A. Ortiz-Gil and V. Martínez (eds)
EAS Publications Series, 16 (2005) 137-142
What to teach? What is learned? Astronomy as an amalgam of new and old
Williams College-Hopkins Observatory,
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
The tension between contemporary astronomy and traditional topics as subjects for general astronomy courses or fundamental science courses is healthy, but one must worry if either type crowds out the other. Too often only topics understood hundreds of thousands of years ago (such as gravity, tides, phases, and seasons) take up such a large fraction of the astronomy content that few or none of the fascinating and important discoveries of recent centuries not to mention recent years or months are included. I discuss aspects of this problem. Including topics of contemporary interest often motivates students to concentrate their attention and study time on the entire range of topics in the course. Practitioners of the new field of Astronomy Education Research seem often to attack their subject in perpendicular fashion to the methods of practitioners of communicating astronomy to the public. I also discuss some of the content of our International Astronomical Union's Commission on Education and Development's special session from 2003 on Effective Teaching and Learning of Astronomy, and of the forthcoming volume of the same title to be published by Cambridge University Press. I further discuss the role of inspiring events, such as George Ellery Hale's inspiration from the 1882 transit of Venus and the potential from the widespread observation of the 2004 transit of Venus and of solar eclipses.
© EAS, EDP Sciences, 2005