workshop: Teachers Level 1

Welcome to our Astronomy Workshop for Teachers - Level 1! 

The information below is based on our most recent workshop offered in November 2020. You are welcome to make use of it as you see fit. 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 be afraid to contact me!





week 1 - November 9 -13, 2020


The basic definition of astronomy 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

Do you feel connected to the stars and the sky? When was the last time you looked up? 

The video above is thorough and covers many aspects related to astronomy and our relationship with our planet. Don't hesitate to use it as a discussion starter with your students.


This week, we will be looking at different tools and activities to become familiar with the night sky and reconnect with the stars.

During the workshop, I will often refer to our educational module Looking Up, available on our Resources page. Feel free to go have a look right now. 

This teache'rs guide contains 8 activities that can be adapted to many levels —from kindergarten to post-secondary. I used many of these when I was teaching astronomy at the college level. 

Activity #1 is quite simple and asks students to draw or write what they can see in the sky both during the day and at night. It's usually a good activity for starting discussions with them about what's visible with the naked eye. 

You can then show them beautiful pictures and videos: 

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A star finder is a very useful tool for learning the stars and main constellations. You can find plastic versions in most libraries, but it's also possible to print and assemble paper versions with your students.

Check out Activity #7 - Introduction to the star finder in our module Looking Up. You will find the graphics to print, assembly instructions, an activity sheet, and an instructional video on how to use it. Note that this star finder shows the sky as seen from latitudes 40-50 degrees North and only includes the Western constellations. 

Since we wrote this module in 2016, my colleagues at the Dunlap Institute in Toronto have created their own star finder with lots of interesting information printed directly on it. They usually ship free kits to classrooms so keep that in mind for when things return to normal (after the pandemic). 



Another useful tool for learning more about the sky and teaching astronomy is planetarium software. There are a few out there, but I will be sharing Stellarium, which is free and available in many languages. Let's start by learning how to use it: 

Stellarium is a powerful tool that models the sky in many different ways. I wrote a list of questions to help you become familiar with the program which you can use with your students. I invite you to go through the list of questions first to see which would be relevant for your students, depending on their grade level. 

Activity Sheet - Stellarium


In the next few weeks, I invite you to look up regularly and learn to recognize the main stars, planets, and constellations. I'll start by showing you how to identify the beautiful planets visible now: 

Here is a guided tour of the night sky. Once you're looking up at the night sky, don't try to learn everything at once. Take it one step at a time and use the tricks I share in the video below. Learning the sky takes time and many observation sessions, so don't despair! This video will be useful for the duration of the workshop and beyond. 


This week, I introduced you to the night sky and gave you tools to learn the stars and constellations with your students. I hope you all managed to observe the real sky a few times this week. But if the weather didn't cooperate, hopefully you discovered new things thanks to Stellarium. 

Which tools will be most useful to you? What did you enjoy the most? What will you integrate into your classroom and how? 

week 2 - November 16-20, 2020

When observing the Moon, I recommend sketching what you observe and taking notes. You can use these next two activities as inspiration, or create your own observation journal. They are both found in our module Looking Up!:

Your notes will be useful later on when you model the phases of the Moon. 


Take a minute to imagine the Earth from space. Our planet is beautiful! This unique view gives us a new perspective on our world and its inhabitants. Below are a few of my favourite pictures of Earth from space. 


The astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan wrote a touching tribute to our planet in his book Pale Blue Dot in 1994. This excerpt is about the picture on the right, the Pale Blue Dot.  

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. (...) It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." 

- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

(read longer text)

One site I really like to reference when talking about the Earth, is the for the satellite DSCOVR from NASA:


DSCOVR is located between the Earth and the Sun and takes continuous pictures of the Earth to study its climate. The pictures show us the "day" side of the Earth and the date can be changed to view the Earth at different times. Go check their Galleries, which highlight some amazing events such as solar eclipses when the shadow of the Moon is visible on the Earth. 

The picture on the right shows the Earth on November 3, 2020



Last week, I showed you how the sky appears to move as the Earth rotates (see the video Introduction to Stellarium). In reality, it's the Earth that spins, but because we don't feel that motion, it appears to us like the sky is moving. I really like this beautiful timelapse video which allows us to see the real motion. 


The seasons are not that straightforward to fully understand. Instinctively, we tend to think the distance to the Sun varies throughout the year and that creates the seasons. It seems logical since we are warmer when we get closer to a heat source, and it feels cooler as we move away. And it is true that a planet located closer to Sun tends to be warmer than a planet further away. But this cannot be the reason for the seasons because they would be the same in both the northern and southern hemispheres, which isn't the case. When it's summer in Canada, it's actually winter in Argentina! 

​The reason for the seasons is the amount of direct sunlight which varies in one location throughout the year. 

Now, let's come back to the surface of the Earth to see the apparent motion of the Sun in the sky over a year. This video using Stellarium was made a few years ago, but the content is still relevant and could be useful with your students.  

An activity related to these concepts is Activity #6 - Where does the sun set? found in our module Looking Up.

Download the PowerPoint presentation about the Earth


The Earth has one natural satellite, or moon, which we call the Moon (capitalized). Some planets don’t have moons, such as Venus and Mercury, while others have many dozens of them, such as Jupiter and Saturn. Dwarf planets, like Pluto, and even asteroids can have moons.


Our Moon is a rocky world without an atmosphere and is therefore completely inhospitable to life. We can see many craters on its surface, proof that the Moon was hit a lot by meteorites in the past. You can find many interesting Moon facts in our recent blog post.

The Moon goes around the Earth in 27.3 days (orbital period) and it also rotates once on its axis in 27.3 days (period of rotation). This is not a coincidence: the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, which means we always see the same face. This concept is not easy to visualize and we often think the Moon doesn’t rotate. The following animation helps to see the difference:


On the left: The real motion with the Moon always showing the same face to the Earth. It rotates on its axis at the same rate that it orbits the Earth.

On the right: If the Moon didn’t rotate, we would end up seeing all faces of the Moon from Earth. Credit:  Wikipedia / Stigmatella aurantiaca 


The lunar cycle, from full Moon to full Moon, takes 29.5 days. This number is a bit higher than the orbital period of the Moon because the Earth also moves around the Sun and it takes a bit longer to come back to the right alignment between the three objects. This length of time is the basis for our month. Ever noticed how the word month is derived from moon?


I highly encourage you to observe the Moon in the sky, during the day and at night, to keep track of its changing phases over a lunar cycle. You can use the activities mentioned earlier to record your own observations and for your students to record theirs.  

Here are the links to the activities shown in the previous videos:

Let's finish by looking at the details for the solar eclipse coming up on June 10, 2021, which will be visible from Canada. The website shown in the video is​

We are currently working on a project to provide eclipse glasses to schools for this eclipse. Priority will be given to schools in or near the zone of annular eclipse (northern Ontario, northern Quebec, and Nunavut). 

Let me know if you are interested! 


There was a lot of content this week! Most of these concepts are found in all school curricula across Canada and I wanted to make sure you had many resources to teach them. Do you feel more comfortable and prepared to teach these concepts now? Are there some points you're still unsure about? 

week 3 - November 23-27, 2020


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 this activity with your students.

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. 


Here's a great website to explore the Solar System with your students: The next video gives you a demo: 

There are many interesting points we can cover when teaching the Solar System. I recently 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


The main points I emphasize are:

  • 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.


I think creating a scale model is a very powerful way for students to realize how big our Solar System is.  You can use our online tool Scale Solar System to help you design your scale model.


If you’d like to find different ways you can model the Solar System, explore another webinar I presented on that specific topic in 2018:


Webinar – Model the Solar System


These webinars, and more, can be accessed from our Archives webpage.


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 just 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. 


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, and it can be used as an activity or resource for your students. 

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!  


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 Reconnaissace Orbiter.