COURSE: ASTR1020 Fall 2009


INSTRUCTOR: Douglas Duncan

TEACHING ASSISTANT: Corinne Vanetta.  Corinne will maintain the clicker and grade spreadsheets and oversee MassteringAstronomy. LA Bethany Wilcox will oversee night observing.

LEARNING ASSISTANTS (LAs): You MUST attend one of the recitations

LECTURE TIME AND PLACE: Mon, Wed, Fri . 1-1:50pm in Duane G1B20 lecture hall.

Sessions with learning assistants: have been scheduled separately. They are held in the Sommers Bausch Observatory. (click for a map). They are required.

Expected behavior: Cell phones off - yours and mine! Courteous and attentive behavior is expected. During lecture you have 100% of my attention and I expect 100% of yours. Laptop users must sit in the front row. The University's expectations for student behavior in core science courses, including expected study hours and level of math are here. Those who violate the policies will be asked to leave class. There is always a waiting list.

WWW (CULearn) pages: The course home page may be reached at or

MASTERING ASTRONOMY: This on-line homework and tutorial site is a required part of the course. Access to it comes with your textbook, after you register. It is at Click on "Getting Started" on the class home page in CULearn for registration instructions.You will need our CLASS CODE which is MADUNCAN0005

CLICKERS: This course requires use of an iClicker. You should purchase this in the bookstore and bring it to every class.

NATURE OF THIS COURSE: Astro 1020 is an introduction to astronomy of the universe beyond the solar system, including the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the the sun, stars, galaxies, and the whole universe (cosmology) including the question of life in the universe. This class includes a review of sky motions and study of the nature of science and pseudoscience. It is for non-science majors.

Be Warned! This course will be different from courses you have taken before! Please read the description carefully and decide if it's for you. There will be less memorization and more creativity, thinking, and group and project work. My goal is to introduce you to some of the most awesome concepts known in science, and to give you some useful skills other classes may not teach, such as applying scientific thinking in your everyday life, for you own benefit.

If your previous science experience was mostly memorizing a lot of stuff - you’ve been cheated! The heart of science isn’t memorization. Science is questions more than answers, the unknown as much as the known, ways of thinking you can use in everyday life, not irrelevant “science knowledge,” and concepts that stretch your mind (like the warping of space and time near a black hole) rather than put it to sleep. “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself,” and if all this appeals to you, check out this course.

Here are the course goals.

Here’s what I think science is.

My GRADING de-emphasizes exams, and replaces those points with class responses, homework, and teamwork. This should lesson your test anxiety, but it also means you can’t just work before finals and expect to do ok. If you skip class, it means losing part of your grade.

Here’s what students have said about my Introductory Astronomy course in the past. Notice that no one said that the class was easy. I don’t promise an easy course. I try for a memorable one.

So the good news is: you won’t have to memorize as much as in most science classes. The bad news is you can’t get a good grade just by memorizing stuff! You’ll have to be creative, and sometimes work hard to understand.…

This course will be taught in a way intended to foster dialogue and interaction. You will be given thought-provoking questions to answer. Some will come in lecture – you’ll use small transmitters called “clickers” that wirelessly send responses from you. A computer instantly tabulates what everyone answered and shows it to us as a histogram. That lets me decide whether to go on or have more discussion. Usually I’ll encourage you to talk with your neighbors in lecture (on the right and left) before I ask for the answer. Clicker use raises grades! We'll discuss that in class.

Discussing ideas with someone else is an important way to learn. Our class is fortunate to have "learning assistants" who are great teachers and whose role is not to GIVE you answers but to help you figure them out. Fascinating research shows that if you figure out an answer you will remember it much longer than if we tell you. And probably have more satisfaction.

There will be a number of “weekly challenges.” These are experiments set up in class just before the end of lecture. Students are told to form into small teams and predict what will happen, but the experiment isn’t done. At the beginning of the next class the predictions are collected, and then the experiment is done. Of course I choose experiments whose results are surprising, and often not intuitive. This demonstrates the need to actually do experiments even when you think that you know the answer. And its often fun.

What should you expect in this class? A little bit of math (but that is not the emphasis), a lot of practice solving problems on your own and working with others, and some physics - nothing complicated, roughly high school level, and everything will be explained. If you don’t quite remember an idea, you can re-learn it here.

This course will be fun! But if you hate working in groups, hate computers, or if you are thinking of skipping classes from time to time, it is definitely NOT for you. In that case, you should sign up for another astronomy class.

CONTENTS: (see the complete syllabus)

OBSERVING NIGHTS: You will have several opportunities to observe the sky during the evenings using the CU telescopes. Directions are on the class web site.

FIELD TRIPS: We will have a field trip on bus to CU's "Mountain Research Station," located about 45 min. from campus outside Nederland in the mountains. There the sky is really dark and incredible. You can see the Milky Way, thousands of stars, and even another galaxy, 2 million light years away. We'll of course point out all those things. We will also use Fiske Planetarium.

TEXT Mastering Astronomy, 5th Edition, by Bennett et al. You can get by with the 4th Edition IF you have or buy an online registration code.

WWW use: We will use on-line tutorials at the website You need a registration code to do this - it comes with your book. If you buy a used book with expired registration you will have to pay a registration fee at your first use.



Last modified Aug 19, 2008