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Session 8 - Teaching Projects.
Display session, Monday, June 09
South Main Hall,

[8.03] Non-traditional Writing Assignments in the Introductory Astronomy Course

T. English (Gardner-Webb U.)

The non-traditional writing assignments now used in the Introductory Astronomy course (enrollment 15-30) at Gardner-Webb University have grown out of a desire to go beyond the traditional research paper. The course requires a group project (groups of 2-3) designed to give students an idea of how science is done. Two variations are used: the Observing Time Proposal, in which the students request time on a major observing facility to study non-solar system objects, and (2) the Planetary Probe Proposal, in which students determine mission goals and outline the science instrumentation for probes to the planets. Each project involves a series of individual assignments through which the students gather information that helps focus the proposal. The completed 3-page proposals are evaluated by a committee made up of Gardner-Webb faculty/staff and members of the local astronomy club. A natural informal writing assignment for astronomy is an observing log, the objective of which is to get students into the habit of sky watching. General observations are encouraged at least twice a week. Many logs evolve from early weather reports to detailed accounts and descriptions as the semester progresses. The log assignment also includes several specific tasks (sky motions, telescopic and moon observations, etc.), but is designed such that students can do most of the observing on their own. Several other writing assignments are also applied, including internet surveys of astronomical topics - loosely modeled after the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" format, in-class responses to the material, and a before-and-after exercise entitled, "What is a Star?" Many of the response exercises are designed as a means of feedback for instructor and students, and thus are not graded critically as writing, but rather noted for content. Examples of all of these exercises will be presented.

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