups. 

If you prefer to invite your groups to observe the Moon over a longer period, I invite you to check the activity Moon Observation Journal.

A simple activity to do during the day is to model the phase of the Moon by holding a ball under the real Moon in the sky. It really helps to visualize how the Moon is always a sphere but only a part of it is lit. This is part of our activity Daytime Moon, again in our module Looking Up. 

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To learn more about the phases of the Moon, here is a detailed video explaining the phenomenon and giving you tricks to explain it. This video was created for a previous workshop for teachers, but I think the content will be at the right level for participants here. 

Download the PowerPoint presentation about the Moon  (PDF version)

Activity - Model the Phases of the Moon 

SEASONS

The summer solstice is coming soon: for us in the eastern time zone in Canada, summer will officially start on June 20 at 11:32pm. Why not use the change of seasons as opportunities to discuss the astronomical reasons of the seasons, and the impacts on Earth? 

At the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth will be tilted towards the Sun, which means we will receive more direct sunlight and this is why it's warmer. 

The last video was created with images from a satellite located between us and the Sun, so it always sees the face of the Earth facing the Sun. You can see how the hemisphere pointing towards the Sun varies throughout the year. For example, pay attention to Greenland and how you don't see it in winter in the Northern Hemisphere.  

 

I really like the website where these pictures were taken: https://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/  You can see the Earth every day, which is pretty neat especially during an eclipse (check out the picture I posted in the Padlet)!

Other than explaining the seasons to your groups, you could: 

  • Create a model of the Earth-Sun system by having the kids move to represent the motions of the Earth. You can find a description here

  • Talk about the Sun and its impact on our life (energy, fauna, flora..._

  • Measure your shadow at different times of the day... – activity #5 in Looking Up!

  • Observe where the sun sets over the course of a few weeks/months... – activity #6 in Looking Up!

PLANETS

Most kids don’t seem to know we can see planets with the naked eye. Even though they are just points of light and the details can’t be seen without an instrument, it’s always great to be able to say: that point there is the planet Jupiter!

 

There are five planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (I guess you could say six if you count the Earth beneath your feet!). Because of their motions around the Sun, as well as ours, the planets are not always visible at the same time year after year.

  • Mercury is more difficult to observe. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, but once you are more familiar with the sky, it could be a great challenge to spot it! Because Mercury is closer to the Sun than Earth, it can only be observed shortly after sunset or just before sunrise.

  • Venus is the brightest of them all! When it’s visible, people often mistake it for a plane, a street light, or a UFO! Like Mercury, it can be seen either after sunset or before sunrise but it’s much brighter and easier to observe. With a telescope, you can sometimes see its phases (a crescent of Venus, for example).

 

  • Mars varies quite a bit in brightness, depending on its distance relative to the Earth. The best time to observe it is when it’s on the same side as Earth in its orbit around the Sun – we call this “opposition” since it’s opposite to the Sun in our sky. This happens every 26 months and it’s a great time to observe Mars as a bright reddish star in the sky.

 

  • Jupiter can easily be identified since it’s always brighter than most stars. Through a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, it’s possible to view its four largest moons.

 

  • Saturn looks like a bright star, but not bright enough to really stand out like Jupiter. You will need to know which one it is to identify it. The view is amazing through a telescope since you can easily see its rings!

You could use the opportunity of viewing a planet to discuss it with your group, have them research it, check out the images from the latest missions visiting that planet... If you do have a telescope, make sure to point it at Jupiter and Saturn to see the moons and rings! 

In this workshop, I don’t focus on observation with instruments. If you own a pair of binoculars, it’s worth pointing them at the sky to see more details. If you’d like to learn more about telescopes, I recommend talking to experienced amateur astronomers who might be able to guide you. Outside of the pandemic, they usually organize star parties where you can observe through their telescopes and learn a lot. Check out the nearest astronomy centre in your area. You can also join the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as an unattached member and learn with them virtually.

METEOR SHOWERS

Shooting stars, or meteors, are visible any clear night of the year. If you spend enough time looking at the sky, you will most likely see a streak of light across the sky. But some nights of the year are better than other ones with many meteors per hour: it's a meteor shower. You might already know about the Perseid meteor shower in mid-August.  

I tell you more about meteor showers and how to observe them in this video: 

Download the PowerPoint presentation about Meteors (PDF version). 

I hope these celestial phenomena and events inspire you to organize astronomy activities with your groups in the coming months! 

week 3 - From the Earth to Infinity

Download the PowerPoint presentation - From the Earth to Infinity (PDF version

In the video, I give you an overview of this week's content and tell you about a simple yet powerful activity you can do with your groups.

 

Another interesting activity that you could develop for your groups, or have them do it on their own, is a guided tour of a constellation. It allows you to learn more about the sky, a specific constellation as well as a celestial object located in that direction of the sky.

 

See the description of the activity - Guided tour of a constellation

 

THE SOLAR SYSTEM

When we think about the Solar System, we tend to think only of the Sun and the planets. In reality, there are many more objects and I personally find some moons and dwarf planets much more interesting than some planets. If you would like to go beyond the 8 planets, you can try the following activity with your groups.

Activity - Sorting the Solar System

 

This activity includes 28 cards with information and colour pictures of different objects of the Solar System. It allows students to discover many new worlds and it allows them to act like scientists in order to classify the objects based on the information provided

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There are many interesting points we can cover when talking about the Solar System. In 2019, I presented a 1-hr webinar on this subject and I highly recommend you watch it to find new ways to talk about the planets and all the other objects in the Solar System.

 

Webinar – Teaching the Solar System

 

Even though the title seems to address teachers only, you will find many interesting points, such as:

  • observing the planets (which you already know about!);

  • the diversity of objects and how we don’t need to focus only on the planets;

  • the latest images and videos from probes exploring the Solar System right now; and

  • making scale models of the Solar System.

 

This webinar, and more, can be accessed from our Archives webpage.

OUR GALAXY

We have very recently developed a new activity mixing astronomy and the arts: Galaxyscape. The students are asked to go outside and create a model of our galaxy using objects found in nature: leaves, sand, pine cones, needles, rocks...We tested the activity with many school groups (K-7) and it received very positive comments. You can access the description of the activity here, but please note this isn't a final document yet. 

THE UNIVERSE

An excellent website to discover the scale of the Universe, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, is Quantum to Cosmos, from the Perimeter Institute. It's easy to get lost in that site for many minutes or even hours! 

Now that you have a better sense of scale in the Universe, let's go back to the beginning of this week when I showed you these images. I hope you now have a better understanding of the differences between our Solar System, our Milky Way galaxy, and the Universe. Once we understand the scales involved, we tend not to mix them up!  

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And remember that in all that, there's a small blue marble we call home... 

The Earth above the surface of the Moon, as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

 

This connects well with the video shown at the beginning of the workshop - Reconnecting Humanity to the Earth and Stars - and how we can use astronomy to make the world a better place...

WE ARE ALL CITIZENS OF PLANET EARTH!