AAS 205th Meeting, 9-13 January 2005
Session 36 Uses of Modern Technology in Introductory Astronomy Education
Special Session, Monday, January 10, 2005, 10:00-11:30am, Sunrise

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[36.06] Project LITE - Light Inquiry Through Experiments

K. Brecher (Boston U.)

Hands-on, inquiry-based, constructivist activity offers students a powerful way to explore, uncover and ultimately gain a feel for the nature of science. In order to make practicable a more genuine approach to learning astronomy, we have undertaken the development of hands-on (and eyes-on) materials that can be used in introductory undergraduate astronomy courses. These materials focus on light and optics. Over the past several years as part of Project LITE (Light Inquiry Through Experiments), we have developed a kit of optical materials that is integrated with a set of Java applets. The combined kit and software allows students to do actual experiments concerning geometrical optics, fluorescence, phosphorescence, polarization and other topics by making use of the photons that are emitted by their computer screens. We have also developed a suite of over 100 Flash applets that allow students to directly explore many aspects of visual perception. A major effort of the project concerns spectroscopy, since it is arguably the most important tool used by astronomers to disentangle the nature of the universe. It is also one of the most challenging subjects to teach in undergraduate astronomy courses. The spectroscopy component of Project LITE includes take-home laboratory materials and experiments that are integrated with web-based software. We have also developed a novel quantitative handheld binocular spectrometer (patent pending). Our major spectroscopic software is called the Spectrum Explorer (SPEX). It allows students to create, manipulate and explore all types of spectra including blackbody, power law, emission and absorption. We are now extending the SPEX capabilities to help students gain easy access to the astronomical spectra included in the NVO databases. All of the Project LITE software can be found http://lite.bu.edu. Project LITE is supported by Grant #DUE-0125992 from the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 36 5
© 2004. The American Astronomical Society.