You are very welcome to use, copy and modify these exercises. I only ask that you cite me as the source, and that you let me know that you are using them, and how the exercises went.
These exercises have now been used successfully in three other Australian universities, at least ten US universities, a university in Eire, and in several UK, US and Australian high-schools to date.
The exercises have been run successfully in classes as large as 150 students, and as small as 12 students. I see no reason why they should no work equally well in larger classes still. They have been run with students as young as Year 10, and as old as grad students.
For more details on how to run these exercises, some of the pitfalls, and a guide to the underlying theory, see my paper in PASA:
Many of these exercises have also been successfully run with year 10-12 high school students, and with the general public. They can also be used with more advanced students, who still seem to find them challenging.
This is the exercise described in my paper. It is designed to teach students how solar systems form. I prepare students by describing some of the clues to the formation of the solar system (all the planets in circular, co-planar orbits, gassy ones further out, Sun in the middle). I start the exercise by posing the problem: how do you turn a giant molecular cloud into a star and planets? The class then divide themselves into groups of 3. Each group is given one of the briefing papers. If there are more groups than briefing papers, I give each paper to more than one group. They then have to exchange information to try and come up with a complete theory, and win a prize (usually chocolate or a glow-in-the-dark star). See my paper for more details.
I use this exercise in the first lecture of class, to introduce students to the sky, and how difficult it can be to study. Notes on how to run it are included in the exercise. Basically students play the role of inhabitants of a planet on which the clouds have never broken. They have to figure out what the sky is like.
This exercise can get very rowdy! I don't normally have problems with it, but one user in the USA reported that some students became very aggressive and confrontational towards each other in playing their roles. It might be worth removing the "inquisition" briefing paper, if you think your class might do this.
I also wrote a couple of follow-up exercises set in the same imaginary universe:
These teach about planets and how they appear in the sky.
This exercise teaches students about the greenhouse effect. I pose the question of why Venus is so ridiculously hot, when it isn't that much closer to the Sun than us: its equilibrium temperature should be around 50C, not 400+C. (Word)
The aim is to get them to think about the long term benefits or otherwise of space travel. I start off the session by describing some of the arguments for and against ventures such as colonising Mars, pointing out that it is technically quite feasible - the sticking points are economic and political. The class then have to play the role of members of the British Cabinet in the 1760s, trying to decide whether to send Captain Cook to explore the south seas. Once they are well and truly stuck into this argument, I ask them to move forward a few hundred years and transpose the same issues into space exploration.
It seems to work best if each role is given to a group of 2-3 students rather than to an individual.
The aim of this exercise is to teach the basic concepts behind the Drake equation. Full notes are included.
This exercise is designed to teach students about international space law, or the lack thereof. I ran it in a tute, with 2-3 people in a group playing each role. A set of notes on international space law are included.
An exercise designed to teach students about the Hubble Law, spectra and the Milky Way.
As usual, the class are divided up into rival groups and given one briefing paper each. They have to exchange information to explain the bizarre facts of the night sky and win a prize.
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The students then had to grade a bunch of fake telescope proposals, and choose which (if any) got time. they were allowed to allocate only one farside night.