Astronomy Programs: Moravian College Astronomy
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The programming highlighted below will prove useful in helping classes attain important astronomical concepts. Most Allentown (PA) School District Planetarium programs had an orientation component that was conducted in the classroom. These lessons are emphasized in this document.   Contact Gary A. Becker if there are any questions or for in-service opportunities for your school system.

Day and Night | The Sun and Directions | The Moon: Earth's Nearest Neighbor
Planet Quiz Show | Reasons for the Seasons | Constellations and Mythologies
Girl Scouts | Stars From Santa's North Pole | Star of Bethlehem




DAY AND NIGHT:   Age appropriate for preschool, kindergarten, and first grade
Day and Night is a self-contained, introductory program which allows students to discover the true nature of this phenomenon through role-playing and the multimedia capabilities of the planetarium. For many, this lesson will provide pupils with their first introduction to the wonders of the night sky and act as a catalyst for future explorations at the ASD Planetarium. Pupils will role-play being the Earth, demonstrate that day and night is caused by a rotating Earth, identify stars, learn that stars are not “star shaped,” and find the pattern of the Big Dipper in the night sky. Subsequent planetarium lessons will build on this initial experience.
THE STARS FROM SANTA'S NORTH POLE:   Age appropriate for preschool, kindergarten, grades 1-2    PLANETARIUM PROGRAM ONLY
The Stars from Santa's North Pole will magically transport your children from their dwellings in the Lehigh Valley to a location near Santa's Village at the North Pole. Students will actually see the sky just like Santa would visualize it with the Pole Star and Big Dipper high overhead. Children will also locate these objects with pointers and see how the stars move because of the Earth's rotation, with the North Star remaining stationary to guide Santa's way as he comes south on Christmas Eve. Pupils will then ride Santa’s sleigh, equipped with its North Star Navigational System from his home on Christmas Eve, and use the North Star to find Allentown, PA. Learners will then return to the North Pole for more presents and deliver them to Allentown. The program's finale is a Holiday Sing-Along featuring Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Winter Wonderland, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. This program is currently scheduled to run on school days from early December to the beginning of the Winter Break. Program times are 10:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Additional dates and times may be made available if the demand necessitates it.

[The Stars from Santa's North Pole]
The Stars from Santa's North Pole, was a tradition at the Allentown School District Planetarium since the planetarium's founding in 1965. During the Holiday Season, the ASD Planetarium extended a special invitation to district schools and Lehigh Valley daycare centers to visit the planetarium for this one hour seasonal program that was sure to please both young and old alike. Gary A. Becker composite digital photograph...
SUN AND DIRECTIONS:   Age appropriate for grades 1-2
The Sun and Directions focuses on the rotation of the Earth and how it causes the sun to rise and set in locations consistent enough to be able to be used as direction indicators. Students pretending they are Earths will role-play day and night, sunset, sunrise, noon, and midnight as a warm up to the presentation, then identify sunrise, noon, and sunset positions of the sun as a planetarium exercise. The use of the North Star, in conjunction with the Pointer Stars of the Big Dipper, will also be emphasized as a method of being able to locate directions at night. An orienteering exercise, using the “WE” method for finding directions, will conclude the planetarium session.

[Young Earths]
Young Earths learn the motions and geometry for day and night and the sun and directions. Left: Day and night are caused by the Earth's rotation. Right: The sun is setting to the right as Earth rotates counterclockwise. Digital photography by Michael Stump...
THE MOON:   Age appropriate for grades 2 through 6
The classroom orientation investigates some of the basic physical parameters about the moon: its distance, size, and mass. Included, if time permits, is whether the moon possesses gravity, air, and water. During the planetarium program, pupils are involved in participatory exercises with “moons-on-a-stick,” examining how the moon shines, the four major phases of the moon, and how solar and lunar eclipses are created. This is carried into the planetarium environment with pupils identifying lunar phases with the planetarium’s moon projector and predicting when a solar eclipse will occur. Lunar eclipses will also be identified. If time permits, the differences and origins of the highlands and lowlands of the moon will be explored. Details of the moon’s geologic history will be discussed. Finally, the equipment and sequencing of events which led to the human drama of the Apollo astronauts, traveling to and landing on the moon’s surface, will be talked about.

[February 20, 2008 Total Lunar Eclipse]
THE REASONS FOR THE SEASONS:   Age appropriate for grades 4 through adult
The seasons are NOT caused by the changing distance of the Earth from the sun, and they are certainly NOT created by Earth's axis flipping back and forth. Seasonal effects result from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and because the axis points in the same direction. This causes the amount of energy received from the sun to vary throughout the year (direct versus indirect energy), creating the seasonal effects which we experience, and which will be explored in this lesson. Students will witness how the axial tilt of the Earth causes the sun to change in altitude, rise and set in different positions, and remain in the sky for different periods of time over the period of a year. For a detailed lesson on the reasons for the seasons, optimized for our location in the Lehigh Valley, click on the link associated with this paragraph.
THE PLANET QUIZ SHOW:   Age appropriate for grades 3 through adult
The Planet Quiz Show is a vehicle for creating a participatory and competitive mood for learning basic information associated with the solar system. The classroom orientation consists of participatory exercises and demonstrations examining the order, temperature sequence, orbital velocities, sizes, and distances of the planets from the sun. Students will also learn why Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. After the classroom orientation, two teams of students receive identical sets of questions. The teams are responsible for discovering the answers to this information through trips to the school library, the Internet, teacher-assisted classroom discussions, querying parents or other resource persons, as well as interacting with one another. The orientation focuses on providing information specific to about half of the questions which the children will receive. During the Planetarium program, the two teams will be asked to respond to the questions which they have been studying. The format will be the same as a TV game show. The two opposing teams will sit on opposite sides of the room. The multimedia capabilities of the Planetarium will be available for immediate reinforcement of answers as well as to provide additional information throughout the presentation. The complete Planet Quiz Show, complete with lots of pictures, can be accessed by clicking on the link associated with this paragraph.

A DIPPER FULL OF STARS--Constellations and their Mythologies:   Age appropriate for grades 1 through adult
A Dipper Full of Stars will focus upon the seasonal constellations which are visible from an urban location, emphasizing the importance of the North Star and how this star can be found by locating the Big Dipper and its two pointer stars. The orientation program will center upon the reasons why constellations were important to the ancients, and why constellations still have scientific value in today’s world. The program will include such famous star patterns as the Big Dipper/Big Bear, North Star, Little Dipper/Little Bear, and the mystery constellation of Draco the Dragon. Hercules the Strongman, Cassiopeia the Queen, Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull and the Pleiades, Canis Major the Big Dog, Leo the Lion, Corvus the Crow, or other star figures which are appropriate for the season may be located and discussed depending upon the age of the group that is being instructed. The program will conclude with the telling of at least one mythologic story under the stars.

[Miss Brown's Thank You]
WOW! Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull never looked so good. Note the lines extending from the two children in the front row. Those are pointers which the children use to find the constellations, in addition to “Mr. Becker’s” arrow. He is the guy behind the console. Thank you, Parkway Manor and Mary Kate Brown.

Star of Bethlehem

WHAT WAS THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM?:   Age appropriate for Middle School through Adult

What does the science of astronomy have to say about one of Christianity’s greatest historical events, the birth of Christ, and the celestial wonder called the Star of Bethlehem which heralded His arrival? Was the star a comet, a bright meteor, a supernova, a coming together of several bright planets, or quite simply a miracle?

Astronomers and historians have started with the Biblical facts which surround the birth of the Christ Child and have come to the conclusion that there were some weird celestial happenings occurring in the heavens which could have been interpreted as a heavenly sign. They have also begun to formulate opinions about the date of the birth of Christ, as well as the time of the year in which the birth occurred. Interestingly, this information does not correspond to many of the religious traditions which have evolved over centuries of commemorating the birth of Christ and which are observed by Christians today. However, there are many good historical reasons as to why we continue to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner.

The Star of Bethlehem program will examine the facts surrounding the first Christmas, isolating the time period when the birth of Christ could have occurred, and the astronomical significance of the Star. The presentation will also explore the possible astronomical objects and events which could have been interpreted as the Star, focusing upon supernovas, comets, and particularly on the movements of the planets in the heavens and how these motions could have been interpreted by the Wise Men. Important constellations identified with the Star of Bethlehem will also be shown.

It may be a surprise to know that the program will in no way diminish the significance of this celebration. It may indeed bring it into sharper focus and understanding.

Length of program: 1-1/2 hours.

Gary A. Becker with Rev. Nicholas Knisely
In The Star of Bethlehem, science supports religion to show what the Star may have been. Gary A. Becker, ASD Planetarium (left), and Nicholas Knisely, Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island (formerly Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Bethlehem) have jointly discussed the Star's possibilities at the Allentown School District Planetarium. There is no conflict of science and religion here. Don Fisher photograph...


©1996-2015 Gary A. Becker   •   All photographs/diagrams, except where noted, are copyright Gary A. Becker