Astronomy, and I’m sure you’d agree, is the most wonderous science of all. You are dealing with, literally, the biggest questions in the Universe from “how was the Universe formed?” to “Is there other life out there?”, but it is also, arguably, the easiest science to do yourself. If you go outside on a clear night, all you need to do is look up and you’ll maybe see the moon, some planets, stars, or even the Milky Way if you are in a very dark location.
It is this ease and wonder that makes the Armagh Planetarium such a popular place to visit, or why schools love astronomers visiting. I visit schools giving presentations, such as on my area of research, star formation, on the Solar System, or on how to become an astronomer, and I am always struck by how much pupils, of all ages, love the subject and the mysteries of the Universe.
However, this passion for the subject is not translated into the curriculums that are taught at high school. The physics curriculums contain some astronomy, such as the life cycle of stars, or the Solar System, but the Combined Sciences can contain none at all!
As a result, I had the aim of enriching the science curriculums of secondary school children, from 11-18, but especially those at GCSE or Junior Certificate with the goals of embedding astronomy into all science teaching, and to highlight the fantastic, cutting-edge research that astronomers are doing worldwide.
To do this, I have developed a service called “Astronomy in the News” that is for high-school teachers. I take a recent news story from the world of astronomy and astrophysics and convert it into teacher resources. These resources consist of presentation and a document containing teacher notes. The presentation contains three slides: one that describes the background science for the news article, the second contains the science of the article and the new result that was produced, and finally an activity for the students. The activities have spanned from discussion activities, to calculations, to balancing chemical reactions to practical experiments that demonstrate the difficult-to-understand topics of gravitational waves and gravitational lensing. The teacher notes explain the science of the slides as well as containing curriculum knowledge points for GCSE Science specifications (GCSE Astronomy, the three separate sciences and combined sciences) as well as those for A-Level Physics.
The resources can be found here, and if you read past bulletins, you will see that I have covered topics as diverse as exploring Venus, to gravitational waves and cosmological phenomena.
The bulletins are released every Wednesday and can be sent directly to your inbox by signing up to the dedicated mailing list.
Astronomy in the News is now hosted at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, and I hope to explain some of the world-leading research done here. Improvements will be made in the coming months such as expanding the number of curricula involved, to allowing the web page to be searched, but any feedback you may have will further these improvements.
I hope you find these resources useful for your classroom and enjoy teaching all of science through the eyes of astronomy and astrophysics!