Students Understanding Research in Realistic Explorations in Astronomical Learning (SURREAL) Project

Grants and Contracts Details


This research will focus on the development of students’ scientific and mathematical content knowledge pre/post project implementation of a NASA-based curriculum called Realistic Explorations in Astronomical Learning (REAL) developed by PIs J. and R. Wilhelm. We will examine how well the REAL curriculum creates equitable opportunities for all students to learn space-related science and mathematics content. Few studies have examined equitable learning in the area of Astronomy. I. Background - Through REAL, students engage in a novel space science environment where mathematics and science are seamlessly integrated in meaningful ways. REAL objectives are to provide students with: a) Hands-on experiences of space science research; b) The ability to both quantitatively and qualitatively understand the phases of the Moon, the origins and evolution of specific features on the surfaces of planetary bodies within our Solar System, and the geologic principle of superposition and relative/absolute age dating; c) The opportunity to learn meaningful space science and mathematics in an exotic, national standards-based manner and develop spatial reasoning skills that will transfer to other STEM areas; d) The confidence and ability to communicate their own scientific thinking and the ability to understand others’ scientific thinking; and e) Measurable gain scores on conceptual forms of assessment in both mathematics and science. Three units comprise REAL - Moon and Sky, Planetary Surfaces, and Martian Age Dating. Moon and Sky contains Lesson-One: Can I see the Moon every day and night, and why does it appear to change its shape? Lesson-Two: How do I measure the distance between objects in the sky? Lesson-Three: How can I say where I am on the Earth? Lesson-Four: How can I locate things in the sky? Moon and Sky unit includes observations and journaling, scientific and mathematical connections, and on-line discussions with students in the southern hemisphere (Australia). The participating middle level students begin their unit by conducting five weeks of Moon observations where students are expected to record in a journal what they view and experience using descriptive language, artistic sketches, and measurements of the Moon’s azimuth and altitude angles. REAL students will join on-line lunar discussions with students from around the world where participants compare and contrast their astronomical observations to learn about (1) the Moon and (2) the significance of relative position and motion [This will be done only if we can obtain another class willing to participate. We usually work with students in Australia]. In addition to naked eye observations, REAL students utilize the free planetarium software, Stellarium, to compare and contrast their Kentucky sky data with that of Australian sky data. The unit continues with students exploring how to locate objects and measure the distances between objects in the sky (Lessons-Two and Four). Lesson Three has students learning how to document their Earthly location through exploration of longitude and latitude. Through observations and modeling, many mathematical concepts emerge such as the geometric spatial features of the Moon/Earth/Sun system, cardinal directions, periodic patterns associated with the lunar orbit and phases, and visualization as one mentally projects one’s self to the other side of the world. Planetary Surfaces involves – Lesson-Five: What are the Global Features of the Moon? Lesson-Six: What can we learn by examining the Moon's surface? Lesson- Seven: What affects a crater’s size? Lesson-Eight: The Scaling Earth/Moon/Mars NASA Activity; Lesson-Nine: What Makes a Planet Geologically Active? Lesson-Ten: Surface Activity on Planets and Moons. Planetary Surfaces unit involves incorporating lessons on scaling, lunar surface examination, and crater formations. Students conduct a series of surface investigations where they make observations of the lunar features and conjecture about what these features are and how they were created. Students compare and contrast images of Earth’s surface with that of the Moon’s. Students create their own impact craters using various surfaces to mimic the lunar surface and multiple objects to simulate meteors. In cratering Lesson-Seven, students are asked to a) graph crater sizes as a function of mass and as a function of height, b) observe the superposition of many craters in order to determine the youngest crater, and c) determine the crater density by measuring area. Students return to examining images of the Moon armed with the necessary tools constructed from their cratering investigations. They use these lunar images to conclude relative ages of various features on the Moon through use of superposition principles. They mathematically quantify crater number density and crater size by investigating the number of craters in regions that have relative age differences (Lesson-Six). Mathematics integrated within these investigations includes, independent and dependent variables, scaling through ratio and proportion, area and density calculations. Lesson-Eight’s objective is to construct a scale model of the Earth-Moon-Mars system in terms of planetary size and relative distances. Lesson-Nine teaches students about the important parameters that keep a planet geologically active. Students conduct a series of experiments that allows them to see the manner in which objects cool and what particular parameters affect the cooling rate. It also introduces the concept of surface area, volume and the non-linear relationship between the parameters. Lesson-Ten continues the theme with further explorations of surface activity on planets and moons. Students study NASA images of planetary systems in order to rate surface activity in terms of the oldest preserved surface compared to the youngest.
Effective start/end date12/1/135/15/15


  • Mentors & Meals: $8,243.00


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