Astronomy–finally!

Whewf! It’s taken quite a bit to birth this book–or rather, these books or materials! I have been working on this for quite some time as those of you wanting to purchase our astronomy curriculum know.

Astronomy is a homeschooler’s subject par excellence–and it was that in part that made the creation of the materials somewhat challenging. Astronomy (like earth science and botany) is just not a subject for the classroom! It is silly to just be reading or talking about the Sun and Moon and planets–I don’t care how lovely the drawings are…this is the kind of subject that must take a family outside and into a real relationship with the heavenly bodies — and over an expanse of time.

So no main lessons…and then we have the challenge that each and every one of you lives somewhere different…we have Northern Hemisphere folks and Southern Hemisphere folks…we have those of you in the countryside where every night is a glorious panorama of stars..we have those of you who live in cities and who can only experience the wonder of the night sky when they drive away from home…Then we have the fact that I wanted this to be a year’s study. Any shorter and the experience of going out regularly to observe the phases of the Moon, the progression of constellations, the movements of the planets is just too limited. One can actually find a real relationship to the heavenly bodies by regular, faithful observation–naked eye observation (no telescopes, not even a pair of binoculars until the end of the year’s study). This is an amazing experience for every child–every human being.

Another challenge: how to present a subject that is, in conventional science and especially that presented in most children’s science books, riddled with the crassest of materialistic assumptions. The Cosmos has meaning–it is not random. The Sun is not a nuclear power station. The Moon is not an inert lump that just happens to be orbiting the Sun–and so on. How to holistically join the mythic wisdom of star knowledge with real naked eye observation…and then–yes then–explore some modern thinking about astronomy.

A tall order.

So what we have is a Student Text; a Teacher’s Guide; and then a collection of freebies from the internet (for your convenience and not sold–this includes things like how to make an astrolabe and some really good math resources from NASA).

Here are a few short excerpts to give you a taste…and oh – I should say that Christopherus’ A Year of Astronomy will be available to purchase from 14 January 2019. My hope is that most of you will straddle 7th and 8th grade with it, starting with the wonder of exploration and discovery which is a keynote of Waldorf 7th grade onto grappling with the modern world, a keynote of 8th grade.

There is also guidance for using these materials only in 8th grade or, indeed, 9th grade.

This is a short (and rough) excerpt from the very much still-in-progress Teacher’s Guide:

Sun and Moon

Turn to the dictations for the Sun and Moon and to the activities listed there. Read through Bittleston (copious readings included for teacher prep) and Kraul (Walter Kraul Astronomy for Young and Old which those of you who used our earth science materials have and which is required for this astronomy course) and plan out your presentation of the Sun and the Moon to your child.

Your child’s observations of both Sun and Moon should be from the same vantage point each day/night. Use a building, tree, mountain or whatever landscape feature as a marker.

Do ensure that your child is aware that he must not look directly at the Sun (and do pause for a moment to reflect with him about the astonishing fact that we cannot look directly at our most central and beloved Heavenly Body. Perhaps there are lessons about humility and our place in the Cosmos to consider.)

Here is a sketch of apparatus you can construct so as to view the Sun’s reflection on a piece of card. As a fellow homeschooler, I know that these nifty experiments never quite seem to be as simple as promised—so do fiddle about with the angle of the cardboard and binoculars and telescope as well as color of the card. For both experiments it needs to be a clear sunny day and it is probably easiest to rig them up if the Sun is directly overhead.

For this one to work you need to tape or tie a pair of binoculars to a chair and then get the angle right for the light to shine through one side of the binoculars (keep the caps on both lenses on the other side) onto the card. You should be able to see the Sun pretty clearly.

PIC HERE OF BINOCULARS ON CHAIR

This one requires a telescope. You can try the one your child makes later in the year when he comes to Galileo in his studies. Or perhaps you will have a larger telescope. At any rate, you’ll see on the diagram that there are two pieces of card: the one higher up shields and directs the light onto the piece of card.  The Sun-shadow might have a very dark edge around it and it could be you’ll even be able to see Sun-spots with this apparatus! Interestingly, these often appear in twos. Refer to Bittleston and Kraul to see what they say about Sun spots.

PIC OF TELESCOPE REFLECTING SUN HERE

Ensure your child knows the phases of the Moon and the language for its comings and goings such as gibbous, waxing, waning and so on. He should first observe this over the course of a month and then draw a picture of this cycle and put it in his astronomy binder.  Kraul has a helpful chapter explaining all of this which you can base your Teacher preparation on. He has a chart on page 103 which you can write up on your blackboard for your child to copy and then include with his observations in his astronomy binder.

 Observing the Stars

One of the most important stars to locate is the North Star, Polaris (consult Kraul for help). Show your child how to find Polaris in relation to the Big Dipper, which she should also be able to find easily. To find Polaris, you must first find the Big Dipper. See page 14 in Kraul for help.

Now face Polaris. Stretch out arms and point fingers. Your right hand will be due East and your left hand will be due West. Turn exactly around and you will be facing South.  Test this out and make sure your child can do this without you. If you live in a place where this is feasible, a nighttime hike orienting yourselves by Polaris’ position would be wonderful.

Study these sketches below to see how you can use your body to orientate yourself to the positions of the stars. Later, if you use tools which have precise measurements, it will be interesting to compare such data to your investigations using your hands!

Sigma octanus is the Southern Pole star—but I don’t know if you can navigate by it in the Southern Hemisphere as we can navigate by Polaris here. It’d be worth finding out!

This is from the Student Text:

Islamic Star Knowledge

Although we in the West generally use Greek names for constellations, many of the stars that we know have Arabic names because of the work done by Islamic astrologers and astronomers. Stars you might be able to see include Aldebaran (Ad-Dabaran in Arabic, which means ‘follower’, possibly the follower of the Pleaides) which is in the constellation Taurus. When looking at Orion (from the Northern Hemisphere), the bottom left star is the bottom of his sword, and that’s where we find Saif, which we already mentioned. Opposite Saif, also at the bottom is Rigel (Ar-Rijl, which means ‘foot’). I’m not sure most of us would see that as Orion’s foot…but it is at the bottom of the constellation! At the end of the constellation of Scorpio, we can see the creature’s raised tail and there we find the stars Shaula (Ash-Shaulah, ‘the raised tail’) and Lesath (‘the sting’).

Huge lists of stars were compiled by Islamic scholars and their careful observations provided much information for people who needed such guidance for, example, navigation. But people also continued to seek out astrologers to guide them in their daily lives and many Islamic scholars excelled at this gift.

In addition to cataloguing thousands of individual stars and giving them names, Islamic astronomers also developed a number of important tools to aid their observations. In places such as Istanbul, Maragha and Samarkand, Islamic scholars invented or improved instruments such as astrolabes and quadrants (used to find one’s latitude and also to measure time by the sun); sextants (used also in navigation to determine angles and thus position); and astrolabes (very ancient tools used like charts to show the position of the stars). These instruments are still either used today very much like they had been, or have been adapted to computer use.

 (Talk to your teacher about the possibility of making an astrolabe.)

Islamic scholars were especially concerned with the creation of accurate calendars. Their religion, Islam, is based on the phases of the moon, so it was—and is—important for Muslims to have accurate calendars so that they could know when their Holy days and other important events might occur as these were and are, determined by the position of the moon. Measuring the circumference of the earth was also something developed by Islamic scholars, most notably by Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni.

Al-Biruni lived in the 10th Century and was born near the Aral Sea in modern-day Kiva, Uzbekistan, on 4 September 973. We don’t know much about his early life but by the time he was 22 he had written a number of important works on mathematics and especially on map making. He was especially interested in calculating the circumference of the earth and did so using trigonometry, a branch of mathematics developed by Ptolemy. Al-Biruni traveled widely, spurred on because of his unceasing quest for knowledge and also because it was a traditional part of a good Islamic education in those days.

 Al-Biruni was a scholar in the most important sense of the word and through his life studied, taught and wrote about astronomy, mathematics, astrology, medicine, history, physics, and philosophy. He understood the connections between all these areas of study and showed great depth and feeling in his understanding. Although many of his books did not survive through the centuries, we know that he wrote at least 145 books, as many of those were preserved and passed down.

Knowledge from Greece had arrived in the Islamic world and Al-Baruni, like all learned men of the Islamic world, took great interest in the ideas and thinking of the Greeks. Al-Biruni was especially fond of the work of Ptolemy and he corrected a number of small mistakes Ptolemy had made in his calculations.

(PIC OF AL-BIRUNI)

Al-Biruni traveled throughout the Muslim world, from Persia to Samarkand to Afghanistan and beyond. He had very little money and in his day and age, scholars needed to be supported by a patron, a rich man who was interested in what ‘his’ scholars taught and thought. On the one hand, this meant that men such as Al-Biruni could eat and dress themselves and buy their precious books. But on the other hand, it meant that they often had to write or speak in ways that would please their patron.

From July 1017, a powerful man named Mahmud of Ghazna became the ruler of much of the part of Central Asia where Al-Biruni taught and wrote. Mahmud was interested in learning and invited Al-Biruni into his court. Once there, however, Al-Biruni found that he could not leave. He became Mahmud’s prisoner and although eventually he was allowed to travel, he always had to return to his patron.

At some point, perhaps in the 1020s, Mahmud set his sights on India and taking his army, moved into the north of the country. Al-Biruni came as well and Mahmud allowed him to explore India and to learn from its scholars. Al-Biruni was very good at learning languages (he could speak and write in Persian, Arabic, Greek, Syriac and Berber already) and soon could speak with the local wise men. They were not Muslims like Al-Biruni and the scholars he knew and he was very interested in their customs, their religion and their way of life. He wrote an enormous book called Ta’rikh al-Hind, The Chronicles of India, and in it he described, in great detail, the mathematics, astronomy, astrology, medicine, history, geography and philosophy of India. He learned Sanskrit, the ancient language of Indian wisdom, and translated many Sanskrit books and documents into Arabic.

All comments and feedback welcome!

Posted on October 23, 2018 in 7th Grade, 8th Grade, High School, Publications, Science

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