Signs & Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy

Sure, we all study astronomy in high school, but does the astronomy you studied help you to navigate, tell time, or even identify the planets as they appear to us in the sky? Probably not, if you, like me and many others, studied astronomy primarily as "modern astronomy" which offers dazzling telescopic photos of the planets, and information based on measurements made by astronomers. So, what's the difference? Classical astronomy is based on how humans on earth view the sky, and how we can learn the patterns of movement of the sun, moon and stars and apply this knowledge for practical use. This is the way astronomy has been studied for centuries, before we developed high-tech instruments to satisfy our never-ending curiosity about the surfaces of other planets, the structure of stars and planets, and what else is out there. To fulfill this purpose, Signs & Seasons focuses on learning classical astronomy through the cycles of movement of celestial bodies and how these change through a day, a month, and a year. The course is written from a Biblical standpoint, and author Jay Ryan reminds us that the sun, moon and stars were actually created for keeping time, though we may rarely think of them in this way. Seven chapters (and an epilogue) cover an introduction to the sky, day, night, the cycle of the month, the position of the sun in the sky and its' apparent movement to us, the cycle of the year, the seasonal stars, "wandering" stars (planets), and the calendar. Topics studied within include the divisions of the day, astronomical alignments, the circle of the meridian, phases of the moon, eclipses and why they occur, changes in the sky through the seasons, the motions of the planets, and much more. Historical information is woven throughout the text, which ties together what we observe in the skies today, and what ancient astronomers learned from viewing the same sky years ago. Each chapter is formatted like a science text, with very readable, fascinating text accompanied by large, clear, grayscale illustrations that offer a visual component that matches the reading. The diagrams that show the movement of the stars are especially helpful, as they show their change in position over time, from the ground, so they should be similar to what you observe in the night sky. Quotes from the Bible, famous astronomers, and others are scattered throughout the text, and in keeping with the "classical" theme, historical woodcuts and vintage art are also used.

Following the text portion of the book, you'll find a section of "field activities" to be used with each chapter. These include making observations in a field journal, sketching diagrams of the sun, moon and stars and doing hands-on manipulative activities with a globe and cardboard models. Activities are given for all major topics covered which allow you to see the astronomical topics in practice and are sure to make them memorable! Guiding questions accompany the observation activities and give students a guideline for their journal entries as they observe. An appendix at the end of the book holds a glossary, bibliographies of quoted authors, astronomical tables for viewing the stars and planets, a bibliography and index.

To extend the learning experience of the textbook into an official high school science course for credit, you will probably want to use the Field Journal and Test Manual. For each chapter in the textbook, there are related hands-on and observation activities to complete. Many activities ask the student to sketch their observations, and a reproducible activity log is included in the front of the book so they can keep a record of the time they have spent watching the sky. Hands-on activities include making a backyard compass and making "volvelles" or paper wheel calculators that are used to simulate the motions of the heavenly bodies. In the introduction, the author reminds readers that they may not be able to complete all of the activities in order, due to the time of the year or weather conditions, so they may have to skip back and forth a bit to complete them. Eight chapter tests and test answers are included at the end of the book. The journal/manual is reproducible for individual family use only. 180 pages, pb.

So, if you think you've already covered astronomy, sit tight and enjoy this course which helps you understand what you actually see when you look up at the stars at night. 262 pgs, hc. - Jess

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