AY 300 - Teaching Resources and Contacts:

Here's a partial list of the resources out there in your quest to become a better teacher.

Your Peers

Never forget this! Your peers, Head GSI, course head, and random older graduate students all have teaching experience. You can bounce ideas off them, discuss an issue you're having, or solicit them for tried-and-true techniques. There's no substitute for experience!

(For example, Josh has extensively used the wisdom of Dan Perley and the resources on his teaching webpage.)

The Electronic Big Red Binder (EBRB)

We can't emphasize enough the usefulness of the EBRB! It's a collection of numerous worksheets, activities, demonstrations, handouts, and homework assignments developed by past GSIs, all stored on this wiki. Most things in it are well-vetted and effective. It's a great place to pull out a good worksheet for a topic you're covering or to find inspiration for your section.

As you may suspect, the EBRB was preceded by a physical Big Red Binder, which lives in the 7th Floor Library in Campbell Hall. Feel free to page through it if you wish - the “PBRB” contains worksheets that haven't yet been scanned in to the EBRB. If you happen to find something really useful that doesn't seem to be on the EBRB, it'd be great if you could upload it.

Astronomy Department Demos

Everything listed below should be in the cabinet in 264 Evans (or possibly scattered around the room if people have been lazy and not put stuff away). Always check to make sure you have everything you need for a demo well before section begins!

Descriptions of more demos can be found in the EBRB.

  • Atomic Lines: a set of diffraction gratings and tubes filled with various gases excited using an arc lamp
  • Sunspots: a viewer that projects the Sun onto a screen; if it's not in 264 Evans, it might be in the undergraduate lab on the 7th floor of Campbell
  • Spiral Density Waves: a slinky on a hula hoop
  • Warping of Spacetime: a 2D analogy using stretchy black fabric and balls/weights
  • Expansion of Universe: a 2D toy Universe in which galaxies (represented by dots) get farther from each other in time snapshots (represented by transparencies) and can be used to derive Hubble's Law, can be found on the Hubble's Law and the Expansion of the Universe page of the EBRB
  • Celestial Sphere: there are many foam and plastic balls in 264 Evans that can be used to model celestial-sphere concepts; a good 3D representation is vital for helping students understand such topics
  • Phases of the Moon: a lamp or flashlight is the Sun, one student holds the Moon (a Styrofoam ball), and the other students are the Earth (all clumped together); for a particular moon phase, students move to different times of the day and determine when the moon can be seen
  • (Rayleigh) Scattering of Light: fill a fish tank with water and a couple drops of milk and shine a flashlight through it to show scattering of blue light and transmission of red light
  • Planetary Nebulae (and Limb Brightening and Optical Depth): use a Hoberman sphere covered in Christmas lights to show how spherical radiating clouds can appear ring-like

Physics Department Demos

Contact demos@physics to reserve a demonstration at least one day before class. Only demos that can fit in a standard printer-paper box can be taken out of LeConte. The larger demos can be set up in a LeConte lecture room, if one is available. Go to http://physics.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=54&Itemid=95 to view descriptions of the available demos. Demos most relevant to astronomy are listed below (the Demo Codes are used by the Physics people to catalog their stuff):

Title Demo Code Fits in a Box ?
How a Rainbow Works (reflection and refraction) E+60+10 no
Radiation Pressure C+65+15 yes
No Sound in a Vacuum B+45+15 yes
Wave Interference (beats for two sound sources) B+35+25 yes
EM Wave Model D+5+32 yes
Doppler Effect for Sound B+65+0 yes
Inverse Square Law for Light E+55+0 probably
Gas Temperature and Particle Motion C+55+0 yes
Blackbody Spectra and Wien's Law E+65+25 no
Model of the Eye E+30+65 no
Diffraction Limit E+10+45 yes
Airy Disk E+10+10 no
Acceleration due to Gravity (feather and rock fall in vacuum) A+0+0 probably
Conservation of Angular Momentum (rotating chair with bicycle wheel) A+30+15 no
Convection C+20+0 yes
Earth's Magnetic Field D+30+4 yes
Center of Mass A+50+37 yes

Simple Demos

These demos require only simple household items to perform.

  • Slinky: demonstrates transverse vs. longitudinal waves and reflection; borrow from a grad student or buy one if you don't have your own (really everyone should have their own Slinky!)
  • Magnet: can tell students that waving it up and down generates radiation; borrow from a grad student if you don't have your own
  • Dog Whistle: demonstrates that just as there's sound you can't hear, there's light you can't see
  • Diet Coke and Mentos: drop four Mentos in Diet Coke and you get a Diet Coke fountain; demonstrates that sometimes science is predictable but sometimes it surprises the hell out of you (http://www.eepybird.com/dcm1.html)
  • Atomic Transitions with Colored Balls and Steps: classic Alex demo; different colors represent photon energies, a student throws a ball at the instructor and he catches it and jumps to a higher step if the “photon has the appropriate energy,” he throws the ball when jumping back down
  • Orbits using Analogy of Donut on a String: another classic Alex demo; donut is moon, instructor is Earth, and string tied on donut represents gravity, instructor swings donut in a circle (orbit) and when gravity is turned off (string eats through donut), the donut flies off in a straight line
  • Hydrostatic Equilibrium with a Hair Dryer and Balloon: hold balloon up with dryer
  • Expansion of Universe with Balloon: space is 2D surface of balloon and time represented by radial direction; Universe expands in time and all points on balloon get increasingly far from each other; can oftentimes be more confusing than enlightening
  • Shape of Universes: flatten a balloon by cutting it to show that the area of a circle is less than πr2 and flatten a Pringle potato chip to show that the area of a circle is greater than πr2; this also can sometimes be more confusing than enlightening
  • Why Winter is Colder than Summer: shine a flashlight directly on the wall and show that the light is more concentrated than the case in which the flashlight is tilted; can also shine the flashlight on a globe (with a tilted axis)

GSI Teaching and Resource Center

They have tons of info and are great for directing you to various parts of the University and giving general teaching information. There website is http://gsi.berkeley.edu/.

External Websites

There are lots of sites out there with great info on teaching introductory astronomy. Some of them are:

When planning questions and lectures, you may find it helpful to look at http://www.physics.umaine.edu/ncomins/miscon.htm, which contains information on more than 1700 common astronomy misconceptions. It's compiled by Neal F. Comins of the University of Maine and the content is taken from his book “Heavenly Errors: Misconceptions about the real nature of the Universe.”

Star-Party Telescopes

Great for giving students what they want (pretty astronomy!). Contact Attila Kabai, akabai@astro.berkeley.edu. Also, make sure that you can actually operate the telescope and that you have a list of objects that you want to observe before actually running a star party. Talk to your AY 300 instructor and/or Head GSI for more info. Also check out the Star Party page in the EBRB.

Educational Technology Services

Has information about various technology services available on campus and can get you keys to A/V cabinets in lecture rooms. Visit http://ets.berkeley.edu/ or go to the basement of Dwinelle Hall for more info. To quickly view a room's A/V attributes, go to http://students.berkeley.edu/rooms/attributes.asp.

Portable Video Projector

Great for showing pretty pictures and online demos when the room you're using doesn't have a built-in projector. Make a reservation well in advance by going to http://astro.berkeley.edu/resources/campbell/reservations/video.html and contact central@astro if you run into reservation problems.

Facebook & MySpace

They'll have info (and probably pictures) for most, if not all, of your students. Also, to make it clear that you're not playing favorites or anything like that, rather than “friending” your students online you might want to just create an online group for each of your sections that any of the students in the section can join.

Digital Camera

Useful to take pictures of students/classes to help with name memorization. Contact central@astro to reserve the camera well in advance.


Online directory of students in a given course or section, great for memorizing student names. GSI names must be assigned by a department administrator (Dexter) to specific sections before this system works. Their homepage is at http://courseweb.pitt.edu/.

Clickers (Audience Response System)

An audience response system is good for keeping student attention and diagnosing student understanding during lecture. The department currently has a set of 36 clickers (transmitters) and one receiver stored by Dexter. The software is available for download at http://www.gtcocalcomp.com/prs_software.php. Contact Andrea Monter at GTCO CalComp (800-344-4723, ext 203; AMonter@gtcocalcomp.com) to order more clickers. Sometimes, you can get free clickers when you purchase the textbooks for your class - ask Amy Teeling (Amy.Teeling@aw.com, 510-547-2211) if you'd like to hear more about this option.

Physics-Astronomy Library

Good for putting books on reserve so that students running on a tight budget do not have to buy the book. Contact Heather Pena (hpena@library) for more info.

Bookstore (Cal Student Store)

Good for coordinating book ordering or clicker ordering. Call (510) 642-9000.