Back in Blackboard

It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled,

Led Zeppelen

For any graduate student or postdoc, teaching is a rite of passage. Lucky for me, I got to experience teaching early on as an undergraduate at Villanova University starting in the late eighties as a teaching assistant for the core undergraduate astronomy lab.

That also happened to be the last time I actually taught astronomy lab until now. I’ve done my fair share of public outreach, informal educational activities, school partnerships, and even a weeklong cram astronomy workshop, but formally teaching for realz for a full semester at a university is something I haven’t done in over 20 years, until now.

Professor Ready? That’s my mom’s name for crying out loud!

Last night I taught the first of 12 labs for Astronomy 161 at Towson University. Now, I don’t plan on telling any war stories, but if last night is any indication, there may not be any war stories to tell anyway (I know, famous last words.)

As a subject, astronomy is one of the most counterintuitive to us. It requires to contemplate the greater universe far beyond the trappings of our day to day world. Consider these “simple” questions:

Simulation of the night sky as seen over Baltimore, MD February 2014. Image Credit:
Simulation of the night sky as seen over Baltimore, MD February 2014. Image Credit:
  1. Which direction is East?
  2. Which direction is West?
  3. Where is the highest star in the sky?

Right off the bat, we’re faced with questions that have no bearing on our everyday experience, yet are fundamentally important to understanding our place in the cosmos.

Unsurprisingly, some people were stumped by these questions at first. But it wasn’t long before the light bulbs started going off and one by one, connections to the cosmos were made right in front of me in that lab.

It feels great to be teaching again and I’m kind of kicking myself for not thinking to do this sooner, seeing as I loved it so much going back to my undergrad days. Oh well, I’m here now at Towson and I’m looking forward to the rest of the semester.

To any of my students who might be reading this post, welcome! Feel free to grab a Astr.161 Syllabus in case you didn’t get it from the school’s Blackboard site (which is something else I’m trying to figure out – these new fangled computer internets and all…)

Oh, and feel free to leave your answers to the above questions in the comments below 🙂