AAS 206th Meeting, 29 May - 2 June 2005
Session 2 Astronomy 101: something old, something new, something borrowed, something true
Poster, Monday, 9:20am-6:30pm, Tuesday, 10:00am-7:00pm, May 30, 2005, Ballroom A

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[2.04] Survey Astronomy 101 - A Third Way ?

M. N. Fanelli (UNT)

Survey astronomy courses are immensely popular at academic institutions across the US, as a means for non-science students to meet core curriculum requirements. Many colleges offer a one-semester “survey of the entire universe”, and the more common two-semester sequence; Planetary Astronomy and Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology. Many students choose or are required to adopt a cafeteria-style natural science curriculum, based on their college core requirements. Therefore these students take just one astronomy course. Often, as is the situation at our institution, either course may be taken independent of the other. This choice is reflected in the content of most of the major textbooks, which offer paperback split volumes, Each volume includes “essential” physics and astronomy elements, presented first, followed by either planetary science or stellar and galactic astronomy.

This two-semester course sequence has become increasing unsatisfying. First, students taking both courses receive a double dose of the “essentials”. Second, we have found it increasingly difficult to wedge all of the desired elements into one ~14 week semester. The exciting discoveries of the past decade, e.g., extrasolar planets, dark energy, multiple planetary missions, new telescope technologies, add many new items to each course. Additionally, we have come to realize that many astronomy students have not taken a science course since middle school. Many did not take high school chemistry, physics, or earth science, leaving these students unprepared to learn astronomy at the survey level. In particular, astronomy textbooks assume students are cognizant of many aspects of chemistry, biology, and especially earth science, requiring the instructor to fill in those gaps. We are developing an alternate approach for presenting the discipline of astronomy: a three-semester course sequence. The first course would provide an expanded curriculum covering basic natural science, built on the material presented initially in most courses. Students would be required to take this course, then optionally similarly-expanded courses in planetary science or stellar and galactic astronomy. We will outline the course and associated laboratory curricula for this expanded survey astronomy sequence.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: fanelli@unt.edu

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #2
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.