2007 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 24, 2007
HUB West Ballroom

Session Description


Tapping the Creativity and Insight of Undergraduate and First-Year Graduate Students in the Development of Tutorials and Interactive Exercises in Introductory Astronomy

Ana M. Larson (plus 15 co-authors) - Astronomy


Recent studies from the education research group at the University of Arizona have shown significant improvement in student learning in astronomy through the use of lecture tutorials and interactive learning. Unfortunately, the topics and concepts they address cover only a small portion of what is taught in the introductory, non-science-major, Astronomy 101 courses at Washington. Efforts by U of W astronomy faculty to expand these tutorials and relate them to the “real-world” of astronomers through quantitative exercises have been frustratingly limited due to the simple lack of faculty time. A direct plea for undergraduates interested in pursuing this educational aspect of astronomy along with their regular coursework brought positive responses: 2 undergraduates working on an individual basis and 13 undergraduate and 2 graduate students working as a team have created a series of 3 new lecture tutorials and corresponding interactive-learning exercises. One undergraduate, S. Schmoll, is currently pursuing preliminary results that show a significant increase in the test scores between students in Autumn Quarter 2005 and Autumn Quarter 2006 due to her work covering the parallaxes of stars. The guidance in the development of these tutorials and interactive-learning exercises has brought out the following “discoveries” about undergraduates and first-year graduate students: they are 1) more attuned to undergraduate “speak”; 2) able to analyze the thinking patterns needed to understand a difficult or abstract concept; 3) sophisticated enough to learn how students learn; and 4) not afraid to criticize poorly constructed tutorials and exercises. The process of involving these students in the development of learning tools may lead to a more student-centered approach to teaching introductory astronomy, one that involves only a brief introduction to a topic or concept followed by a tutorial and exercise that have the students work through their quantitative analyses and critical thinking questions.



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