NOTE: ASTR 403 is in the process of changing to ASTR 503 under the Master of Science Teaching Program.


SYLLABUS ASTR 403; NEXT Offered: Fall 2014

Schedule (subject to change) | Homework and Projects | Observing Project

Offered by the Physics and Astronomy Department with cooperation from the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Watch this space for updates! Contact reiff (at) if you are interested in this class


This course is designed for inservice and preservice teachers who wish to improve their content skills in Astronomy. This course develops astronomy concepts in a manner consistent with National Science Standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills proficiencies and HISD's Project Clear, and the new Texas High School Graduation requirements. The course (coupled with its partner course ASTR 402) will cover all topics in the Texas High School Astronomy requirements, but will be taught at a level accessible for teachers in middle and upper elementary schools. It will also cover all relevant astronomy topics in the new TX High School "Earth and Space Science" course.

The course also focuses on how students develop astronomy concepts and misconceptions and provides popular hands-on activities that can be used in the upper elementary and middle school grades (5-9) and also extended for high school Astronomy and Earth and Space Science. Participants use specially-developed software as part of the course and can involve their own students in many of the out-of-class activities. Main topics include the properties of light, celestial coordinates and the changes in the sky over a night and over a year; formation of stars, galaxies, and the universe; life and death of low and high-mass stars; extrasolar planets and astrobiology. The class is designed for inservice or preservice teachers. (Undergraduates considering teaching careers may take the class as part of their normal education program.)

Skills Taught: Hands-on model making, direct observation of astronomical events, simulations, conducting experiments, reading and comparative analysis - all appropriate for replication in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. Use of observation, comparison, application, analysis, and synthesis. Mathematics at the level of algebra, logarithms, exponentials, trigonometry and sine waves. Training in "Space Update" DVD and "Stellarium" and experience in doing image processing and research on the Internet. Use of Powerpoint to create presentations. Observations at the Rice Observatory and one field trip TBD to the George Observatory.


Grade Levels: 3-5 and 6-8
Properties and Patterns; Tools and Equipment; Natural World; Systems; Matter and Energy Interactions; Scientific Processes; Inquiry; Critical Thinking


Grade Levels: 3-5 and 6-8
Numbers, Operations, and Quantitative Reasoning: Measurement: Probability and Statistics

HIGH SCHOOL ASTRONOMY Course (TX course 112.48)

Knowledge and Skills: Scientific Processes, scientific methods, use of data to make inferences

Science Concepts: Characteristics of Galaxies, Age of the Universe, Big Bang Theory, Formation of galaxies and the solar system, Life cycles of stars, Nuclear reactions in stars, H-R Diagram

Science Concepts: Units of measurement such as Light Year and Astronomical Unit; History of astronomy; Equation of gravitation

Science Concepts: The Sun as a star, its energy sources (the remaining solar system concepts are covered in ASTR 402).

Class Details

Meeting times Monday evenings, 6 - 9 pm (plus a few Thursdays and two Saturdays)

August 25 through December 5, 2014

Meeting location HBH 223, with some sessions in the campus planetarium BRK250, plus labs at the Campus Observatory and George Observatory
Instructors Prof. Patricia Reiff (; Phone 713-348-4634; Office HBH 226; Office Hours by Appointment

Adjunct Prof. Carolyn Sumners (

Textbooks "Field Guide to Stars and Planets", Pasachoff, ISBN 978-0395934319
"Space Update",, ISBN 9781931-523530; Bring laptop to class
Syllabus, Homework, and Grading Grading: approximately 40% for two in-class quizzes; 50% for homework; 10% for observing project; no final exam. One of the homeworks will involve researching a spacecraft or ground-based Astronomy mission and making a Powerpoint presentation to the class.

Link to the Schedule

Link to the Homework list
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" graduate student or be in the Master of Science Teaching program. (Visiting Student registration materials will be available at the first class). Undergraduate students considering a teaching career are also encouraged to enroll in this class for credit, but it may not count as an upper-division elective for a BS in Astrophysics.

Tuition/fees Courtesy of major discounts from Rice University, the tuition is only $1200 for three hours of graduate credit for inservice teachers, plus fees.
Certain inservice teachers may qualify for special tuition scholarships - come to class the first evening.

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.
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.
Latest update: June 16, 2014