Online reading assignment: the Milky Way (NC campus)

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2012
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

Students have a weekly online reading assignment (hosted by SurveyMonkey.com), where they answer questions based on reading their textbook, material covered in previous lectures, opinion questions, and/or asking (anonymous) questions or making (anonymous) comments. Full credit is given for completing the online reading assignment before next week's lecture, regardless if whether their answers are correct/incorrect. Selected results/questions/comments are addressed by the instructor at the start of the following lecture.

The following questions were asked on reading textbook chapters and previewing presentations on the Milky Way's shape, size and composition, spiral arm structure and formation, and the history of its formation.

Selected/edited responses are given below.

Describe something you found interesting from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally interesting for you.
"Seeing many stars in a strip around us, but very few stars in the directions perpendicular to this strip tells us so far that we live in a flattened disk-shaped galaxy."

"Gravity is spread out over the Milky Way. I thought it would be condensed."

"The animation of the larger galaxy consuming a smaller one and creating its spiral arms, as it helped me visually picture the process."

"Our galaxy is awesome! It's kind of like a cannibal because it 'eats' dwarf galaxies. And that's part of the reason why the Milky Way has spiral arms."

"How we aren't able to see our own galaxy. We have an idea of what it looks like, but there is no possible way that we could ever see exactly what it looks like. That blows my mind."

"I had never put together that the atoms formed by stars in our galaxy's past are the same atoms that make us up! Everything is connected!"

"The sun is not even centered in our galaxy. Makes me think that nothing is perfect."
Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"I just didn't really understand the correlation between the age of the stars and their 'metallicity.'"

"How can 'dark matter' be most of the mass of the Milky Way when it is nothing."

"It's hard to mentally visualize dark matter as a concept when it is literally not visible. We can't see it, but somehow it's there and it has mass."
If you did not have access to a mirror, what could you do to find out whether or not you're having a bad hair day while camping?
"Look at the reflection in water/cell phone/glasses." (11 responses.)

"Feeling your hair/waving your head around." (3 responses.)

"Asking my friends/looking at their reactions." (3 responses.)

"Look at the shape of your shadow."

"Have someone take a picture of you!"
Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Are there going to be more extra-credit assignments later in the semester" How can we get more extra credit?" (Yes. There will be more online surveys, as well as in-class movie reports, and haiku activities later this semester.)

"What got you interested in teaching astronomy, and how do you keep yourself motivated to teaching?" (I started teaching astronomy at UC-Davis (where I had already been teaching physics) one summer because all of the astronomers on that campus happened to be unavailable to teach that course. And as it turns out, astronomy is much enjoyable to teach because everyone finds it so awesome compared to, say, um, having to take physics.)

"I'm starting to feel overwhelmed with this overload of information...is there any way we can review more for quizzes during class?" (You should go through the flashcard questions while reading through the textbook, and discuss your responses with me after class, during office hours, or via e-mail. We will also set aside time in class later this semester to review for the second midterm.)

"Is there any way to start preparing for the final now?" (Do as well as you can on the quizzes and the second midterm, and then worry about preparing for the final exam when it comes.)

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