Reflection: Complex Tasks Calculating Orbital Eccentricity - Section 4: Laboratory Discussion

In having taught this lesson several times before, I ultimately feel that the "hands-on" nature of this laboratory exercise allows students to grasp the concept much better, both from a conceptual and a practical framework. I think this is the case mostly because the exercise itself, as well as the ensuing discussion questions (and summative points made in class) emphasize the relationship between the manipulation of mathematical concepts and their actual effects on the real world.

Students are able to very explicitly see that when we change the variable in one part of the equation (for example, increasing or decreasing the distance between foci), that has a direct affect on both the length of the major axis and the overall orbital eccentricity. When we change variables, we can  physically demonstrate its effect in our actual model. This allows student to visualize the process unfolding both mathematically and through scientific observation, which provides a unique way to link the mathematical concept and how it it might actually be demonstrated in the real world.

Additionally, I feel that by "doing the work" of this lab, it helps to clear up the student misconception of circular orbits. This process allows them to demonstrate that orbits are not circular, and it provides proof of Kepler's First Law of Planetary Motion (to be introduced in a later lesson). Thus, the practical nature of this lesson, combined with the direct manipulation of variables and mathematical concepts leverages student learning more than any other way of teaching I've used before.

Reflection: Orbital Eccentricity

Calculating Orbital Eccentricity

Unit 8: Astronomy
Lesson 3 of 4

Big Idea: This is a hands-on, laboratory-based lesson that allows students to model how planetary objects orbit the Sun in the solar system.

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75 minutes