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Introductory Astronomy: Syllabus and Study Guides

Stephen Shawl

University of Kansas (emeritus); Pima Community College (adjunct)


An integrated lecture-lab introductory astronomy course with topics limited primarily to the nature and evolution of stars. Also included is the changing appearance of the night sky with time and place, the nature of light, telescopes, and spectroscopy so that students will learn "how we know what we know."

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. Nearly all take it to satisfy general education requirements. Being a community college in a state having a poor K-12 system, student background is generally poor in both reading and mathematical ability.

Course Goals:

The "official" course goals are as follows:
the course, the student will be able to do the following:
  1. Demonstrate improvement in critical and quantitative thinking by applying the scientific method tofact and theory in classroom learning, activities, some quantitative and mathematical, andassignments, some quantitative and mathematical.
  2. Distinguish science from pseudoscience.
  3. Induce or expand global awareness with the cosmic perspective on earth offered by describing thegeneral hierarchical structure and individual components of the observable universe.
  4. Explain theories of the origin of the universe.
  5. Describe the nature of stars and starlight.
  6. Delineate the characteristics of galaxies.
  7. Indicate major technical developments assisting greater understanding of the universe.
  8. Discuss the probabilities of life elsewhere in the universe.
  9. Employ, in various in-class activities and outside observation projects, specific concepts, skills orinformation related to AST 102 lectures.
  10. Identify specific aspects of the sky and record common sky phenomena, utilizing the naked eye orbinoculars.
  11. Examine and describe the sky more closely in at least one telescope viewing experience.
  12. Describe astronomical and astronomy-related facilities in the Tucson area.
  13. Discuss the Tucson area's importance to the field of astronomy and astronomy's role in the localeconomy.

My additional goals are stated as:
Successful education produces changes in the learner. In this course the change should be nothing less than in the way you view the universe and your place in it! The change that occurs may or may not be easy to see or to define. When you have completed the course, I hope there are changes in
  1. your understanding of what science is and isn't, your understanding of what is and isn't science, and your understanding of how science operates;
  2. your overall appreciation of the universe and how it works;
  3. your understanding of WHAT astronomers know about the universe and HOW we know it;
  4. your thoughts when you are outside on a clear night;
  5. your understanding and appreciation of newspaper and magazine articles on astronomy; and
  6. your awareness of some of the present day problems facing astronomers.

Course Features:

Teaching the Process of Science

  1. Various in-class activities.
  2. Integrated labs
  3. Highly specific discussion of the nature of science.
  4. Continuous discussion throughout the semester of the interplay of observation and theory.
  5. Specific discussion of some scientific models and their interplay with observations (e.g. nature of light)


Standard exams. Quality assessment is, I'm afraid, lacking.


Course syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 312kB Jun8 09)

Teaching Materials:

Course study guides (Acrobat (PDF) 844kB Jun8 09)

References and Notes: