Investigating Astronomy

Investigating Astronomy is a full-year astronomy course written expressly for high-school students. It includes all major topics in an astronomy course while engaging students in hands-on investigations. Students also use technology that helps them learn in an interactive and meaningful way.

Investigating Astronomy focuses on science and engineering practices.
One of the important practices emphasized in Investigating Astronomy is the process of making scientific claims and supporting them with evidence, and using scientific reasoning to justify and revise those claims.

Investigating Astronomy engages students with active learning.
Each unit has a series of Explorations based on an Essential Question that guides learning. The Explorations prepare students for the unit Challenge, a project that makes use of all information presented in the unit.

Investigating Astronomy provides a Web-Based Data Center.
The Investigating Astronomy Data Center, used in many of the curriculum activities, gives students a sense of working with real data using tools that are similar to those astronomers use, but with an interface that does not require a steep learning curve.

View Data Center


Unit 1: Investigating Motions of the Sky

Students prepare a report or presentation that addresses each of 8 claims made by archeologists about an ancient Mayan site that is theorized to be an astronomical observatory. They use Starry Night to prove or disprove the claims. This module addresses aspects of naked-eye astronomy. Students investigate the apparent motions of the sun, stars, and planets as viewed at different times of year and from various locations on Earth, including where they live. They also investigate how comets, meteors, and supernovae appear to the naked eye.

Unit 2: Investigating the Sun-Earth-Moon System

Students create a calendar using a list of themes relating to the unit. For each theme, they must produce a diagram and caption explaining it. Example themes: How does the Sun rotate? What causes the first-quarter Moon? Students also mark phases of the Moon for each month and other upcoming astronomical events This module addresses how the relative movements (rotation and revolution) and positions of Earth, the Sun, and the Moon account for Moon phases and lunar and solar eclipses.

Unit 3: Investigating Planets

Students design realistic planets and moons for an imaginary solar system. Then they create a poster or other presentation about their solar system. Students describe the characteristics of each planet and moon (composition, diameter and mass consistent with composition, atmospheric characteristics, orbital eccentricity, etc.) and calculate the orbital period of each planet. This module addresses the nature and exploration of the planets and some of the moons in our solar system and beyond. Students investigate the scale of the solar system, key characteristics of the planets and moons, our planetary explorations including the search for possible life, and extrasolar planets—planets orbiting stars other than our Sun.

Unit 4: investigating Tools of astronomy

Students choose one entity from a list of objects (galaxies, cluster, the Sun, or nebula) and make a poster that describes its characteristics in terms of different types of images (IR, radio, X-ray, visible, or gamma ray) gleaned from the Internet This module addresses the tools that astronomers use to analyze the various types of electromagnetic radiation emitted by astronomical objects in order to understand their properties and processes. The nature of electromagnetic waves is explored as well as image processing, measuring brightness and color, and spectral-line analysis.

Unit 5: Investigating Stars

Students make a “Ten Most Wanted” poster. They are given a “crime dossier” for their selected star that contains a “mugshot,” general description, the star’s fingerprints (spectrum) and other research papers relating to their type of star (red giant, white dwarf, etc.). This module addresses the characteristics and life cycles of stars. Students investigate the differences between stars, planets, and moons, the process of nuclear fusion, and the classification of stars. The evolution of stars is explored, and the nature of supernovae and the cosmic implications of both the explosion and the remnants of a star’s destruction are considered.

Unit 6: Investigating the Universe

students are given a portfolio for both nearby and distant galaxies. They then use the data to establish a value for Hubble’s constant, and use that value to estimate the size and age of the universe. This module prepares students to measure the size and the age of the universe. They will use various distance measurement techniques including parallax, standard candles such as Cepheid variable stars and type Ia supernovae, and measuring the redshift of spectral lines.


Jeff Lockwood

TERC, Cambridge, MA

Jeff Lockwood taught high-school Earth science, physics, and astronomy for 28 years and is currently a project director and curriculum developer at TERC in Cambridge, MA.

Jodi Asbell-Clarke

TERC, Cambridge, MA

Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke is the director of the Educational Gaming Environments Group (EdGE) at TERC in Cambridge, MA, USA. TERC is a not-for-profit research and development organization that has been focusing on innovative, technology-based math and science education for nearly 50 years. As the director of EdGE, Jodi leads a team of game designers, educators, and researchers who are designing and studying social digital games as learning environments that span home, school, and community. Jodi’s background includes MA in Math, an MSc in Astrophysics and a PhD in Education. She started her career at IBM working on the first 25 missions of the space shuttle as an onboard software verification analyst. After teaching at the laboratory school at University of Illinois, she joined TERC and has spent the past 20 years developing science education programs and researching new ways to promote science learning. In 2009, she co-founded EdGE at TERC.

Teon E. Edwards

EdGE / TERC, Cambridge, MA

Teon Edwards is an experienced education materials developer, having developed numerous science curricula, after-school programs, museum exhibits, digital experiences, and games for both formal and informal settings. For over fifteen years, she has worked on a wide variety of projects, including the IAT-published Astrobiology: The Search for Life in the Universe and Investigating Astronomy. She has a background in astrophysics, mathematics, and education, and she earned her Masters Degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a focus on the use of technology and multimedia in teaching and learning. She is co-founder of and a lead designer for the Educational Gaming Environments group (EdGE) at TERC, a not-for-profit math and science education company in Cambridge Massachusetts. As part of EdGE, she helped design, develop, run, and research the science-based games Martian Boneyards and Canaries in a Coalmine, and she's currently working on designing a series of Leveling Up games that will be validated against high-school science learning and assessments and a SportsLab: 2020 collaborative game-based environment where participants create a concept model and pitch for a sports product as part of a science-based design challenge.

Erin M. Bardar

Eyes in the Sky II

Erin is an experienced curriculum developer and education researcher. She is currently the co-PI of Eyes in the Sky II, a professional development program that provides teachers with the tools to integrate NASA data, visualizations, and other technologies vital to Earth Science research into their teaching practices. Erin is also the lead curriculum developer for Kids’ Survey Network(KSN) and Earth System Science: A Key to Climate Literacy, as well as the project director for Seasons of Change. As a NASA Graduate Student Research Program (GSRP) fellow at Boston University, Erin conducted research in astronomy education, focusing on students’ understanding of light and spectroscopy. Erin created the Light and Spectroscropy Concept Inventory, a research-based multiple-choice diagnostic test for evaluating introductory college astronomy students’ conceptions of light and spectroscopy. She also developed a suite of optics-related homelabs for the NSF-funded Project LITE: Light Inquiry Through Experiments( and has a U.S. patent for a binocular spectrometer.