Workshop: "Writing Weekly Current Events Quiz Questions" (2016 Astronomy Teaching Summit Conference)

Workshop presented at the 2016 Astronomy Teaching Summit Conference, August 1-3, 2016, City College of San Francisco-Chinatown/North Beach Campus, San Francisco, CA.

Abstract: Students can be motivated to keep abreast of recent discoveries and developments in astronomy, and become aware of ongoing daily, monthly, and seasonal celestial cycles. This requires the instructor to nimbly find articles, construct questions, and grade current events quizzes on a weekly basis. Certain online resources readily provide materials for writing these weekly current events quizzes.

Outcomes: Workshop participants will learn how to find online articles, construct robust reading comprehension questions appropriate for introductory astronomy students, and efficiently grade quizzes for formative assessment to guide further class discussion on a regular weekly schedule.

Current events quiz study links (workshop participants--this is your pre-reading assignment):
  • Today's sunrise time, sunset time, and moon phase (*.html)
  • National Public Radio (*.html)
  • NASA (*.html)
  • National Radio Astronomy Observatory (*.html)
(This presentation, sample astronomy current events questions and more information is posted at: tinyurl.com/weeklycurrenteventsquizzes.)

Me, and some words about myself.

Conference funding provided by the Office of the Dean of Mathematics, Nursing and Physical Sciences at Cuesta College.

We'll begin with a first look at the typical current events quiz.

Let's have you take a current events quiz that is given to students in the first 10 minutes of introductory astronomy laboratory. (You have completed the pre-reading assignment before coming to this workshop, right? In any case, just do your best.)

So, how did you do on the current events quiz? (If you got all five questions correct, you get to be called a "stargeek" today.)

Note that there are three principal types of questions:
  • today's local sunrise or sunset time (to within ±10 minutes in order to handle uncertainty/variation in published times);
  • current phase of the moon (if the moon is in-between two of these eight illustrated phases, then full credit is given for choosing either (or both) of these illustrations that bracket the current appearance of the moon);
  • selected recent scientific discoveries/findings in astronomy.
Because the intent of this current event quiz is to promote student awareness and promptness, these questions are meant to be relatively straightforward incentives to track seasonal variations in the length of the day, monthly lunar cycles, and the latest scientific discoveries in astronomy, rewarding students that have done due diligence in looking up this information, and showing up promptly to take the current events quiz at the start of laboratory.

(If a student shows up late to the laboratory, the policy is that there is only the time remaining up until 10 minutes after the start of laboratory to take the current events quiz. This policy is reasonably generous as it typically should not take a student the entire allotted 10 minutes to complete this quiz.)

Second, let's go through the process of constructing current events quiz questions, such that it can be done in an efficient, sustainable manner each and every week. (In other words, if I can write new current events quiz questions each and every week, so can you!)

Primary space research organizations such as NASA, ESA and the European Southern Observatory are definitive go-to websites for accessible articles on current discoveries and findings in astronomy, there is a myriad of other space agencies and research institutions online as well. Popular news blogs such as Gizmodo, Engadget, and Astronomy.com summarize articles of interest from many primary sources, and if you are a regular visitor to these news blogs, you can "capture" a fair amount of potential articles on a weekly basis.

(More efficient would be the use of a RSS feed (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) to aggregate astronomy-related stories from all of these different websites into a single-page format for you to read through.)

With many candidate articles that you could potentially assign your students to read, the next step is to narrow the list of articles to those that you can generate straightforward multiple-choice questions for on the upcoming current events quiz.

Limit articles to those that students can clearly summarize in their words in these formats (with their corresponding question templates):
  • What was discovered:
    "[Institution/instrument] [found/observed/determined] _________ by [method]."

  • How it was discovered:
    "[Institution/instrument] used _________ to [find/observe/determine] [discovery]."
(The blank spaces are the "what" or the "how," and this will be the correct multiple-choice response for a question.)

Examples of responses (both correct or incorrect) are shown in this word tag cloud, and should use familiar terminology (at the appropriate level for your class), so avoid unnecessary jargon (as well as verbosity).

For incorrect distractor responses, use plausible-sounding or comparable methods that are significantly different than the method used in the article, or refer to other contemporary discoveries that were not covered in the set of articles assigned for student reading (note in spring 2016 "gravitational waves" was used once for the actual assigned article early in the semester, but was periodically used as an incorrect distractor throughout the remainder of that term.)

Let's form small groups and look at two sets of articles (as time allows) for you to read through (either online or in hardcopy form), formulate as a "what was discovered" or a "how it was discovered" question with its correct response, along with four incorrect distractor responses (for a total of five multiple-choice (A)-(E) responses for each question).

First set of articles: Second set of articles:
Selected current events articles and their corresponding quiz questions are posted weekly on the Center for Astronomy Education's moderated discussion Astrolrner@CAE group (hosted by Yahoo Groups). Feel free to use these articles and questions for your students, these questions and answers are released to the general public on my blog at the end of the following week.

In the time remaining we can address comments and questions from workshop participants.

Additional discussion on this workshop can be continued afterwards at "office hours" later today, and/or online as well.

Earlier blog posts:

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