One of the hallmarks or distinctives of my astronomy class is that, over the course of the year, I have the students learn the names and key facts about the constellations we can see from Sarasota. This is a lot of constellations, sixty-six to be exact. There are eighty-eight altogether, but some can only be seen from the southern hemisphere. The students learn these two or three each week. Every Friday we have a quiz that is cumulative and I am so pleased that they have managed to learn so much about these. Most of them have missed some items on the quizzes and lost points but for those who manage to go the entire year with perfect scores, I have two awards. They are exempt from the final constellation test and they receive a certificate awarding them the status of Magister Siderium, Master of the Stars. As of now thirteen of my ninety-six students are still in the running for this award, the most I have ever had.
To show how unusual my requirement of learning constellations is in astronomy courses, I must tell you a story. Last summer I had coffee with a former astronomy student, who went to college majoring in astrophysics. She entered a graduate program and, several years later, successfully defended her dissertation again in astrophysics. She told me that the department had the graduate students help with undergrad labs and public stargazes. She knew that she would always get to talk about constellations because she was the only doctoral student who knew them! I, personally, am a little sad when I realize that learning about the celestial sphere and the constellations is not on the radar of astronomy departments. I have had former students tell me, in a pleased tone of voice, how they were able to show their parents/girl/boy friend/children the constellations and stars they learned in my class. <Big smile>
And if anyone asks you what my favorite constellation is, it's Perseus the Hero, slayer of the Medusa as portrayed in movie Clash of the Titans, the 1982 version anyway. The story line was altered beyond recognition in the newer release.
Thanks for reading this post.