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written by Jennifer Scott
This guide describes a novel project structure for sky observations commonly assigned in introductory level astronomy students at either the high school or undergraduate level. The project is an outside class assignment optimized for a large course that meets during the day. The goal of this activity is for students to make independent observations at a fixed time of day to develop an understanding of: (1) how annual motion of the Earth relates to observed position of the Sun as it sets towards the West; and (2) changes in the Moon phase over the lunar month and how the phase of the Moon relates to its position in the sky relative to the Sun. Students synthesize their understanding by responding to summary questions at the conclusion of the project. The questions require students to use their collection of observations to make predictions about future sunset and Moon positions and Moon phases.
A critical component of this work is an associated scoring script, available through GitHub. The algorithm uses Sun and Moon position data and Moon phase data downloaded by the user from the United States Naval Observatory to score student input and provide feedback in an efficient manner. This allows instructors to assign and grade student observations even in a large university class.
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