Exploring the Sky

Projects for Beginning Astronomy
Book cover: 'Exploring the Sky: Projects for Beginning Astronomy'
Richard Moeschl
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As your student begins to look skyward and ask questions, take them in one hand and this book in the other! With this book, an assortment of ordinary household things, binoculars or a telescope, and lots of time you can teach a fascinating, hands-on course in beginning astronomy for an entire year. Exploring the Sky is not a textbook. It isn't a storybook. It IS a living book guide to exploring the heavens with an interesting mix of history, biography, folklore, legend, science facts and science fiction, and even some mathematics and art. Obviously written by someone who loves the subject, Exploring the Sky makes the subject come alive.

Introducing a broad range of subjects, this book is organized into seven lengthy chapters with four topical sections each, and a total of seventy-two projects. This is hands-on, time-consuming, attention-grabbing, messy science, not read-about-it science! These sections begin with background information on the topic and at least one project, although most sections include several projects. For example, Chapter 5 is titled "Sky-Gathering Tools". Section 3 is titled "Cameras" and includes presentations on photography with a project on photographing stars and planets, the photoelectric effect, and computers with a project on showing how images are transmitted. This is followed by "Observations", critical thinking questions designed to elicit connections from the student. Often, there are suggestions for additional books to read and browse on the topic as well. Many of the suggested books have copyright dates between 1960 and 1980 and would be best located at the library. It is possible to simply dive in, choose a chapter or a section of a chapter, and begin exploring. The toughest decision is where to begin! How difficult it is to choose among constructing a sundial, demonstrating how the colors of the sky are make, experimenting with prisms, making a model of a black hole, or creating craters on Mercury.

As with all secular books on astronomy, there are references to millions of years of time, but there is no particular emphasis on evolution. Creation legends are retold from cultures as diverse as those of Babylonia, the Norsemen, Mexico, the Maori, and Greece but there is no mention of Christian teaching. Catholic children at this age level shouldn't have trouble making essential distinctions and will probably find value in contrasting this section with the book of Genesis and other sources of Catholic teaching.

This book is noted on the cover as being for "talented beginners", but it is for beginning astronomers who are middle-school-aged students and above, not beginning students in the elementary grades. Basic skill with multiplication and division, as well as the ability to use reference tables that are provided in the book, is necessary to understand some of the projects. Although there are numerous diagrams and sketches, the only thing missing is color photographs. I'm guessing that printing in black and white contributes to keeping such a valuable book so inexpensive. Thus, the only supplements that I suggest are Internet photographs (such as those on the NASA site) or books in Seymour Simon's space series.

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