Mathematics studies in middle schools are generally focused on sharpening students’ skills working with decimals, percents, and fractions; introduction to geometry; and basic reading of charts and graphs. The average student considers their math requirement a time filler, 45 minutes of drill, with no relationship to other subjects. This unit proposes to change that misconception of mathematics and develop lessons to be utilized as a culmination of a year’s work. This unit will introduce the eighth grade student to the versatility of mathematics and its applications in other fields of study, specifically astronomy. It is imperative for students to realize that mathematics effects many fields of study, science, history, business, and the social sciences. A unit involving math and science will enable students to recognize that mathematics is not an isolated discipline.
I propose to draw upon the mathematical skills learned during the year and apply them to a unit on computing lunar eclipses. Granted, calculations used in astronomy are too sophisticated for average middle school students. However many of the skills learned, i.e. graphing, geometric constructions, solving proportions, and chart reading can be utilized so that students can achieve the desired outcome, charting and calculating the elements of a lunar eclipse.
In addition to allowing students to study an application of mathematics to science, the unit will also allow students to observe a scientific phenomena as an individual would have hundreds of years ago by reading and eventually writing a story or fable explaining the occurrence of an eclipse. The unit will cover a four week period, ideally the last weeks of school.
The material I am presenting will be new to all students. It will be a challenge to many and possibly too difficult for some. However, there are enough different steps requiring different skills that will allow each student to benefit from the unit. The intention is for the unit to be used as an end of the year activity. Students can work individually, however, students may work in groups of two or three and still benefit greatly. No one student will feel overwhelmed by the information and each student can share the information on eclipses and the folklore interpretations that they have found. The novelty of this information and the realization that much of the work can be accomplished by using skills of which students are familiar, will motivate students to learn and enjoy the unit. Ultimately, I hope students will begin to understand mathematics and its relationship to science and acknowledge the use of mathematics in solving problems outside of the math classroom.
The unit is comprised of three major portions: 1) the scientific or physical explanation of a lunar eclipse 2) computing and graphing of particular elements of a specific eclipse and 3) the study of fabled eclipses and the writing of an original fable explaining an eclipse.