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ASTR 502 : Teaching Earth and Space Science (CRN 15351)



WILL BE OFFERED FALL 2023, starting August 21, 2023

Interested in joining us, for credit or just for continuing education hours?
Contact Dr. Reiff for information. Visiting teachers MUST turn in your registration on or before the first day of classes. Rice undergrads may enroll - request a registration override. Teachers may participate virtually - Contact Dr. Reiff for the Zoom info.

Special for 2023 - Planning for two solar eclipses in the US: annular in October 14, 2023 and total in April 8, 2024!


This course is designed for inservice and preservice teachers (grades 5-12), but Rice undergraduates considering a teaching career are also welcome (I will approve the registration waiver). This class is an overview of the Earth and the solar system, their structure, evolution, and dynamics. It includes fundamentals of Earth and Space Science topics as taught in 6th grade, plus solar system content of " "Earth and Space Science" " and Texas High School Astronomy requirements, but will be taught at a level accessible for teachers in middle and upper elementary schools. Includes mathematics of solar system motion at level of algebra, logarithms, exponentials, and simple trigonometry, including Kepler’s and Newton’s laws. Includes instruction in use of Earth and solar system software. Observing sessions at Rice campus observatory and George Observatory TBD.


Goal: This course develops solar system concepts and skills in a manner consistent with the Next Generation National Science Standards and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills proficiencies. It uses solar system examples to teach mathematical skills including exponentials, logarithms and powers. It covers all the solar system material in the Texas High School Astronomy course, and the "Earth in Space" concepts from the new TX "Earth and Space Science" course, but presented at a level accessible by upper elementary and middle school teachers. (The remaining stellar and galactic astronomy concepts are covered in ASTR 503). The course uses materials from the "Space Update" program, involves student inquiry using software and web-based materials, and has some hands-on solar system observing labs.

Dates: August 21 - Nov 30, 2023, Mondays, 6:00 - 9 pm (with some additional dates/times observing on campus and at George Observatory). Field trip to annular eclipse 10/14/23.

Location: Herman Brown Hall 223, Rice campus (plus planetarium in BRK B13), plus campus observatory (BRK 400) and George Observatory TBD


As a result of this class, the student will be able to:
1. describe and distinguish the various types of solar system objects: planets, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, Kuyper belt objects.
2. use Kepler's laws to calculate apogee and perigee from semimajor axis and eccentricity, or vice versa.
3. use Newton's laws as applied to planetary motion.
4. describe the principal theories of solar system formation, and explain how the planetary composition results.
5. use semi-log and log-log paper to plot planetary data, demonstrating knowledge of logarithms and exponentials.
6. calculate escape speed from solar system objects, and relate that to an object's ability to retain an atmosphere.
7. use albedo and greenhouse fraction to calculate planetarium equilibrium temperature.
8. find planet locations in the sky and be able to observe and demonstrate to others.
9. make sketches of planets using telescopic observations.
10. (Communication) research a planetary mission, a planet, or a mission to search for extrasolar planets, and make a powerpoint presentation to class.


Instructor Prof. Patricia Reiff, with special activities by Adjunct Prof. Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Office Hours by appointment. Course assistant/tutor: Deborah Edwards.
Texts "Field Guide to Stars and Planets", Pasachoff, ISBN 978-0395934319
"Astronomy" from OpenStax
"Space Update", ISBN 9781931-523530. Also bring your laptop to class.
University Credit Hours 3 (sorry, no stipend)
To register for credit, contact Patricia Reiff at 713-348-4634.
You must be registered as a Visiting, undergrad, MAT, Master of Space Science or Master of Science Teaching student. Teachers wishing to participate as a Visiting Student, please contact Dr. Reiff before the first class. Note: up to 9 credit hours taken as a Visiting Student can be applied towards your Master of Science Teaching degree.
A few slots are available for remote participants via zoom.
A few slots are available for teachers wishing only Profession Development Hours at a special $150 workshop fee.
Grading Policy Each homework is a variable number of points (4-10); each of the two quizzes is 20-24 points; the observing lab is 6 points; and the term report is 12 points. The final grade is calculated by dividing the number of points earned by the total number available (generally 120). Calculators are encouraged both for homework and for quizzes.
Absence Policy Dual delivery: The lectures will be recorded for later playback online. Because of the intense hands-on nature of some of the sessions, and the fact that we will observe through the campus telescope if weather permits, students should try to attend every class but no specific penalty for absences
Tuition/fees Thanks to a generous discount from Rice University, the tuition for teachers is only $1200 for three hours of graduate credit, plus other University fees (roughly $150). A few partial tuition scholarships are available for inservice teachers. Remote participation via Zoom is possible. Participation as an auditor is available for paid tuition or for Professional Development hours is also possible for a fee. Contact Dr. Reiff.
Honor Code Students may work together on homework but each student must turn in their own paper. Quizzes must be pledged as individual work and are subject to the Rice Honor Code.
Students With Disabilities Any student with a disability that requires accommodation should contact the instructor and the Disability Support Servies. We will attempt every reasonable accommodation.
Chat GBT and AI Students should not use artificial intelligence, including but not limited to Chat GBT and AI, for their homework or other assignments.

Alignment with Texas Standards and High School Course requirements

Grade Levels: 6-8 (general science) and 9-12 (IPC, Astronomy)
Strands: Components of the Solar System, Changes and Cycles (seasons, tilt; phases of Moon), Conceptual Models, Major Earth processes and systems, Forces and Energy; Newton's and Kepler's Laws, Waves, The Sun
Grade Levels: 6-8 and 9-12
Strands: Numbers, Operations, and Quantitative Reasoning, Patterns, proportions, algebraic reasoning, Geometric shapes, volumes, densities, Measurement; units, formulas, Linear and logarithmic functions, Graphing, Relationship between algebra and geometry
Knowledge and Skills: Scientific Processes, scientific methods, field and laboratory investigations, use of data to make inferences, communicate conclusions
Science Concepts:

1. Observe and record data about lunar phases and use that information to model the earth, moon and sun system; observe and record the apparent movement of the Sun and Moon during the day and the Moon, planets and stars in the nighttime sky

2. Units of measurement such as Light Year and Astronomical Unit; History of astronomy; planetary motion; Equation of gravitation; compare and contrast the scale, size, and distance of the Sun, Earth and Moon system, and the sizes and distances of the planets

3. The Sun: its energy sources; the Sun's effect on earth; the effect of rotation, revolution and tilt on the environment; the effect of the Moon on tides; the solar system (the remaining stellar and galactic astronomy concepts are covered in ASTR 503).

Knowledge and Skills: Scientific Processes, scientific methods, field and laboratory investigations, use of data to make inferences, communicate conclusions
Science Concepts:

1. The student knows that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the star, planets, and minor bodies of a stellar system that accrete from a stellar nebula as explained by the nebular-planetesimal-protoplanet model.

2. The student can explain how the Sun and other stars transform matter into energy through nuclear fusion.

3. The student will explore the historical and current hypotheses for the origin of the Moon, including the collision of Earth with a Mars-sized planetesimal.

4. contrast the characteristics of solar system planetesimals such as comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and their positions within the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, and the asteroid belt

5. compare the terrestrial planets to the gas giant planets, including internal structure, atmosphere, size, density, solar orbit, presence of water, surface features, tectonic activity, temperature, and suitability for life; explore the historical and current hypotheses for the origin of the moon, including the collision of Earth with a Mars-sized planetesimal; compare recently-discovered extra-solar planets with planets in our solar system, and describe how such planets are detected. The student can describe the formation and structure of Earth's magnetic field, including its interaction with charged solar particles to form the Van Allen belts and auroras.

SCHEDULE : FALL 2023 (tentative - check the online schedule frequently)

6:00-9:00 pm, HBH 223
Class overview; installation of Space Update; Install Stellarium; Overview of the Solar System. ALT/AZ coordinates; phases of the moon. Start on Homework 1. (WE WILL INSTALL ON YOUR LAPTOP)
6:00-9:00 pm, HBH 223
First solar viewing session - learn about safe solar eclipse techniques. We will build a pinhole viewer - bring a big cereal box or shipping tube if you have one. Start on homework: Homework 2. Start on observing Moon phases (alt/az) Homework 3. )
Sept 6 (No class Sept 4 for Labor Day)
At HMNS planetarium: view celestial coordinates, phases of moon, seasons and more in the big dome (led by Dr. Carolyn Sumners)
Mon Sept 11
6:00-9:00 pm, HBH 227
Celestial coordinates; Ecliptic, orbits. Turn in homework 1 and 2. Discuss observing project (Homework 7) and term Project (Homework 10). Start on Homework 4.
Mon Sept 18
HBH 227
Kepler's Laws 1&2: ellipses (semimajor axis, eccentricity, periapsis, apoapsis), speeds of planets ( Homework 4: ellipse activity
Mon Sept 25
HBH 227
Eclipses - annular and total; prepare materials for annular eclipses. Plan field trips to the annular
Mon Oct 2
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Kepler's Laws 3: periods and semimajor axes; logarithms; plotting orbits. (Activity: orbits; Homework 5: plotting periods versus distance for Saturn's moons)
Mon Oct 9 - No class for fall break
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Saturday Oct 14
(Optional) Field trip to the annular eclipse - Corpus Christi or elsewhere
Mon Oct 16
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
More on Kepler's Laws; The Sun; Formation of the Solar System
Saturday, Oct 21 at Rice Campus observatory
George Observatory, 6 - 10 pm
Observe the Moon Night at Rice or George Observatory (Find a location near you if you don't live in Houston)
Mon Oct 23
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
The Moon (Activity: lunar size and distance); Review for Quiz; Observing, observatory
Mon Oct 30
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Inner planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth. Homework 6
Mon Nov 6
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Earth as a planet: Albedo, temperature and greenhouse effect; ice ages
Mon Nov 13
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Mars and Asteroid Belts, comets
Mon Nov 20
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune)
Mon Nov 27
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Dwarf planets (Pluto, Eris, etc...); Extrasolar planets; Class presentations.
Weds Nov 29
HBH 227 (6-9 pm)
Class presentations; Review for Quiz 2 (will be takehome)

HOMEWORK Fall 2023 (tentative - check the online schedule frequently)