NOTE: ASTR 402 is in the process of changing to ASTR 502 under the Master of Science Teaching Program.

Teaching Earth and Space Science


Schedule | Homework and Projects | Observing Project

Offered by the Physics and Astronomy Department of Rice University with help from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and NASA.

GOAL: This course develops solar system concepts and skills in a manner consistent with the Next Generation National Science Standards and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills proficiencies. It uses solar system examples to teach mathematical skills including exponential, logarithms and powers. It covers all the solar system material in the Texas High School Astronomy course, and the "Earth in Space" concepts from the new TX "Earth and Space Science" course, but presented at a level accessible by upper elementary and middle school teachers. (The remaining stellar and galactic astronomy concepts are covered in ASTR 403). The course uses materials from the "Space Update" program, involves student inquiry using software and web-based materials, and has some hands-on solar system observing labs. Dates: August 26 - Dec 2, 2013, Mondays, 6:00 - 9 pm (with some observing on campus and at George Observatory) Location: Herman Brown Hall 223, Rice campus (plus planetarium in BRK 250), plus campus observatory and George Observatory as noted on schedule

Class Details

Instructor Prof. Patricia Reiff (, with special activities by Adjunct Prof. Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Office Hours by appointment. Course assistant/tutor for 2013: Kelly Bird. Observing assistant: Andy Liao.
Texts "Field Guide to Stars and Planets", Pasachoff, ISBN 978-0395934319
"Space Update", Rice University, ISBN 9781931-523530. Also bring your laptop to class.
University Credit Hours 3 (sorry, no stipend)
To register for credit, contact Patricia Reiff ( at 713-348-4634.
You must be registered as a Visiting, undergrad, or Master of Science Teaching student. Teachers wishing to participate as a Visiting Student, please bring ID and social security number to first class. Note: up to 9 credit hours taken as a Visiting Student can be applied towards your Master of Science Teaching degree.
Grading Policy Each homework is a variable number of points (4-10); each of the two quizzes is 20-24 points; the observing lab is 6 points; and the term report is 12 points. The final grade is calculated by dividing the number of points earned by the total number available (generally 120). Calculators are encouraged both for homework and for quizzes.
Absence Policy The lectures will be recorded for later playback through owlspace. Because of the intense hands-on nature of some of the sessions, and the fact that we will observe through the campus telescope if weather permits, students should try to attend every class but no specific penalty for absences.
Tuition/fees Thanks to a generous discount from Rice University, the tuition for teachers is only $1200 for three hours of graduate credit, plus other University fees (roughly $140). A few tuition scholarships are available for inservice teachers. Contact Dr. Reiff.
Honor Code Students may work together on homework but each student shall turn in their own paper. Quizzes must be pledged as individual work and are subject to the Rice Honor Code.
Students With Disabilities Any student with a disability that requires accommodation should contact the instructor and the Disability Support Servies. We will attempt every reasonable accommodation.

Alignment with Texas Standards and High School Course requirements

Grade Levels: 6-8 (general science) and 9-12 (IPC, Astronomy)

Components of the Solar System
Changes and Cycles (seasons, tilt; phases of Moon)
Conceptual Models
Major Earth processes and systems
Forces and Energy; Newton's and Kepler's Laws
The Sun


Grade Levels: 6-8 and 9-12

Numbers, Operations, and Quantitative Reasoning
Patterns, proportions, algebraic reasoning
Geometric shapes, volumes, densities
Measurement; units, formulas
Linear and logarithmic functions
Relationship between algebra and geometry

HIGH SCHOOL ASTRONOMY Course (TX course 112.48)

Knowledge and Skills: Scientific Processes, scientific methods, field and laboratory investigations, use of data to make inferences, communicate conclusions;

Science Concepts: 1. Observe and record data about lunar phases and use that information to model the earth, moon and sun system; observe and record the apparent movement of the Sun and Moon during the day and the Moon, planets and stars in the nighttime sky

2. Units of measurement such as Light Year and Astronomical Unit; History of astronomy; planetary motion; Equation of gravitation; compare and contrast the scale, size, and distance of the Sun, Earth and Moon system, and the sizes and distances of the planets

3. The Sun: its energy sources; the Sun's effect on earth; the effect of rotation, revolution and tilt on the environment; the effect of the Moon on tides; the solar system (the remaining stellar and galactic astronomy concepts are covered in ASTR 403).


Knowledge and Skills: Scientific Processes, scientific methods, field and laboratory investigations, use of data to make inferences, communicate conclusions

Science Concepts: 1. The student knows that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the star, planets, and minor bodies of a stellar system that accrete from a stellar nebula as explained by the nebular-planetesimal-protoplanet model.

2. The student can explain how the Sun and other stars transform matter into energy through nuclear fusion.

3. The student will explore the historical and current hypotheses for the origin of the Moon, including the collision of Earth with a Mars-sized planetesimal.

4. contrast the characteristics of solar system planetesimals such as comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and their positions within the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, and the asteroid belt

5. compare the terrestrial planets to the gas giant planets, including internal structure, atmosphere, size, density, solar orbit, presence of water, surface features, tectonic activity, temperature, and suitability for life; explore the historical and current hypotheses for the origin of the moon, including the collision of Earth with a Mars-sized planetesimal; compare recently-discovered extra-solar planets with planets in our solar system, and describe how such planets are detected. The student can describe the formation and structure of Earth's magnetic field, including its interaction with charged solar particles to form the Van Allen belts and auroras.

Last Update: August 30, 2013