Rather than lecturing to the students and then testing their understanding with narrowly focussed question sheets, the idea is to set them a large, complex puzzle. This puzzle is modelled on real astronomical research as closely as possible. As students grapple with the puzzle, they are forced to learn the subject matter of the course.
For more details on the theory behind these exercises, and how they can be run, see the draft paper below:
In this text-based computer adventure game, you must wander around the mountain, picking up clues. You can talk to other astronomers, read books in the library, pick up the gossip at morning tea and listed to seminars. You can apply for telescope time, and if successful, go to the telescopes and carry out observations.
Slowly, you can put together enough clues to figure out the astounding truth - that the universe is expanding, and started in a Big Bang!
This exercise is based around three JAVA rocket simulator programs. It is designed to teach students in an intuitive way about Newton's laws and about orbits. It's been used both with non-Maths classes and with core 1st year Physics.
Ask me if you'd like a copy of the source code or of the JAVA applet used to run these exercises.
This is used for 1st year students with no maths/physics experience. It is designed to complement the galaxies and cosmology part of the course, though it also tests some of the night sky material. I use this as the major assessment item for this part of the course. Full details at the link below.
The students play the role of scientists abord a crashed starship. They have to figure out where they have crashed from observations of the night sky.
This exercise is designed for 1st year students with no maths and physics background. I use it in tutes: I pose a puzzle on the whiteboard and the students have to figure out what is going on, working in teams. If you have data projection facilities you could project the powerpoint file directly for the students rather than drawing a copy on the board.
This exercise is run with 1st year students with a reasonable maths and physics background. It is run as the assessment for the part of the course covering extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.
I've basically invented a fictitious universe, with a cosmology rather different from our own. The students have to figure out this cosmology from the data given.
The exercise is set up as two assignments. The students do these in turn, at two week intervals. Meanwhile, in parallel, I'm lecturing about the cosmology of our universe, and how it was deduced.
Another exercise for the same students. This exercise is designed to run in parallel with the solar system part of the course. It teaches how we can deduce the properties of a planet with remarkably little information.
It is run as the main assessment task for this section of the course (for details of the course, click here). The students are issued the assignment and the first set of data at the start. The second data set is issued roughly 10 days later.
It is run as part of the assessment of this course, over four weeks.