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Summer solstice 2017 June 19, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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The June Solstice occurs at 04:24 UT on June 21, 2017. That’s just after midnight EDT, so for most of the US the solstice falls on the 20th!

Here in Ann Arbor, the longest day of the year will actually be the 20th, despite the solstice falling on the 21st. That’s because we’re far west in the time zone, our clocks are ahead of the Sun. A bit farther east, say in New York, the 20th and 21st are basically equal in length. That’s more what you’d expect for a solstice close to midnight.

So enjoy the half second or so of extra darkness on the solstice.

Saturn Opposition 2017 June 16, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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It’s summertime, and that means Saturn-time!

But why is that?

A year on Saturn is a bit more than 29 years on Earth, which means Saturn moves about 12º along the ecliptic each year. For comparison, the Moon moves about 15º per day, so in a whole year, Saturn’s position will change less than the the Moon changes in a single day! It fact it’s so little that it take Saturn an average of two years to move through each zodiac constellation. Last year Saturn crossed the boundary into Ophiuchus (between Scorpio and Sagittarius), and it won’t leave until December. That means Saturn will be visible in the evening at about the same time this year as it was last year.

Ophiuchus is often called the 13th zodiac because itt sits between Scorpio and Sagittarius

Saturn takes 29 years to make a complete circuit of the ecliptic

Of course 12º isn’t nothing. Each year opposition drifts just a little farther east along the ecliptic, so the date changes. And since there are 360º in a circle and 365 days in a year, the date corresponds to roughly a degree per day! This year, opposition was June 15th. In 2016, it was June 3, and in 2015, May 23. Next year, opposition will be June 27.

By the way, opposition is when something (like Saturn) is opposite something else (like the Sun) in the sky. So when Saturn is at opposition, it rises at sunset, then sets at sunrise. Each night it rises a little earlier, so the weeks following opposition are the best time for evening observers to get a look. Closest approach is always close to opposition too, so the planet will be bigger and brighter than usual.

elpOrbitsOpp

At opposition, the Sun, Earth, and outer planet are on a line with the Earth in between.

elpOrbitsClose

Because the orbits aren’t circles, the Earth may get closer to the outer planet a few days before or after opposition.

 

So enjoy summertime Saturn while you can. In about 4 more years, it’ll be fall when Saturn’s out.

Enriching Scholarship 2017 – A Digital Profile of U-M Students May 8, 2017

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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In this session, a handful of students shared their “digital profile”, which was recoded from browser plug-ins on their laptops and a app on their phones. They reported primarily on what activities they did, not on how much time they actually spent. There were a few key takeaways

Students tend to use laptops to work, their phones for entertainment. They feel having a laptop is pretty much a necessity, despite the computing centers around campus. A phone is essential. without a phone, you are isolated.

On the question of phones or laptops in the classroom, they feel it actually depends on the class and the students. Some students really feel the need to take notes on the laptop. It is stupid to prohibit laptops in a computer programming class. It’s distracting if the person in front of them is watching football, or if their phone goes off.

Phones may actually be a sort of defense mechanism. If they can text their friend, they don’t have to stress about meeting the person next to them. They use their phones less in (or before) classes where they have come to think of their neighbors as “friends” rather than “classmates”. Some good icebreakers, especially things that are relevant to the class but still personal may help (maybe some of those Liberating Structures?)

Some students check email a lot. Some never do. Some check Canvas Announcements. Some don’t. Some are on Snapchat all the time. Some are on Facebook. Some are on Twitter. The best platform for communications with them is whatever their friends are on. It helps to be clear about how you plan to communicate.

GroupMe is nearly ubiquitous. It is a group MMS app that allows sign up through email, so you don’t have to give strangers (i.e. classmates) your phone number. Chances are good that there is a groupMe for your class, but there’s a fraction of your class that doesn’t know about it. It may be helpful for you to facilitate this, but your students do NOT want you on the GroupMe, so the best thing to do may be to ask for one or two volunteers manage it. There are some pitfalls (like the potential for harassment) but if the students are going to do it anyway, it’s probably better for you to try and ensure it’s more inclusive than to let those who aren’t part of the in crowd struggle on their own.

Enriching Scholarship 2017 – Coaxing Canvas to Support Gameful Pedagogy May 8, 2017

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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“Gameful” is a model where students build points by completing talks and assessments. In a fully gameful class class, students have an array of options with point values associated with them and they are told what score they have to achieve to earn a particular grade. They then have the freedom to choose which tasks to do and how hard they want to work to achieve a particular grade. Many classes are only partially gameful. Rather than full flexibility, students must complete certain tasks (e.g. a midterm and final) but then have options in other areas (e.g. out of 20 at-home assignments, complete 10.) Some material may even be optional (e.g. you have to know the difference between a terrestrial and jovian planet for the exam, but you have the option of completing a project to assess whether 10 exoplanets are likely to be terrestrial, jovian, or something else). This means some students will need extra resource material, and a different set of assignments. Getting Canvas to do that takes a lot of planning and preparation, but is very possible.

Before deciding to go gameful there are two very important things to consider. First is that it requires a lot of planning and preparation up front. If you’re doing this 2 weeks before the start of the semester, stop. Run a traditional class. Do your planning for next term along the way. Feel free to share the optional materials with your students and create alternate assignments along the way this term, but please do not try to go gameful on short notice. The second thing is that it works best for students with good executive skills. The easily distracted, non-prioritizers and procrastinators have a high rate of failure. They put off doing assignments and skip the exam because they think they can make up for it later in the term. Are you prepared to deal with the student who thinks it’ll be ok it they don’t do any work for the first half of the class and comes in crying and begging for a C- the day grades are due? If not, you may not want to go fully gameful. You can always sneak it in as an array of n projects that can replace up to m homework assignments, or by providing 2 or three options for each week’s assignment.

The most important step is planning out what you want, because that will determine what tools you choose. No matter which choice you make, it’s important to know how many points you will have and how they align to each letter grade. After all, the idea is to start from 0 and accumulate points, not maintain some percentile with respect to the other students. It’s common for gamified classes to have huge numbers of points, similar to a video game. Once you know how many points students need for a particular grade, you can enable a course grading scheme. If you do a custom scheme, you can add extra categories, like “enrolled” for 0 – 10%, “member” for 10-15%, “participant” for 15 – 20%… so students don’t have to see “E” for half the term.

If you want the fully gameful, rack up the points option, you may want to consider gradecraft. Gradecraft allows students to accumulate points and earn badges for completing tasks, reaching milestones, and achieving learning goals. The badges in particular can be useful motivators to keep procrastinators on track. It supposedly integrates with Canvas now, so you can still use Canvas as the single portal to everything.

If you want a mixed class where some assignments are required and others are optional, you want the regular Grades. Racking up a score works best if you don’t use weighted assignment categories. Even if you have categories, if you don’t weight them, you can choose to have Grades display points instead of percent. This makes it easier for students to tell if they’ve reached the score they want.

If you want to use weighted categories, students will see their total grade as a percent. This makes it VERY important to get all the assignments in and published at the beginning of the term, even if they aren’t available to the students. Otherwise as you add assignments it looks to the students like they are loosing points. However, weighed categories makes it easier to make sure your required assignments carry the proper weight at the end of the term. Also, if you want to provide a menu and let them pick n of m assignments to complete, you want categories. Within each category, you’ll set a rule to drop (m-n) assignments.

Once you have your gradebook / Assignments set up, you’ll have to decide how students should access them.

Assignments is the most straight forward way. For each Assignment, you can set an availability and due date. Students won’t see it until it becomes available, and it will show up it their calendar in due date order. However, it doesn’t easily show things like “do one of the following”, nor does it show upcoming big projects, or related resources. For that reason you may want to create a page or use Modules.

Pages are basically webpages. They are probably the simplest solution if you want to provide a menu of options. In particular, you can create a page with a table showing the options for this week, resources needed for each options, and the things you think students should be working on right now.

Modules allow an enormous amount of control. You can choose to do anything from a list of associated assignments and resources to a branching set based on time and performance. For example, you can set up a module so students see what the reading is, then get access to a reading quiz the day before class. If the quiz is self graded, you can set it so they have to get a specific minimum score before they can move on to the next item, maybe the in-class assignment. Alternatively, they could get some additional reading and a prompt to take a similar quiz before they get access to the next in-class assignment and homework. Or, if they get over some higher score, they skip the second reading and quiz and are given a choice of projects to do instead of the regular homework. If you want to get very complicated (like re-doing quizzes or requiring quizzes before they can get access to their project of choice) make sure you test it out in your sandbox. In particular, test to make sure students can do things like change their mind.

Finally, keep in mind that one of the goals in gameful pedagogy is to allow students the chance to fail without failing. if you’re going to offer options like a big project to replace a couple homeworks, make sure if the student has the options and time to succeed in the class if s/he fails on that project. The point is to let them take risks and explore their interests, not to punish them for not following the traditional path.