January 2016 Archives

We introduce the Lee Sang Gak Telescope (LSGT), a remotely operated, robotic 0.43-meter telescope. The telescope was installed at the Siding Spring Observatory, Australia, in 2014 October, to secure regular and exclusive access to the dark sky and excellent atmospheric conditions in the southern hemisphere from the Seoul National University (SNU) campus. Here, we describe the LSGT system and its performance, present example images from early observations, and discuss a future plan to upgrade the system. The use of the telescope includes (i) long-term monitoring observations of nearby galaxies, active galactic nuclei, and supernovae; (ii) rapid follow-up observations of transients such as gamma-ray bursts and gravitational wave sources; and (iii) observations for educational activities at SNU. Based on observations performed so far, we find that the telescope is capable of providing images to a depth of R=21.5 mag (point source detection) at 5-sigma with 15 min total integration time under good observing conditions.

We report on ongoing work to gain insight into the astronomy knowledge and perspectives of pre-service teachers and middle school students in Norway. We carefully adapted and translated into Norwegian an existing instrument, the Introductory Astronomy Questionnaire (IAQ); we administered this adapted IAQ to (i) pre-service teachers at the largest teacher education institution in Norway, and (ii) students drawn from eight middle schools in Oslo, in both cases before and after astronomy instruction. Amongst our preliminary findings - based on an analysis of both free-response writing and multiple-choice responses - was that when prompted to provide responses to hypothetical students, the pre-service teachers exhibited a marked drop in pedagogical responses pre- to post-instruction, with corresponding shifts towards more authoritative responses. We also identified potentially serious issues relating to middle school students' conceptions of size and distances in the universe, with significant stratification along gender lines.

Science Learning via Participation in Online Citizen Science

We investigate the development of scientific content knowledge of volunteers participating in online citizen science projects in the Zooniverse (www.zooniverse.org), including the astronomy projects Galaxy Zoo (www.galaxyzoo.org) and Planet Hunters (www.planethunters.org). We use econometric methods to test how measures of project participation relate to success in a science quiz, controlling for factors known to correlate with scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists believe they are learning about both the content and processes of science through their participation. Won't don't directly test the latter, but we find evidence to support the former - that more actively engaged participants perform better in a project-specific science knowledge quiz, even after controlling for their general science knowledge. We interpret this as evidence of learning of science content inspired by participation in online citizen science.

A Michelson-type Radio Interferometer for University Education

We report development of a simple and affordable radio interferometer suitable as an educational laboratory experiment. With the increasing importance of interferometry in astronomy, the lack of educational interferometers is an obstacle to training the future generation of astronomers. This interferometer provides the hands-on experience needed to fully understand the basic concepts of interferometry. The design of this interferometer is based on the Michelson & Pease stellar optical interferometer, but operates at a radio wavelength (~11 GHz; ~2.7cm); thus the requirement for optical accuracy is much less stringent. We utilize a commercial broadcast satellite dish and feedhorn. Two flat side mirrors slide on a ladder, providing baseline coverage. This interferometer resolves and measures the diameter of the Sun, a nice daytime experiment which can be carried out even in marginal weather (i.e., partial cloud cover). Commercial broadcast satellites provide convenient point sources for comparison to the Sun's extended disk. We describe the mathematical background of the adding interferometer, the design and development of the telescope and receiver system, and measurements of the Sun. We present results from a students' laboratory report.

Doing is understanding: science fun in India

In India, as in many countries, the main focus in science classrooms is on exams rather than musing on the fascinating concepts and understanding of the world that science offers. This can mean that students lose interest in studying science -a problem that is further hampered where there is a lack of facilities, expertise or mentors. We started the 'Science is fun' outreach programme to address these problems. The 15-person team, led by undergraduate and research scientists, conducted four workshops with underprivileged children in Indian primary and secondary schools during December 2014 and January 2015.

The workshops explored basic science concepts, reinforced by hands-on experiments using readily available materials. They were generally successful, with students keen to participate and motivated to learn more after the workshops. We were also pleasantly surprised to see students engaging with new concepts and not hesitating to participate in the discussions. We tried to ensure teachers were central to the activities, and also designed the experiments to be easily repeatable so that teachers could incorporate them into their own lessons once the workshops were over. In this article, we describe three of our successful activities: building a periscope and a digital microscope, and two experiments based on the physical gas laws. All are cheap and easy to perform, yet reveal interesting scientific principles. Each activity takes about an hour.

Six specific modes of reasoning about ratio and proportion have been delineated as a means of operationalizing expert practice. These modes stem from consideration of how physicists reason in context, are informed by prior work in physics and mathematics education, and have grain size matched to the steps in reasoning needed to solve problems commonly used in physics instruction. A suite of assessment questions has been developed and validated to probe student facility with the reasoning modes. Responses to open-ended and multiple-choice versions of the assessment questions have been collected from more than 3000 students at Western Washington University, Rutgers University, and New Mexico State University. Results have been used to identify specific reasoning difficulties, to document differences in performance between student populations, and to explore the effect of question context on student reasoning. We find that students enrolled in university physics courses have difficulty interpreting and applying ratios in context, and in many cases lack facility with the reasoning underlying basic arithmetic operations of division and multiplication.

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