Approved by Faculty Senate

The purpose of the Natural Science requirement in the University Studies program is to provide students with the tools to understand and be able to apply the methods by which scientific inquiry increases our understanding of the natural world.

GEOS 105 is presently taught as a large introductory general-education lecture section (offered for 3 credits) with an optional laboratory section (students enroll for 4 credits). In the scheme of the new USP, the format will not likely change, but nonetheless addresses the major themes and outcomes of the Natural Science category.

These courses must include requirements and learning activities that promote students' abilities to...

  1. understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences;
  2. Students are given ample opportunity to understand how scientists approach and solve problems relevant to astronomy. Students are taught the scientific method, and are asked each day to apply that method to understanding problems in Astronomy. They are taught the unique methods employed in interpreting and solving geologic problems. In addition, each lecture session begins with the "Astronomy Picture of the Day", a NASA-sponsored web site that provides a new picture with an explanation written by a professional astronomer. The Picture of the Day stimulates class discussion in that the instructor tries to tie the picture of the day topic to the daily lecture material. This approach links course material directly to advances in modern astronomy, and illustrates to students the methods used by scientists to approach and solve problems in the discipline.

  3. apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences;
  4. Throughout the semester, students are presented with realistic problems in Astronomy. Students are challenged to apply concepts learned in class to solve these problems and make predictions about various planetary and stellar objects and processes. Problem-solving activities range from short, in-class questions, to problem-sets assigned as homework, to laboratory activities (for those students enrolled in the laboratory). The problems are necessarily simplified when compared to those that face practicing astronomers today because this is an introductory general-education course with no prerequisites (particularly in mathematics and physics). However, given the level of the course, they are realistic problems that raise students’ awareness of issues relevant to the discipline. Students are additionally asked to solve problems on exams.

  5. use inductive reasoning, mathematics, or statistics to solve problems in natural science;
  6. Students are given regular problem sets in this course, that require them to work with simple mathematical relations to scale astronomical distances to features more realistic to their everyday experiences. For instance, one problem set asks students to assume that the Earth is about the size of a marble (1 cm diameter) and to find the size of the Sun, the distance between the Earth and Moon, the distance between the Earth and Sun, etc. They are further asked to determine the time it takes for light from the Sun to reach the Earth. Other problem sets ask them to work with Scientific Notation to figure out the speed of light, and distances between objects in our Solar System.

    In addition to mathematical reasoning, students are asked to make almost daily use of inductive reasoning to solve realistic geologic problems related to Astronomy. After learning about geologic processes active on Earth, students are presented with data and observations from other planets and astronomical bodies. They are then asked to reason out solutions based on these observations and similarity of processes.

  7. engage in independent and collaborative learning;
  8. Although the lecture is delivered to a large group, students engage daily in short collaborative problem-solving activities. Usually this is accomplished via formative assessment activities associated with each lecture topic such as the think-pair-share technique. Independent learning is ensured by assigned problem sets, quizzes, and in-class exams. For students enrolled in the laboratory, many laboratory exercises are designed as collaborative activities, with students working in teams of two or four students.

  9. identify, find, and use the tools of information science as it relates to natural science;
  10. The current textbook comes packaged with two different CD-ROM’s that illustrate to students the fundamentals of Astronomy. Students are encouraged to use these resources to aid their studying. These tools, coupled with homework assignments that require students to search for and access particular NASA- or other government agency-sponsored web resources, allow students the opportunity to become familiar with the use of technology and information science in the context of Astronomy.

  11. critically evaluate both source and content of scientific information; and
  12. Students in this course are presented large quantities of data relating to various astronomical bodies. Some of these data are potentially conflicting. Students must sort through the information, and by applying the scientific method, come to a reasonable interpretation of the data. One good example of this process relates to understanding the extent of geologic activity on each of the nine planets. Students learn about results of basic satellite measurements of planetary density, size, magnetic field strength, etc., and must determine whether any particular planet is likely to be geologically active, as well as to make predictions about the planet’s internal structure. Their predictions are checked against those of the "experts" and conflicting data are evaluated to give students a better sense of how scientific data are processed.

  13. recognize and correct scientific misconceptions.

One of the main goals of this course is to help students recognize and correct the misconceptions they hold regarding the science of astronomy. In the context of this course, misconceptions addressed range from helping students recognize science (astronomy) versus pseudoscience (astrology), to helping students understand the causes of the seasons and lunar phases. Discrepant demonstrations are used whenever possible to force students to recognize and confront their misconceptions; these are followed by class activities designed to help students overcome and replace these misconceptions with accurate representations of scientific concepts.


Courses that satisfy the laboratory requirement in the Natural Sciences will additionally provide students the opportunity to practice scientific inquiry through hands-on investigations and to analyze and report the results of those investigations.

This course offers students the option of enrolling for laboratory credit. Students enrolled in the lab portion of the course are asked to explore concepts in astronomy in more detail than students in the lecture-only section of the course. The laboratory syllabus indicates the scope of topics covered. Each laboratory exercise is designed to give students the opportunity to engage in hands-on investigation of a variety of topics in astronomy. Each laboratory exercise asks students to investigate and collect data, and then to interpret their results in the context of course material. Their final results are reported in a variety of ways, including written reports, completion of data analysis sheets, and short interpretations of spreadsheets.

Students are also given the opportunity to make use of the Observatory in association with particular laboratory exercises (although all students enrolled in the class are encouraged and welcome to use the Observatory). For example, students enrolled in the course for laboratory credit collect data on the distribution and duration of sunspot activity by observing the Sun (through properly filtered telescopes) over a period of several weeks. They graph their data and interpret and report the results of their investigation by tying their data to sunspot cycle activity.

In another exercise, students explore controls on the size and shape of impact craters by modeling the process in a sandbox using impactors of various sizes and weights (i.e., large and small marbles, lead shot, or bb’s). They vary the direction, speed, angle, and size of the impact and measure the depth, size, and shape of the resultant craters. After graphing their data, students are asked to interpret their model data and make predictions about the effects real meteorites could have on the surface of the Earth, and to compare their predictions to known events.


Sample Syllabus

GEOS 105—Astronomy

Purpose of Class

The purpose of this class is to become familiar with the fundamentals of the science of astronomy, which, strictly speaking, is defined as the study of objects that exist beyond the atmosphere of the planet Earth. What we’ll see is that we need a frame of reference to understand material beyond our realm, and the most convenient one is the Earth itself. Therefore, we’ll begin the course by developing an understanding of the Earth, and then move outward to relate observations of other celestial bodies to the systems active on Earth.


This course additionally qualifies as a University Studies course satisfying the outcomes of the Natural Science Category. If you successfully complete the course requirements, you will earn either 3 credits toward completion of the Natural Science category of the University Studies Program (if you are enrolled in the 3-credit lecture-only section) OR if you are enrolled in the lecture-laboratory section (4 credits), you will earn 4 credits toward completion of the Natural Science category, including the laboratory requirement.

University Studies Outcomes

The purpose of the Natural Science requirement in the University Studies program is to provide students with the tools to understand and be able to apply the methods by which scientific inquiry increases our understanding of the natural world.

These courses must include requirements and learning activities that promote students' abilities to...

a. understand how scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences;

b. apply those methods to solve problems that arise in the natural sciences;

c. use inductive reasoning, mathematics, or statistics to solve problems in natural science;

d. engage in independent and collaborative learning;

e. identify, find, and use the tools of information science as it relates to natural science;

f. critically evaluate both source and content of scientific information; and

g. recognize and correct scientific misconceptions.

Courses that satisfy the laboratory requirement in the Natural Sciences will additionally provide students the opportunity to practice scientific inquiry through hands-on investigations and to analyze and report the results of those investigations.

Course activities described throughout the remainder of this syllabus will be coded to the above list of outcomes by the corresponding letter. These outcomes will be integrated throughout course content—each new topic will be presented in a manner in which the student will be able to understand and apply the methods by which scientists approach and solve problems in the natural sciences, using inductive reasoning or mathematics (outcomes a-c). Common scientific misconceptions will be identified at the start of each topic, and class material will be directed toward correcting those misconceptions (outcome g). You will be asked to work collaboratively on certain in-class activities and independently on homework and exams (outcome d). In-class and homework assignments will require that you work with the internet, textbook CD-ROM’s, and other sources to critically evaluate scientific information as it relates to Astronomy (outcomes e, f). If you are enrolled in this course for laboratory credit, you will be required to attend weekly lab meetings. During those meetings, you will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on scientific investigation of astronomical phenomena, and will be required to analyze and report the results of your investigations (laboratory outcome).


Logistics and Policies

This course is designed to stimulate and challenge your thinking (outcomes a, b, c, f, g). There are no prerequisites for this course. If you can balance your checkbook, you can do all the math that will be required (outcome c). I will expect you to understand and apply fundamental concepts (outcomes a, b, c, e, f, g), rather than to simply memorize information, on exams. You should strive to achieve as complete and sound a scientific interpretation as possible, by trying to integrate information across discrete chapters of the text.

Because scientific understanding does not usually progress in a vacuum—it is through discussions and arguments with colleagues that most advances stem—I encourage you to work in groups and to discuss your ideas and to work through confusing concepts with your classmates. One of the best ways to study and understand and learn is to form a small study group—quiz one another. Make up questions that you think I’d ask on the exam, and be certain you can answer them. If you can accurately explain a concept to your peers, then you can feel comfortable that you understand it. If you’re confused in doing this, you’re likely to be confused about the material. (outcome d)

Class attendance is essential for success. You are responsible for knowing what is covered and assigned in class regardless of whether or not you are present. Assignments will not be accepted on papers torn out of notebooks; all assignments must be neat, legible, and on paper with clean edges. I will not regurgitate a lecture during office hours simply because you chose not to attend class. Videos shown in class will not be made available outside of class. Attendance and participation may be considered in determining your final grade.

Cheating of any kind will result in a score of zero for that exam or assignment (which cannot be dropped in the computation of your final grade), and you will be reported to school authorities. If you discuss an assignment with someone else, you are both expected to write up your answers individually and in your own words. It is a violation of academic honesty (in other words, cheating) to turn in answers copied from another students paper, even if you worked together to achieve the answer!


Guidelines for surviving a huge lecture class at WSU: Some of you may not previously have taken a WSU course with this many students in the main lecture. For what it’s worth, here’s my advice and some observations I have made about huge classes.


Arrive on time! The first five minutes of class are often the most important part of the entire lecture. I usually use them to discuss how the day’s topics fit into the broader goals of the course, and where the course is headed in the next few lectures. Important logistical information like homework assignments, and items that will and won’t be on exams, are often discussed here as well. Everyone is unavoidably late now and then, but my experience is that most students who consistently arrive a few minutes late for the lecture also receive a poor final grade in the course.


Use email often if you have access to it. Get access to it if you don’t have it yet. Electronic mail has become the basic means of communication among scientists (as well as many other disciplines, of course). You’ll find that I answer most email messages and queries within minutes. Don’t hesitate to ask questions this way. My email address is: <>


Study for the exams mainly from your lecture notes. The lectures, labs, and book all cover somewhat different topics, at different levels of detail. It would be silly if it were otherwise: why do the same thing three times? My lectures excerpt that portion of the book that I feel is most important for the course (OK, so it’s biased, but I admit it). The main purpose of the book is to allow you to hear things in a different voice, quietly, at your own pace, to help you figure out puzzling things from the classes.


Don’t read the newspaper in class. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but, here goes. It is a proven fact that exactly 50% of my lectures are more boring than my average lecture. If you find that you are overwhelmingly bored by this class, drop it. However, if you were talking to someone, and in mid-sentence that person raised a newspaper in front of your face, you’d be really insulted, and so am I.


There will be three one-hour lecture exams during the quarter. These exams will be in part comprehensive, but will concentrate largely on the material covered immediately prior to the exam. If you take all 3 of the in-class hour exams, I will automatically drop the lowest score of these three exams when calculating final grades. The other two exams will each be worth 30% of your final grade. If you miss one (or more) of the hour exams, I will average in a score of zero when calculating your grade (in other words, the three exams will count for 60% of your final grade, but will be weighted differently). Make-up exams will not generally be given without a doctor’s note, except in cases of extenuating circumstances and at my discretion. If you miss a test for a reason that is not approved, there will be a 10% penalty every day that the test is not taken (unapproved reasons include, but are not limited to, things such as rides, extended vacations, weddings, oversleeping, etc.). This policy is enforced to make things fair in a class this size. The instructor reserves the right to give a different exam as a make up. If you find that you unexpectedly cannot make it to an exam, contact me as soon as possible, preferably before the exam is given (you may leave a voice-mail message at 457-5269). If we can arrange for you to take the exam at a later time, you will be assessed a 10% penalty for each day after the scheduled exam date. For instance, if an exam is scheduled for Monday, and you take the exam on Wednesday, the highest possible score you may earn is 80%.

The final exam will be comprehensive, and worth 30% of your final grade. If you understand the material covered on each of the three lecture exams, you will be in good shape for the comprehensive portion of the final. Everyone is required to take the final exam. Students are expected to work individually on all exams, and to leave space between yourself and other students in the class whenever possible.

Final grades will be based on your performance on exams, and in-class and homework assignments and quizzes. If you are enrolled in a laboratory section, your lab grade will count 25% toward your final grade. Grades will be apportioned as follows:

Exam 1, Exam 2, Exam 3: total 60%; drop the lowest score of these 3 if you take all three; else count scores (including zero) on all three as 60% of grade.

Comprehensive Final Exam: 30%

Homework, quizzes, and in-class assignments: work will be assigned at various times through the quarter; these assignments will be worth 10% of your final grade. Due dates for homework assignments will be announced in class at the time they are assigned. Missing class is NOT an excuse for turning in late assignments. Late assignments will NOT be accepted. Opportunities to earn extra-credit points will be announced randomly in class. These opportunities will only be available to those students who are present in class (if you miss class, you miss your chance).

Each exam will be worth 100 points, and will be entirely multiple-choice questions. The hour exams will be 50 questions each; the final exam will be 100 questions. Bring a scantron and pencil to exams.

If you are enrolled in a laboratory section, your scores on the lecture portion of the class will be apportioned in the percentages given above, but will be worth a total of 75% of your final grade. The lab will be worth 25% of your final grade. You will receive only one final grade for this course, not separate grades for lecture and lab. Because this class counts for general-education laboratory credit (if you take the lab), you must PASS the lab portion of the class with a grade of "D" or better. If you fail the lab, you will fail the class, despite your performance on lecture exams.

If you choose not to take an exam, I reserve the option to give you a grade of I (incomplete) for the course, rather than averaging in a zero for that item. You must take the final exam, or you will receive a grade of F in the course, despite your previous performance in the course.

Final grades will be assigned on a numerical basis as follows:

A = 100%-90%; B = 89%-80%; C = 79-70%; D = 69%-60%; E = 59% and below


Final grades will be determined as a percentage of correct responses based on a number half way between the average of the three top scores in the class and the total possible. For example, if your score was 325 out of 400, while the average of the three best scores in the class was 360 out of 400, the base would be 380 (half way between 360 and 400) and your grade would be (325/380) * 100% = 86%, which translates to a letter grade of B. There will be separate curves for lecture-section only and lecture-lab section students.

I will post grades after each in-class exam. I will provide an estimated curve at these times based on the performance of the entire class. Note that the curve posted at these times does not necessarily represent the final curve, particularly if your grade is borderline, because final grades will be based on separate curves that will only be computed after the final exam.

In the event that a snow-day falls on the same date as a scheduled exam, the exam will be given during the next class meeting following the snow day, so come prepared.



Tentative schedule of lecture topics and exam dates (note that exam dates are fixed and will not change unless classes are rescheduled by the University).

GEOS 105 — Astronomy

Fall 2000 Dr. Catherine Summa Office: Past 112 / 457-5269

Room: Past 120 MWF 1- 1:50 pm Office Hours: see office door

Week Date   Topic                                              Reading
           28 Aug     Introduction & Logistics
1       30 Aug    Why study Astronomy?                                                     Ch. 1
            1 Sept     Really long times & really big numbers                             Ch. 1

        4 Sept  Holiday – No class
2    6 Sept   Our Place in the Universe                                                 Ch. 1
            8 Sept   The Big Bang and the Origin of the Universe                     video
            11 Sept   A system of notation; locating celestial bodies             Ch. 2
3    13 Sept    History of Astronomy                                                         Ch. 3, 4
            15 Sept     Orbits, Gravity, and basic physics                                     Ch. 4, 5
            18 Sept     Third Rock from the Sun                                             Ch. 2
4    20 Sept    Seasons,Tides, and Lunar Phases                                     Ch. 2
            22 Sept    EXAM #1

            25 Sept    A little about light                                                     Ch. 6
5    27 Sept    And a little more light                                                     Ch. 6
            29 Sept     Introduction to the Solar System                                     Ch. 7

              2 Oct      Earth’s Internal Structure & Plate Movements                   Ch. 8
6   4 Oct     More about the Earth: Atmosphere & Life                     Ch. 8
              6 Oct      Impacts and Extinctions                                             Ch. 8

         9 Oct   Holiday – no classes
     11 Oct    Impacts—Craters & their significance                             Ch. 8
             13 Oct    The Most Famous Satellite—Earth’s Moon                     Ch. 8

            16 Oct     Dead Worlds I—Our Moon                                             Ch. 8
8 18 Oct    Dead Worlds II—Mercury                                             Ch. 9
            20 Oct     EXAM #2

            23 Oct     Venus                                                                             Ch. 9
9 25 Oct    Venus Unveiled
            27 Oct     Mars                                                                             Ch. 9

            30 Oct     Is there life out there?                                                     Ch. 21
10      1 Nov   The Gas Giants—Jupiter & Saturn                              Ch. 10
              3 Nov     More on Jupiter                                                            Ch. 10

              6 Nov      Baby Giants—Uranus & Neptune                                    Ch. 10
11      8 Nov     Jovian Moons & Rings                                                    Ch. 10
             10 Nov    Holiday – No classes

             13 Nov     Pluto & Charon                                                            Ch. 10
12     15 Nov      Solar Debris—Asteroids, Comets & Meteorites            Ch. 11
             17 Nov       The origin of the Solar System                                    Ch. 12

        20 Nov      EXAM #3
13 22 Nov    Holiday—no class
        24 Nov    Holiday—no class

        27 Nov    Star Light, Star Bright—Our Sun                                    Ch. 13
29 Nov   More on the Sun—sunspots and other activity                    Ch. 13
              1 Dec    Other Stars                                                                    Ch. 14

             4 Dec    The structure of Stars                                                    Ch. 15
15     6 Dec   Supernovae and Nebulae                                            Ch. 15, 16
             8 Dec    Black Holes and other mysterious things                       Ch. 16

16   11 Dec   FINAL EXAM 1:00 pm (Monday)
Required Text:
Snow and Brownsberger, 1997, Universe: Origins and Evolution, Wadsworth Publishing, 539 p.
Required lab Manual: Bayer, T.N., Astronomy Lab Manual (available at bookstore)
Other Required Materials: Brain; pencils & scantrons on exam days.



Ms. O'Grady

                The lab exercises are designed to expand on the lecture portion of the class. Whenever possible, topics in lab will correspond to lecture topics. The following schedule will be used but is subject to change. 


WEEK          DATE                       LAB EXERCISE                                                                                             LAB NUMBER
1               8/29                         Finalize enrollment, syllabus, observatory
2               9/5                       Sun - distances and sunspots*
3                      9/12                       Telescopes/Constellations,Stars,etc.                                                          I/II
4               9/19                         Celestial Coordinates                                                                                  III
5               9/26                         Planets (p. 49-51)*                                                                                     VI
6                    10/3                           TEST I (25 pts.) - weeks 1-5 (NOT Constellations)
7              10/10                        Spectroscopes***                                                                                  IV
8             10/17                        Moon                                                                                                           V
9             10/24                          Surface Features of the Planets*                                                                 VI (p.54)
10             10/31                         TEST 2 (25 pts.) - weeks 7-9
11             11/7                        Craters*
12                  11/14                        Planets (p. 46-49, 52-53)**                                                                          VI
13             11/28                        Angles and Distances in space*
14             12/5                            TEST 3 (40 pts.) - Constellations, weeks 11-13 and some review

* Information not in lab manual - provided in packet.

** Please fill out data charts ahead of time.

***YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CONSTRUCT YOUR OWN SPECTROSCOPE as it says in the lab manual. These are already constructed and will
       be available for use at the lab. If you wish you certainly can make your own!
               - You will need to purchase Constellation Charts SC001 and SC002.
                 These are available in the bookstore.
               - Any clear Tuesday evening is a viewing night! Check for the red light at the observatory (on top of Minne).
               - If you have questions see me before or after the lab sessions. We will try to set up review sessions prior to testing.