With your project partner, choose one observational
project to complete this quarter. You will also do library research
on your topic. Do NOT rely on web pages, and DO keep track
of your resources so you can reference all the information you
use. Exceptionally ambitious, mathematical, and careful
projects may earn upper division science credit (to be determined
based on your end-of-quarter presentations and reports).
Criteria for a good project:
- originality: your own observations and explanations
in your own words.
- coherence (but not completeness - you can't
answer all the questions about your phenomenon)
- technical accuracy, in science and in writing
Consider choosing a project which does not require a telescope.
There are 4 telescopes available for our use, so time at the
eyepiece will be at a premium. There is really no substitute
for careful naked-eye and binocular observation to help you
develop an intimate, first-hand understanding of sky phenomena.
We will facilitate class observations on Tuesday nights, as
Work in teams to share telescope time, rides to dark spots,
hot cocoa and blankets. Observing solo can be cold, lonely business.
Bring a thermos, a reclining chair, and a sleeping bag, especially
for long sessions such as meteor showers.
Each partner is expected to do independent, original research.
Record your observations in an unlined, bound notebook, as described
in class. Record your field notes, sketches, diagrams and charts.
Make sense of your observations with the help of appropriate
library research. Compare your results with your teammates.
Pay special attention to points of disagreement - these can
become the nuclei of some of your best learning. Synthesize
your observations with your research, and turn in completed
material at the end of the quarter. In addition to submitting
a carefully referenced Web page, you will also make a short
formal presentation to classmates.
Choose one of the projects recommended in our links,or consult
with Zita this week to design a project of your own.
You should undertake two complementary library studies of the
phenomenon you observe.
1. What are the best explanations modern scientists have
for the phenomenon?
2. And how did people from another culture or time understand
the same phenomenon?
What similarities and differences do you find between the two
Resist deciding simply that one is "right" and the other is
"wrong". Instead, try your best to see it from the point
of view of the culture developing the explanation, considering
the resources they have for investigating it. For
example, why would it make sense for ancient Chinese to say
a dragon is swallowing the Sun during an eclipse? Rather
than mere fancy, it is likely to be consistent with the local
cosmology, or understanding of the universe, in some interesting
ways. Help us see how your culture's interpretation of your
phenomenon sheds light on their cosmology. Finally, how do the
different explanations help you discern fundamental differences
(and similarities) in the two cosmologies?
Some of the linked candidate projects include notes about connections
to early European or Central and South American cultures.
You should do additional research on how another culture understood
your research topic. Start with the Audubon Society guide
and our seminar texts, and branch out with library research.
Remember, most web pages are not refereed, so don't believe
most of what you read online!
In addition to our seminar texts, you might check out books
by Anthony Aveni, Michael J. Crowe, Neil de Grasse Tyson,
Timothy Ferris, Carl Sagan, and others.
You must write in your own
words, whether it is a paragraph for seminar or a page
for your research report. After you have gotten a start
on thinking, observing, reading, etc., put all your sources
away, close your notebooks, and write. Leave blanks for
the detailed information you need to look up. Go back
later and fill in those blanks, and reference your source at
the end of your sentence (author and page).
your sources completely at the end of your paper (endnotes,
reference list, or footnotes, I don't care which, just be consistent
You must proofread and rewrite. Go through all
these steps for every single writing assignment,
long or short:
- look up every uncertain word in your dictionary
- read aloud to catch missing words or incomplete sentences
- take it to a writing tutor or a classmate. Listen
to their ideas on how your writing could be clearer.
- Rewrite it.
- Get out your list of Finkel's rules,
and check every single one of them. If your paper misses
one, it may be returned unread.
You must say something unique and interesting to you,
if it is going to be interesting to your reader. Lists
of facts, however erudite, tend to be boring. For example:
"Jupiter has 74 moons. Io is named for a chicken, Europa
is named for a cow, Callisto is named for a musical instrument
... Io has volcanoes, Europa may have liquid water
under its icy surface, Callisto is the source of an iron-rich
meteorite... " So what?
Synthesize your knowledge in your own way. For
example: "Careful observation of Jupiter's moons can
let me weigh the planet! First I need to find out how
far away Jupiter is, then I need to time the moons' orbits.
Surprisingly, it doesn't matter how much each moon weighs, because
..." Write freely first; check the accuracy of what
you write later.
Week by week: Assignments
due on Friday.
- week 1: Brainstorm project ideas in class; review
past research projects; find potential members
of your research team during and after class. Start
looking at the sky right away, to learn your way
around and find out what's visible now.
- week 2: Discuss possible investigations with
classmates and in class. Go to the library and browse
around your interests. Make a list of the best resources
you find, and start reading them. In a couple of weeks,
you will summarize each source for your annotated bibliography.
Keep looking at the sky and start to narrow
in on what you might like to observe most carefully this
- week 3: Decide what phenomenon you want to observe.
Articulate some questions about the phenomenon
that you would like to research. Create a WebX discussion
in our research folder. Name it for your investigation.
Post your team's questions, and a couple of hypotheses
for each question. Include each team member's name. Start
observing your phenomenonon in earnest: know where
to find it, and look at it every clear night, noting any
- week 4: DUE: Research plan. Post your team's
research proposal in your WebX Research discussion site.
Write up a 2-paragraph draft describing your proposed
research project. Include your:
- Phenomenon you will observe: When and where
can you see it? What have you observed so far? How
do you propose to observe it for the next month?
- Research question and three hypotheses: Your
favorite hypothesis, an alternate hypothesis, and
a null hypothesis;
- Annotated bibliography of sources: complete
reference for each, and a few sentences summarizing
the content, usefulness, level, and reliability of
- Roles of each team member. What strengths
does each of you bring? What are your learning goals?
What activities will you take responsibility for,
to reach your learning goals?
- Links to any electronic resources you are
- week 5: You now have a target and a good method for
observing it. Keep careful records of all your observations,
using a format such as that described in Ferguson. LINK.
POST WEEKLY RESEARCH REPORTS TO YOUR WebX SITE this
week and for the rest of the quarter. Each week, summarize
your new learning from your *observations, *analyses, and
*readings. Include any questions you need feedback on, and
your prof will respond to these every week if possible.
Teammates should take turns making these weekly posts, after
(or during) your Friday research team meetings.
- week 6: Use your text and other resources to find
out what kind of quantitative analysis you can
do with your observations. This means math. Your measurements
are data. How can you use these data to find out something
- week 7: You have been observing your target for over
a month by now, and have fine-tuned your observing methods.
During this week without classes, you have time for
a lot of focussed observing. In your report on Friday,
summarize your observations. What patterns did
you observe? What surprises did you find? What did you
learn? Organize your observations, and maybe
scan your sketches, so you will be prepared to present
them at the science fair in a couple of weeks. Also
sketch a summary of key points from your reading, both
on 1. modern explanations of your phenomenon and 2.
explanations from other cosmologies.
- week 8: Finish your quantitative analysis of
your data. What conclusions can you draw from your observations?
Uncertainties? Ideas for continued observation and analysis
beyond this quarter? Write a FIRST DRAFT of your
research report, and take it to the writing center.
Your report can be in the form of a paper (about
5 pages + your observations + annotated bibliography)
or, better, a web page that we can link and "publish"
on our program webpage. Be sure to reference absolutely
everything taken from other sources, including diagrams.
Be sure to use only your own words!
- week 9: DUE: a fine draft of your research report,
and your poster for Evergreen's science fair on 28-29
May. Also turn in the first draft you took to the writing
center, marked up, with the writing tutor's comment
sheet. Bring your poster to class on Thursday
to get feedback from classmates and prof. Be prepared
to make corrections before you display your poster at
the fair this weekend. Schedule with your teammates
who will stand at the poster for which periods of each
- week 10: Finish writing your report and present
a nice summary of your team's research to the program.