Friday, April 30, 2010

Didn't See That Comin'

I have an exchange student in my Astronomy class from Brazil. Marcus is an ideal student with better English skills than some of my students.

My class integrates as much observational astronomy in to the curriculum as I can.Anyone who has ever looked at the night sky has seen the Big Dipper, either knowingly or accidentally. It is a prominent feature of the sky and is full of pointer systems that my kids can use to locate other major stars and constellations.

So during class, we are discussing ways to find Polaris, Bootes, Leo, Cassiopeia; all those landmarks that fill even the most unmotivated students with awe.

As we talked about Polaris and how to find north I couldn't help but notice Marcus looking a little bit lost. He dutifully filled out his map, but finally, he raised his hand and asked what was on his mind.

"Miss, I have never seen the Big Dipper. And what do you mean by 'the North Star'?" Heads swiveled in stunned silence. Thankfully, no one made any rude remarks about intelligence, but there was a second there that I really had no idea what to say.

Then it dawned on me. I asked Marcus where exactly in Brazil he was from. We got out the globe and he pointed to his home town.

Marcus was from a place SOUTH of the equator. He could never have seen the Big Dipper (in its entirety) or Polaris from where he lived because they never rise in his sky.

Well, once the kids discovered that little tid-bit, they went crazy. What stars CAN you see? Do you have a "South Star"? Does the world rotate in a different direction?

No, I'm not making that last one up.

This was such an incredible teaching moment that I never saw coming. Never even thought about. Sometimes, things just happen right.

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