Hey to the Intro Astro Student

March 4, 2014: Every once in a while in the career of a coach/teacher/professor,  there is a group of students that brings the magic. I’m know Miss Jenn feels that way about her dancers; I’m sure Coach Rundle feels that way about our Albion Britons; and I have a sneaking suspicion that Coach Peters feels that way about the 2013 Winneconne Wolves football team. (*\o/* to all the WHS cheerleaders reading this!)

In my 15+ semesters of teaching non-science majors about all things astronomy, I’ve had three classes (so far) that stand out in my memory. The students in these classes were inquisitive and eager to learn – and going to class each day, to teach them about topics that are literally out of this world – was exciting and fun for me. Sure, there are individual students who were outstanding in other semesters (you all know who you are), but in terms of a group synergy, an easy rapport, a class to look forward to teaching each day… these are the classes that stay in my memory.

This past fall, I had a great group of students in my introductory astronomy class, a course that non-science majors can take to satisfy their laboratory-class graduation requirement. Some of the students who take this class are not interested in astronomy – they take it merely for the requirement – but lately, many of the students who take my class are actually interested in astronomy. Wow! And, oh! what a difference that makes!

One of my favorite labs for intro astronomy students, is Comets in the Classroom, an activity where students learn about comets then actually make one out of dry ice and other ingredients.  Results can be spectacular:


Comets! (Albion Science Day, 2014)



Students in the astronomy class are required to write a paragraph about comets in general and then comment on how their comet accurately (or not) reflects real comets. They turn in the summary and that’s usually the last time they think again about comets until the exam.  This time, however,  one student wrote about her comet-making experience on one of the college’s blog pages.  I did not expect that.  She mentions that quirky photobombing professors can be endearing to the students. I think students can be just as endearing to us.


Po’s selfie…