Asterisms Unit: Star Party

Lesson History
School Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center Kalamazoo Valley Community College Franklin Middle School
Class 6th-8th Grade Astronomy Astronomy of the Inner Solar System 8th Grade Science
Date(s) Summers 1996, 1997, 1999 Winter 2003 October 22, 2003
Learning Objective
Students shall identify several features of the night sky during the lesson, and be able to identify at least one later.
National Standard(s)
Sci.V.4.MS.3 Describe and explain common observations of the day and night skies. (Key concepts: Perceived and actual movement of the moon across sky, moon phases, stars and constellations, planets, Milky Way, comet tail. Real-world contexts: Outdoor observing of the skies, using telescopes and binoculars, as well as "naked-eye" viewing; telescopic and spacecraft-based photos of planets, moons, and comets; news reports of planetary and lunar exploration.)
  1. How do structures and processes relate to energy and its use?
  2. How do differences in scale affect processes with which we are familiar?
Driving Question
  1. What can be observed in the night sky?
  2. How do our observations of the night sky link us with civilizations thousands of years old?
as Related to Objective
  1. This lesson is related to the first driving question in that we are actually observing what can be observed in the night sky.
  2. The constellations that we observe are similar (though not the same!) as those observed by the Greeks and Romans thousands of years ago. (The stars are the same, but their positions are not.)
Instructor Preparation

Students should already have a basic star chart from the star charts lecture and a chart of their asterism from the Create-Your-Own-Asterism project.

  1. Photocopy blank star charts for the night of observation from the Urban Planning web site. You can adjust the deepest magnitude star seen if you know what observing conditions are going to be beforehand.
  2. Make extra Abram's Planetarium star charts because some students will forget to bring their own.
Materials Needed
Resource What is it? File(s)

Red Flashlight

a flashlight with some red cloth/paper/or other material over it so it's light won't kill your nightvision  
Monthly Star Chart a star chart of various stars (including their constellations) which can be seen in the month in question you can get this from Abram's planetarium at MSU
Blank Star Chart A star chart with the stars that will be visible on the night you are observing from where you are observing under current conditions. No constellations are on this chart. I am creating a web site where you can get this.
Activity Time
1 hour is the minimum amount of time to allot to an activity such as this one.
Instructional Strategies (Science Instruction pg. 244)
This is a laboratory exercise.
Instructional Sequence
  1. PSYCH UP CLASS: All during every lesson on asterisms and star charts, I told students that we would be going out on a star party to observe these things. After the initial lessons, I reminded them each day of when the star party would be. This excited the students and those who came were interested in seeing the stars.
  2. ARRIVE: Show up to the observing site a little early. Make sure people who are bringing telescopes are there and see if they need any help setting up.
  3. SEE STARS: Observe. Explain what can be seen to the students. Students should record their observations on their blank star chart.
    I have found that students enjoy this activity. As long as there are stars visible, they stay pretty much on task, asking me questions where appropriate.
  4. GO HOME: Make sure all students have been picked up. Clean up the observing site. Leave and get to bed as soon as possible--you will be tired in the morning!
The clearest nights are the coldest nights. Bring a warm jacket. Tell students to bring warm clothing as well.
CONTINUING ASSESSMENT: I am looking at levels of participation, questions asked, and what they are showing to each other.
Why am I doing what I am doing?
  1. Objective -- As a first star party, I want to make sure students think of this as a fun activity. They will naturally be curious and that presents many learning opportunities/teachable moments. I hope they will identify several features of the night sky, including the asterism they created.
    Why is it important for students to do this? -- This is the real world application for the asterism unit. To have friends in the sky is something they will carry with them throughout their lives.
  2. Sequence -- This is a very simple instructional sequence. It is hard to plan more than that because everything depends on what is available for viewing on a given night. I can identify most things students see and model inquiry when I can't identify something. There is always something to view though. Even on the cloudiest of nights, one can see city lights, aircraft, clouds (which look different at night...more as holes in the star field), and, of course, UFOs (which the instructor can turn into IFOs (identified flying objects) by indentifying them).
    UFOs -- I make a point of pointing out to my students that a UFO is simply something not yet identified. I have found that this defuses the alien myths some students have because now they can look at those pictures and wonder for themselves "what is that" and realize (hopefully) that not knowing is different from knowing aliens. In the star party, there are many opportunities for students to find a UFO (something they don't know what it is) and to realize that it is, say, an airplane.
  3. Assessment -- This is an introduction. I am, of course, noting what they see and what they don't as well as how adept they are with their star charts, but most important is that they are out there, observing the sky, and having a good time.
    • As long as they are observing the sky, in my experience they will also fulfill the instructional objective.
    • If they have a good time, they will come back for more viewings and will learn more as a result.
      Remember: Star Parties do not substract from instructional time in the classroom. They only add to it!
    • Students who did not go to the star party could be assigned going to one at a friend's house.
  4. Parts & Whole -- This fits into the subunit as a way to apply what they have learned in class. It feeds back in as well as they become curious about things that they have seen. In terms of within the lesson, we are always doing the same thing--looking at the sky--so the parts are the whole.
  5. Technique -- This is a lab exercise. It is a way to increase students' curiosity about the things we are studying in the classroom.
How it Went/Lessons Learned

It is difficult to get administrative approval for this as it means they have to stay late. Try to coordinate with other activities that last well into the night.

Unit: Journals, Assets, Lecture, Research, Create-Your-Own, Star Party

This is the lab inquiry lesson plan for Education 422: "Teaching of Science in the Secondary School (MAC)."

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Daniel D. Slosberg |
December 1, 2003