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Assigning an Adopt-a-Star to engage introductory-level college or high school astronomy students

Presentation #231.05 in the session Education and Public Engagement.

Published onJul 01, 2023
Assigning an Adopt-a-Star to engage introductory-level college or high school astronomy students

The universe is vast - how can teachers meet the challenge to deeply involve introductory-level students and improve learning - here in terms of star types and star characterization? Practitioner Tip: Adopt-A-Star activity has the instructor assigning a well-known astronomical star to each individual student at the beginning of the semester as a way to increase student focus and buy-in toward learning about the whole array of star-types later in the course. Students are invited to find out about their “adopted star” on their own and also told to anticipate learning even more in an upcoming section on stars. The “adoptions” can even be announced in a little ceremony in class, gifting each student a certificate which includes the student name and star name printed on fancy paper (similar to commercial star dedications, but free to the student). After learning about star-types, students are asked to then compare their own “adopted star” to our Sun (yellow main-sequence star) and other stars-types (e.g. red dwarf, red giant, blue giant, white dwarf). A complete list of suggested tasks includes students identifying (1.) in which constellation their star is located, (2.) spectral label (OBAFGKM) and peak color and temperature, (3.) mass and diameter, (4.) luminosity, and (5.) expected lifetime and type of star death. Students then compare their data to our sun in this way: Is their star hotter or cooler? Bigger or smaller? Brighter or dimmer? The “adopted” stars can be pinpointed on the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. Many stars are binaries and students then also learn about that second star (e.g. small white dwarf) and compare that other star to our sun too. Even though students only “adopt” one star (or binary star), they become more cognizant of the variety of star-types when comparing their star and can identify more star names and their types. This exercise also reinforces what is typical for different types of stars - that their star is part of a class of stars. It also instills inquisitiveness about other star types - and students share and compare their stars too, adding to class cohesion. Possible “adoptions” include the twenty apparent brightest stars in our sky (mostly blue, white, and red giants) and/or the twenty closest stars (which have among them more red dwarfs). For larger class sizes, the same star can be assigned randomly to more than one student. Alternatively, as a group activity each group member can be assigned a different star in a way that the group has a small collection of stars that span the different star types. This activity injects a heightened sense of curiosity and caring in both in-person and online learners.

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