This page contains tried and tested activities that I’ve found to be engaging, fun and instructive and their creators have my thanks. These activities are ideal for extra-curricular Astronomy clubs. I have not created any of the following resources, unless mentioned otherwise.
Making a Lunar Phases Calculator for 2018 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
A lovely cut-and-stick activity for the students to take home. Perfect for use with any of the following sets of online questions to check understanding: Horizon Diagram: Identify Lunar Phase, Horizon diagram: Identify Time, Phases of the Ecliptic, Identify Lunar Position from Phase.
Nasa’s Eyes by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a truly amazing application with several capabilities. I wholeheartedly suggest using this as the opportunities it offers for student engagement are fantastic. There are three main sections: Eyes on the Earth, Eyes on the Solar System and Eyes on Exoplanets. It also comes complete with a number of tours on a variety of space missions, past and present. The application requires an active internet connection, as data needs to be downloaded from the server as one navigates through various objects.
Another very useful application is the Microsoft World Wide Telescope. It is an online planetarium that features real images of celestial objects. Comes complete with a number of tours on Nebulae, Planets, Star Clusters, Supernovae, the list goes on and on and on…
Some fun astronomy on a budget: making a loo-roll model of our Solar System. All you need is a loo roll, a long corridor or outdoor space, and some colouring pens or perhaps pictures of the planets!
Debunking Astrology. An activity about how Astrology can be shown to be wrong. I believe this is best done in a computer room, where one can have the students perform some extra data analysis. Parallel with this, one can have the students find their *actual sign* by using a planetarium software. Since the constellations of the Zodiac do not have the same size, chances are most students will discover that their *actual sign* is different to the one astrology has assigned to them… but still meaningless.
Make your own spectroscope using simple materials. I prefer the ‘lux’ version but one needs to order some (relatively cheap) diffraction gratings (I’ve ordered mine from Poland in the past – one can order here). This activity is best done with a variety of light sources. I usually offer the following choices: natural light, sodium/mercury discharge tube, fluorescent lamp. A perfect activity to finish off a course on spectral lines.
Taking another point of view – constellations are 3-D. This budget activity requires some thread, card and necklace beads. Draw a constellation on the card, and then make a three-dimentional model of each constellation. Does it still look like a Plough or a Hunter?
A study on impact craters. I’ve used this activity by having students drop marbles of varying sizes from varying heights on a tray of sand and measuring the diameter of the crater. Do I hear you say independent, dependent and control variable practice? Repeating measurements and working out an average? Plotting a graph ? An excellent opportunity to practice Working Scientifically concepts with KS3 students. Use a slingshot or a ramp and shoot the marbles at an angle as an extension task (with caution!).
Chasing the Red Planet is an activity I made as part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning programme. It uses a simple GeoGebra tool I made to demonstrate the cause of the apparent retrograde motion of Mars, and the Microsoft World Wide Telescope. Best done in a computer room where students can open a spreadsheet and do some simple date crunching. Student familiarity with the topic of uniform circular motion would be desirable.