B-P students explore our universe in new astronomy course

Students at Broadalbin-Perth Senior High School have nearly 50 elective classes available to them, providing them with the opportunity to explore possible career paths and learn more about topics of interest. New for the 2021-22 school year, high school science teacher Gary Osarczuk introduced an extracurricular astronomy course. The class was created last year by Osarczuk when he took specific units from the earth science curriculum that focused on space, and expanded the topics for a more in-depth approach. 

The class uses project-based learning to explore the universe, taking a deep dive into our solar system, constellations and starssomething earth science only has time to skim over. 

Model of the Aquarius constellation by Lillian Faulkner

Junior Hannah Brott said the step away from a test-focused curriculum allows for a “relaxed and enjoyable class experience; one where I can learn without any stress.” When talking with the rest of the students you get a sense of how much they genuinely enjoy the class. Senior Aaron Leonard said, “I really enjoy working with my hands and class materials. Instead of just memorizing facts we are applying what we learn through creating.”

Osarczuk builds the course around student interest and what they consider the most “fascinating” topics in astronomy. This year the class began by focusing on constellations and using them as a vehicle to understand and learn about the geometry of the Earth and sun. By creating a scaled model, the students explored the size of the sun and planets in our galaxy compared to the constellations.  

An additional topic of interest for students are stars and their relationship to our galaxy. For one of the projects, they mapped out stars based on their size, luminosity, surface temperature and color, learning about the physical properties and what makes each star unique. 

Map of the stars
Map of the stars based on their physical properties

For the main project, the students created a zodiac constellation of their choosing out of pizza boxes and string lights. The students researched each star in the constellation and mapped its characteristics on the chart mentioned above. They then placed the constellations around a model sun in the correct geographical placement to give them a sense of where the constellations are located in our galaxy. Knowing the geography helps students identify the stars in the night sky.

zodiac constellation model
The students’ zodiac constellations placed in their correct geographical location around the model sun

zodiac constellation model 

This course proves that math and science do not have to be boring, or taught in a conventional way. When working on the solar system model students didn’t even realize they were doing math equations. “After days of creating the model with spreadsheets, someone finally realized that they’re doing math and that it’s fun,” said Osarczuk. 

Model of the Scorpio constellation by Hunter O’Dell

Osarczuk teaches two sections of this course but said he has been able to integrate their projects so students can learn what the other class discovers. “One lasting benefit of remote learning is that we know we can extend a classroom past four walls. Students have been primed to work seamlessly with their friends in other sections using Google Docs and Google Sheets. The old idea of everyone needing to physically sit together to collaborate has been transformed!”

Class picture
The force is strong with B-P’s new astronomy course!