Ways to Incorporate Astronomy
Into High School
Below is a list of ways astronomy and variable stars can be incorporated
into the senior high school curriculum.
Data Management – Recording and
One of the projects listed on AAVSO
is “Hands on Astrophysics”.
Following one of the things they’ve suggested to do, students
can be assigned to observe variable stars in the night sky and estimate
the stars’ brightness. For schools or students without access
to telescopes or binoculars, naked eye variables like Delta Cephei can
be used. Students can contribute their measurements to a class database,
and supplement this with data from the AAVSO website. Students can then
estimate the magnitude of the star and plot light curves, find the lengths
of stars’ periods, and so on based on their own observations.
This can fit well into a Data Management class, which works to analyze
and find trends in data.
Data Management / Physics – Estimating
Either with professional observations or the naked eye ones done above
(if done on a Cepheid), one can find the period, find the luminosity
from the period-luminosity relation, and use the inverse square law
to find the distance to a star. Students can be challenged to find distances
for prominent objects in the night sky.
Moreover, students can be encouraged to use different methods like
parallax, RR Lyrae Stars, and possibly Supernovae as well.
Computer Science – Programming
Models and Simulations
Some schools offer advanced programming courses in 11th and 12th grades
that deal with JAVA or C++. Students can be challenged with final programming
projects to design models and simulations of variable stars or systems.
Some projects may include:
- Have students simulate binary star systems and the way brightness
level is affected during an eclipse.
- A program that may be able to track bright changes in stars using
astrophotos from the Internet.
- A program that scans online data of different stars and looks for
flares or sudden changes in brightness.
Physics / Chemistry / General
AAVSO’s Solar Observing Program
If a school is fortunate enough to be equipped with a solar filter
and a telescope (or you can have the school plan some sort of fundraiser
if they do not), you can have students learn about the physics and chemistry
behind sunspots, and have them participate in the Solar Observing Program,
where the amount of sunspots is recorded for AAVSO. This might also
be done without a telescope, but using online image resources or possibly
Interdisciplinary Courses – General
Within some schools, it is possible to partake in an interdisciplinary
course where you get a special credit at the end of the year. For example,
a student may want to try and build a robot. When doing so, he or she
must take into account different topics covered in computer science
and physics. Astronomy is a perfect area to create such interdisciplinary
courses, as it focuses on chemistry, physics, math, and its early studies
can even be focused on subjects like philosophy.