The Learning Critical Thinking Through Astronomy (LCTTA) Project begin in 2007 when I decided to weave some classroom activities I had been working on into a coherent storyline for an introductory astronomy course that attempts to emphasize the most elementary foundations of not just astronomy, but any introductory science. The overall goal is not to focus on recent astronomical discoveries, because that distracts from the foundation that underlies all science. The overall goal is also not to focus on information that can be found with search engines. The goal is to first build a solid understanding of the nature of science and to then apply that to basic astronomical concepts, mainly explaining and understanding observational phenomena. This way, students can practice using the reasoning skills that scientists use.

LCTTA materials are unique in that they directly incorporate the model of critical thinking developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. The original completion date was ostensibly 2012, but everything changed when I discovered this internally consistent, and broadly applicable, critical thinking framework. Every activity that had been developed had to be revised to incorporate the Paul/Elder model and the foundational elements of thought.

The materials are organized into five broad chapters:

Chapter 1: Critical Thinking
This chapter is designed and intended to be used as an introductory unit in any introductory science course regardless of discipline. The underlying logic is that we cannot, and should not, expect students to know what science is or how it works until this has explicitly been given in instruction. As an analogy, consider beginner musical instrument classes. No one expects beginning students to play a symphony, drum lick, or guitar solo on the first day. Students must first learn how to assemble, hold, and maintain their instruments. Then they must learn scales, rudiments, and other simple exercises and etudes and progress into more difficult pieces before ever performing for the first time. The same applies to introductory science. Too frequently, we assume students already know how science works when that is one of the very things they are supposed to carry away from any such course. Ironically, that is also one of the several topics that is either omitted or treated far too thoroughly for the exposure to be of any meaningful value.

There are currently six sample activities in this chapter (one of which has eight versions for variety), all of which are mandatory.

Chapter 2: Observation
Astronomy is an observational science and does not have an experimental component. In this chapter, students develop observation skills by watching shadows. While seemingly trivial, to understand shadow behavior is to understand Sun’s celestial motions. Shadows connect the ground to the sky. Students also spiral back to chapter 1 by getting their first taste at comparing and ruling out different scientific models for Earth’s shape using Eratosthenes’ methodology. In passing, students also use shadows to measure Earth’s obliquity (the angle between Earth’s rotation axis and its orbital plane’s normal), something most students think they understand but do not because they have never been led to understand it at all.

There are currently six sample activities in this chapter, but only two are mandatory. The others are optional.

Chapter 3: Modeling the Sky
This chapter spirals back to the previous two chapters by asking students to model shadow behavior with model celestial spheres (which students purchase). Students recreate everything they observed in the previous activity series using the foundations laid down form chapter 1. Then they extend this modeling to other celestial phenomena. The chapter ends with an in depth activity on lunar illumination and eclipse and occultation phenomena.

There are currently four sample activities in this chapter, including one requiring nighttime observing and one analyzing data, all of which should be mandatory.

Chapter 4: Time
This chapter presents a mystery to students. The mystery is that the dates of earliest sunrise, latest sunrise, earliest sunset, and latest sunset do not coincide with dates of the solstices. Solving the mystery requires understanding the astronomical origins of time measurement, including the distinction between mean solar time and apparent solar time. This naturally leads to the equation of time, which then naturally leads to the analemma. Studying the analemma and its properties introduces some very simple mathematics concepts such as the tangent to a curve and rates of change of functions. This chapter spirals back to all previous chapters.

Draft activities for this chapter are currently in use and are not yet ready for distribution.

Chapter 5: Gravitation
Reaching this chapter should be a course goal because it potentially incorporates a lot of conceptual physics at the level of Hewitt’s textbook. The objective is for students to understand orbital motion. In the past, I have even introduced vectors in this chapter. This chapter, like the others, spirals back to all previous chapters.

Draft activities for this chapter are currently in use and are not yet ready for distribution.