Cosmic Times

Created by Barb Mattson Last updated 3/13/2017

Lessons and readings for teaching about our changing understanding of the history of our universe. The accompanying lesson plans cover a broad range of topics, and are written lessons include topics ranging from fundamental science topics of gravity, red shift and the distance scale to process skills including reading strategies and determining the difference between evidence and inference.

  • Cosmic Times

    The main Cosmic Times page leads directly to the readings online. Links to the teacher resources at the top of the page lead to all the supporting lesson plans and information.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 12D/H6, 12A/H4
  • Cosmic Times: Overview Lessons

    These two lesson plans introduce methods to give students the big picture of Cosmic Times during one class period. Using the Gallery Walk lesson, students spend a few minutes at each Cosmic Times poster to answer an open-ended question about the information on that poster. This activity provides students an introduction to the material on the Cosmic Times posters. It may also be used to foster student discussion about a particular Cosmic Times subject. Through the Jigsaw lesson, students work in teams to see the big picture of about how scientists have come to know what they do about the Universe using articles from the Cosmic Times posters.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1A/M2, 1A/H2, 1A/H3a, 1A/H3bc
  • Century Timeline

    Students will create a timeline of the world events from 1905 until 2006. Students will find key dates from the Cosmic Times poster series and world events that fit into the three strands of Cosmic Times and the into categories of Science, Culture, and World Events/Politics.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1C/H3b, 1C/H3a
  • Reading Strategies

    The students will use different strategies from the Reading Apprenticeship philosophy in order to read and understand the concepts presented to them in science prose readings. The first one, called “Talking to the Text” (T2T), is an independent strategy in which the students write down their thoughts as they are reading the material. In the second strategy, the students pair up and help each other read and understand the concepts they are reading through reciprocal teaching.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 12D/M7, 12D/M8, 12D/H6
  • Cosmic Times: Universe Mash-up

    The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in the big questions of our Universe through a media mash-up project-based lesson related to the Cosmic Times educational resources. The advantages of the lesson include engaging students, inspiring creativity, using media mash-up technology; acquiring knowledge through differentiated instruction; and presenting their knowledge, ideas and individual perspectives.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 12D/M9
  • Eclipses and Moon Phases

    An essential factor in the understanding of the gravitational bending of light was the discovery that the gravity of the sun’s mass could cause a distant star to appear as if it was actually in a different location. Einstein predicted that the light from a far away star would be bent, but it could only be seen during a solar eclipse when the light of the sun between Earth and the distant star did not blind the observer. In this activity you will create a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse, and learn more about why the moon appears differently from one night to the next.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4B/M5
  • Einstein's Gravity

    Students will read the 1919 edition of the Cosmic Times and respond by raising questions to be answered with further research. They will make a model of curved space to view the motion of spheres as explained by General Relativity. After presentations of their research to the class they will create an interview with Albert Einstein.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 10C/H4
  • Einstein and His Times

    The students will read about and research the major historical events that occurred throughout the year 1919. They will use different readings and articles to understand and describe what life was like during this time. In addition, the students will present their case whether they agree or not that Albert Einstein should be voted “Man of the Year” for 1919.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1C/H3a, 3C/M7
  • Just How Far is that Star?

    In this investigation students will use “point-source” light, light meters, and graphing software to quantify the reduction in light over distance. Through careful measurement of light received at several distances, students will discover the best fit of the data is the inverse square rule. Using this rule, students will then calculate the distance between the light source and the light meter at random placements. Finally, students will extend this principle to model the manner in which distances to Cepheid variable stars are measured; the distance between the Cepheid (here the light source) and the Earth (the light meter) can be determined by comparing the output of the source to the amount of light received.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4E/H3
  • Discovering the Milky Way

    Students will read the original paper written by Henrietta Leavitt in which she compared the apparent brightness and period of some variable stars called Cepheids. The students will prepare graphs just as she did and compare their data to hers. They will discover that there is a relationship between the period and luminosity of the variable stars she observed and experience for themselves how scientists really collect data.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 9C/M4, 9B/H4
  • Cosmic CSI

    In this activity, students will be introduced to the Doppler effect and learn how it changes our perception of wavelengths of sound (pitch) and light (color). Students will model how astronomers use the line spectra of stars to identify elements in the stars and the speeds of galaxies in the universe.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4F/H5ab, 4E/H5
  • Determining the Nature, Size, and Age of the Universe

    The goal of this lesson is to give students the chance to simulate the process that led to the notion that the universe is expanding and give them an insight as to how this idea was reached as well as teach them the nature of our universe.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 9B/H4, 9C/M4, 4F/H5c
  • Unsung Heroes of Science

    Students will use resources such as the Internet to identify past scientists who are not well recognized in the field. They will create a T-square to identify the women scientists of the Harvard College Observatory; the students will also use the Internet to complete a product and give a presentation on one of the these unfamiliar scientific “heroes” that they discovered in their research.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1C/M2, 1C/M1
  • Discovering Your "Yardsticks" Are "Metersticks"

    This lesson uses a simple discrepant event to demonstrate the underlying cause for early miscalculation of the size of the Milky Way galaxy. Students are directed to observe two light sources that a famous astronomer (in this case their teacher) has told them are equally bright. The students will easily observe the lights are not equally bright; they will then examine the type of problems that would arise if they believed both lights were equally bright and they used the brightness of the lights to judge how far away they are. This mirrors the problem that was created when Harlow Shapely standardized the Cepheid period-luminosity relationship without recognizing there were two types of Cepheid variable stars with intrinsic differences in absolute magnitude.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 12D/H6, 12A/H5
  • The Evidence is "Clear"!

    Students consider observations and inferences about the Steady State and Big Bang theories.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4A/H2ab
  • Big Bang Science Fiction

    The students will create a fictional narrative on the beginning of time. They will use their scientific knowledge of the Big Bang Theory and go back into time to when it occurred so they can make observations about it. They have four options as to a final product using the RAFT (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) method.
  • Cosmic Microwave Background

    The purpose of this lesson is to further educate students to the nature of the cosmic microwave background. The lesson is aimed at explaining the surrounding nature of the background and the reason it exists as microwave radiation.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4A/H2ab
  • What's the Matter?

    Students will explore the density of substances as a model for understanding the mass to light ratio as a predictor of dark matter. Students will try to explain a discrepant event when data is not as expected.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4A/H4
  • Tornadoes and Galaxies

    Students will investigate the Doppler Effect and discover how the same principle can be used to identify a possible tornado in storms clouds and investigate the rotation of distant galaxies.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4F/H5ab
  • Raisin Bread Universe

    The students will read the Cosmic Times 1993 edition and use the articles “Pancake or Oatmeal Universe – What’s for Breakfast” and “Inflation in the Universe” to help them make observations. The students will observe a bowl of oatmeal to explain the lumpiness and smoothness of the universe. Then the students will use raisin bread to describe how the universe went through a period of inflation to expand into its current form today.
  • What's the Problem with Isotropy?

    This lesson targets the significance of discoveries made with the COBE satellite in 1993. To fully support Big Bang Theory, small variations in the distribution of Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB) needed to exist. These anisotropies were not able to be detected prior to 1993 because the necessary technology had not yet been developed and deployed. Students will participate in an activity which demonstrates how very small variations in a pattern are unrecognizable without the use of technology and will explore why Big Bang theory requires variations in CMB (anisotropy).
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1A/H3d
  • Melting Ice

    This lesson uses a discrepant event to help students realize that a carefully designed experiment may yield unexpected results, due to unseen events, even though the experiment is precisely planned and executed. The addition of a new technology may clarify factors in the experiment which were previously unknown.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 3A/M2, 4E/H8, 3A/H1
  • Gravitational Waves

    The purpose of this lesson is to model for the students what a gravitational wave is and how it is created.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 10C/H4, 4F/H6ab
  • Measuring Dark Energy

    The purpose of this lesson is to simulate an experiment in which the discovery of dark energy can be made. It will follow a check of Hubble’s law on objects with greater distance than those used to derive Hubble’s law using nearby objects. Through the investigations they will find that distant objects do not behave the same as the closer objects and, in fact, the older, distant objects are farther then they should be for their current speed, implying that they were traveling faster in the past then they are now.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 1A/M2, 4F/H5c, 1A/H2
  • Things Are Not What They Seem

    Students explore a discrepant event by devising an experiment to try and determine either how a “come-back can” works or what makes UV beads change color.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 12A/H5, 1A/H3d