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IMGALTTAG Volume I: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Universe. . . But Were Afraid to Ask (Cosmology)


Exploring Black Holes Through Poetry
Karen C. (Kasey) Kennedy
CAPA High School

This unit is designed to use poetry to encourage students to think creatively about science, in particular, astronomy and black holes. Poetry utilizes analogy, focus, rigor, and flexibility; science, particularly at its most speculative frontier, can make good use of these tools. The astounding discoveries being made daily in this “golden age” of cosmology have ramifications that are challenging even to understand, let alone reflect upon.  This unit will attempt to accomplish two things: first, it will attempt to span the long-standing pedagogical gap between the sciences and the humanities via poetry; second, it will encourage students to use poetry as a means to investigate, express, and postulate about black holes in particular, and about science in general.

Students who have some background in physics or astronomy will watch a film, Black Holes: The Ultimate Abyss, read an article by Stephen Hawking on black holes, and  read a selection of scientific poetry. Students will be introduced to the idea of using analogies as a means to understand difficult concepts and to think creatively. Using specific vocabulary, poetry exercises, discussion guides, and other materials, students will write three poems about black holes. The students’ poetry will demonstrate an understanding of the science involved as well as some mastery of the craft of poetry.


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What We Always Wanted to Know about the Universe But Didn’t Know How to Find Out
Keely L. Keyser
Oliver High School

How would it feel to have no knowledge about how our universe was created or how our earth was created?  This is how our students look at astronomy. In the scientific world most students are walking around without sight, hoping that someone else will answer questions or thinking they do not need to deal with it because it does not affect them. During this age of space exploration, the unanswered questions need to be answered and the answered questions need to be reinforced or clarified. Throughout the unit, “What we always wanted to know about the universe but didn’t know how to find out,” the students will expand their horizons, enter into the scientific world and find answers to questions that have never been explained. It will also lead the students into further investigation of the concepts presented relating to the following questions/concepts that will be presented for inquiry and research throughout the unit:

  1. Is the universe really expanding and what does that mean to us?
  2. What is the life cycle of a star and where does our sun fit into the cycle
  3. What is Big Bang?
  4. How far away is space? The sun? The next galaxy?
  5. How old is the universe?
  6. What is a black hole? 
  7. What is beyond our solar system?
  8. Could there be other solar systems with a “planet earth”
  9. When will our sun die and why?
  10. What is dark matter can I touch it?
  11. Why is astronomy so complicated?
  12. How was the earth created?

This unit is designed for a 10th-12th grade Earth and Space Science class. The population of students is primarily mainstream with special needs students included. To meet all students’ needs multiple teaching styles will be used; direct instruction of specific concepts, indirect instruction / inquiry and research completed by the students and presentations of the concept/question.


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Cosmological Constants:  Determinants of our Universe
Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Eric Laurenson

Cosmology is on the cutting edge of physics and the human desire to find physical laws to explain and incorporate physical reality from the very small to the very large. It is cosmology that attempts to determine the origin and fate of our universe. The nature of time and space are within the realm of cosmological study. It is a remarkable endeavor that humans have the capacity to attempt to comprehend the universe that they inhabit. It is this same discerning ambition that enables man to seek out other life forms. The Mars Landers are an awesome example of man’s ability to reach out into the universe to test our hypothesis that life could exist elsewhere. In addition, there are a myriad of telescopes reaching billions of years back in time to determine the origin, scale and future of our universe. The Hubble Telescope, COBE, WMAP, and other telescopes have enabled man to establish the constituent parts of our universe. The knowledge obtained has led to the discovery that the universe is made up of 4% atoms, 23% dark matter and 73% dark energy. Although physicists still do not know what dark energy is, they improve their understanding all the time and it is this scientific search that leads to discovery. The essence of the scientific pursuit is to search into the unknown for greater comprehension. Cosmology is establishing the very parameters of the unknown and guiding the search for a unified understanding of the physical world. Martin Rees, in his book Just Six Numbers, establishes the six cosmological constants that determine the nature of our universe. It is these six constants that show the boundaries of our current knowledge. The Unit will consist of lessons on the significance of each of the six cosmological constants and how they establish our current understanding of the cosmos. The six cosmological constants are N, the ratio of the electromagnetic force to gravity, e nuclear efficiency, W critical density, l the inflation constant, Q cosmic smoothness, and D the number of dimensions. The Cosmological Unit is based on the discussion of these six cosmological constants and their implications in our universe.


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The Universality of The Universe
Sally Martin
Taylor Allderdice High School 

This unit is designed as an enrichment to a Chemistry I course for gifted students. It is designed to be integrated into several units of the course, primarily those covering atomic theory. Cosmology, as such, is not part of any chemistry curriculum or for that matter any standard high school science curriculum. Rather than teach this material as an individual unit I have designed course material and activities to enhance several standard units of a chemistry course.

When students learn how to use numbers in scientific notation, numbers associated with the universe will be introduced.  Again these numbers will be used when students learn dimensional analysis. As part of the unit on atomic structure I also teach nuclear chemistry and discuss binding energy and nuclear energy. A natural example of these is the formation and death of stars and the formation of planets such as earth. The next unit focuses on electron configuration and quantum mechanics. As part of this unit we study light spectra. An extension of this unit will involve the analysis of light from space. The conclusion of the unit on the structure of the atom will be a discussion of String theory and the most fundamental particles of matter will be related to the Big Bang theory.


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Formation of the Universe
Joseph McGuire
Oliver High School

The study of cosmology has come of age. Advancements in the study of the universe have increased as new discoveries are being made. This unit will present a brief history of cosmology. This unit will also introduce students to concepts such as the expanding universe. This unit will get students thinking about the universe we live in.

Students will also be able to conduct inquiry-based projects within this unit. Hopefully students will be introduced to a new approach to science. The lessons in this unit are hands on activities that are suited for high school biology students.


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The Journey of a Carbon Atom
F. Michael Real
Taylor Allderdice High School

This unit will introduce students taking Earth and Space Science to the science of Cosmology. Students will first learn about the origin of the universe, beginning with the theory of the Big Bang. This will be followed by an examination of how the subsequent universe developed as a consequence of those first conditions.

This will be followed by the application of what the students have learned to an examination of the stellar cycle. Within this framework will be a review of the age of stars relative to the different types of galaxies, their distances, and compositions.

The nature of space and time will also be studied with particular emphasis on the mystery of the Black Hole and what occurs inside one.

This unit will conclude with an examination of the three theories concerning the ultimate fate of the universe.  The so called “Big Crunch”, the “Steady State model,” and the “Heat Death models.”


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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