Notes From a Science Teacher
I taught science to elementary and junior high students for over a decade, and Astronomy For Thinkers is my attempt to share some of what I've done in Astronomy. Over the years, I have created a number of useful teaching aids, and I have placed some of these in my downloads section. I also have a certain philosophical point of view about science education, and a certain method of approach, which I would like to add to the discussion. I try to synopsize my point of view below, and you can get a sense of it in my articles Science Indoctrination, Playground Astronomy, and Why Does the Moon Have Phases? I have also written quite a pile of curricular material using my method of approach. The articles and the download discussions contain hints and fragments of my curriculum, but the only thing I have for sale at the moment are my constellations course ($29) and my teacher's guide to lunar eclipses ($4). I hope to gradually draft it all into a more organized set of lesson plans and make it available here in the future, but that's a long-term, ongoing project.
The content here is aimed primarily at science educators, especially homeschool teachers who may be interested in helpful material. But I hope that it will be of interest to any amateur star-gazer or astronomy enthusiast who enjoys the beauty in the sky, and to any parent, aunt, coach, or teacher, who wants to share that beauty with a child. This website was launched in March, 2019, and I expect it to grow gradually over the next few years.
You may also be interested in my other website, Krieger Science, though that is not much more than a blog where I posted some miscellaneous project ideas that I tried with my students. The "astronomy" section of that site just links back here, but there are also project ideas in biology and physics that you may find helpful.
A Little Bit of Philosophy
In a word, I think science education should be rational. I think that one of the primary goals of formal education should be to teach children how to speak, write, and think clearly. And science is supposed to be the shining example of the power of thinking in human civilization — of the power of intelligent inquiry, evidence, and reason in human life on earth. Children should be taught science not only as a way of making them aware of how the world works, but just as importantly as a way of making them aware of how thinking works, and the great power that you gain by thinking well. Science education should help children learn how to think in an orderly way, starting from obvious clues or "evidence", and following steps that make sense.
I don't expect many people would disagree with this. I imagine many science educators share similar goals. But I don't think that the way most science educators are going about education is producing these results. I think children should be taught to think in the same way they are taught any other skill — by being shown how to do it, and by being coached as they practice it. Children should not be "taught" science by unsubstantiated assertions about invisible things. Children should learn science by getting to see many examples of good thinking in the discovery of scientific truths from evidence. They should see examples of how to notice interesting patterns, how to ask sensible questions, and how to go about trying to answer the questions. In the case of astronomy, a child's education should start with numerous first-hand observations of his own sky, with simple physical or geometric arguments based on those observations, and it should build in a systematic and logical way from the obvious and curious observations in the world around us, all the way up to our modern grasp of our place in the universe. The historical development of science can be an enormous help here. I don't think that teachers should attempt to re-create the entire journey of discovery by which mankind rose from complete ignorance, through thousands of years of mental effort, to an understanding of the smallest atoms and the farthest galaxies. But children should at least witness the major steps of the historical journey, they should see that it was a journey, and they should see that all valid knowledge came from observation and careful work. (And I find, to my fascination, that children often have the same questions that original scientists and scientific critics had. Rather than ignoring ancient points of view — like the theory of the four elements or of the geocentric universe — because they are now "outdated", and we now "know better", these questions and puzzles of early scientists should be accepted as plausible and questioned. It’s fun and natural to chew things through, as long as you start from things that a child can actually see and ponder and find interesting, instead of starting from what we "now know" as given facts.)
I’m trying to show students the main storyline, the line of reasoning, by which we found out about science. Rather than just "teaching" the facts that students should believe, I'm trying to show students how to judge whether a belief makes sense or not, and to understand why we believe what we believe.
I chose to call this website "Astronomy for Thinkers", because that was the best way I could find to capture the essential features I hope to convey.
If you are interested in receiving a heads-up when there are interesting things to look for in the sky, I occasionally publish an email newsletter. It mostly contains announcements of things to look for in the sky that might be of interest to educators or sky enthusiasts, but I may also announce updates to the website from time to time. If you're a parent or science teacher and you'd like some guidance through the night sky, please sign up! It's free!
Constellations For Kids ($29) — This is my first video course, published in April 2021, covering the constellations, using some of my constellation worksheets as the primary activity. It covers most of the bright landmarks that you can see from the northern hemisphere, and it is aimed at roughly 10-year-olds, give or take a few years.
Thinking About Lunar Eclipses ($4) — This is a teacher's manual covering lunar eclipses, published in May 2021.
Live classes on Outschool — As of late July, 2021, I'm also getting ready to start teaching live video classes on Outschool. Stop by and say hi!
Homemade Sundials and Other Astronomy Toys
One of the projects I've been working on (well, playing with, really...) has been turning some of my paper creations into wooden or plastic versions using a laser engraver. I recently documented some of my results and posted them as youTube videos. So far I have made sundials, celestial planispheres, and solstice roses. (My "Maker Space" hosted an online "Maker Faire" recently, and I made these videos as my submission. Many thanks to Mike and Pete and Nathan and everyone at Cedar Valley Makers for helping to run one of the most well-stocked and best-run community machine shops that I know of!) At one point I thought maybe I could earn some money by selling these, but I really have no ability or interest in running my own manufacturing business. My hope now is that I can work out a deal whereby I provide designs to schools, and students can make their own astronomy toys in shop classes or technology classes.
The growth and maintenance of this site (and its sister site Krieger Science) are now my full-time enterprise. If you would like to support the growth of this website, one of the best ways you could help would be to tell other people. Tell your friends, children, parents, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in astronomy or education. You can use the "share" buttons at the bottom of any page to email a link, or to share a page with your friends and followers on social media. I also have a Facebook Page, where I make occasional announcements about what I'm working on or recent additions to the website.
Thanks for visiting!