Best Astronomy Lessons & Activities

astronomy lessons and activities
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The number of astronomy lessons and activities is nearly as infinite as the cosmos themselves!

April is Global Astronomy Month, but with the seemingly endless stream of new discoveries being made by astronomers, there is no shortage of opportunities to engage students in STEM topics as well as the study of celestial objects, from observing distant stars and galaxies to searching for exoplanets and even black holes. 

And with tools such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope as well as the ever-increasing number of upcoming manned missions, expect interest in space exploration to expand like the universe itself! 

Best Astronomy Lessons & Activities

NASA STEM Engagement
The biggest U.S. space agency has a full array of lessons, activities, teaching guides, and so much more, organized and searchable by grade level, subject matter, and audience. From playing with space-time and discovering the truth about black holes to creating color images from actual space missions and solving space math problems, there’s a galaxy of options from which to choose.

NSTA Astronomy Resources
From the National Science Teaching Association, a vast galaxy of NGSS-aligned lesson plans, activities, news, journal articles, and more, all sortable by grade level, topics, format, and price, although much is free or included with membership.

Science Buddies: Astronomy Lesson Plans
NGSS-aligned lesson plans here include making a model of the solar system, modeling gravity, studying the phases of the moon, and using magnets and ball bearings to simulate a planetary flyby slingshot maneuver.  

Space Science Institute: Education Resources
Games, lessons, activities, educator guides, and more from this nonprofit organization, including standards-aligned kinesthetic astronomy lessons that teach basic astronomical concepts with physical movement and educational sensory experiences.

California Academy of Sciences: Astronomy Activities & Lessons
Simple activities that can be done in the classroom or at home using common items such as paper cups and play-doh, plus kinesthetic astronomy activities.

PBS: Seeing In the Dark
In conjunction with the film Seeing In the Dark, PBS offers student-friendly activities such as reassigning the constellations to more contemporary figures, learning to tell time by The Big Dipper, and finding “birthday” stars, plus links to other astronomy-related activities from across the web. 

Astronomical Society of the Pacific: Educational Activities
A variety of astronomy activities, materials, and kits used for educators and those who do outreach, including downloadable documents, video, and audio links.

edX Astronomy Courses
Although these are full self-paced courses from institutions around the world geared toward higher ed students, anyone can audit these courses for free to view lectures and study materials.

McDonald Observatory Classroom Activities
Standards-aligned activities and experiments for K-12 students, from modeling the night sky and observing the moon to guessing interplanetary distances and exploring sunspots.

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: Classroom Help
It may be a different country but it’s the same stars and planets! A robust offering of teaching supports, including astronomy curriculum, lessons plans, science fair projects, and professional development.

SOFIA Science Center: Classroom Activities for Learning About Infrared Light
Students can learn about the role of infrared light in astronomy, including common misconceptions, the importance of filters in space observation, and other wavelengths of light. 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Astronomy Simulations and Animations
A treasure trove of free interactive astronomy simulations that will enthrall students. No downloads required; all simulations run within your browser window. Neither is an account needed - simply start investigating the simulations, which range from the Milky Way Habitability Explorer to the Big Dipper Clock to the Telescope Simulator. Each sim is accompanied by a link to supporting materials as well as a help file that explains all the moving parts. Excellent for both higher ed and high school students.

A strikingly original collaboration between animation students and astronomers, AstroAnimation features animations that tell space stories in an unusual way. Each animation portrays a principle of space science and is accompanied by a brief summary of how the partners worked together. After watching the animations, students can discuss the science and critique the animation. Great for STEAM lessons. 

Space Science Institute Sci Games
These free, wide-ranging, sophisticated space games will engage students in a virtual exploration of the universe. Start with “What if an asteroid or comet hits my town?” then try “Listening for Life,” or “Shadow Rover.” Each game is artfully constructed and features high-quality animation, music and information on the topic. Other fun activities include space-themed jigsaw puzzles and astro trivia. Be sure to check out the free apps for iOs and Android as well. 

NASA’s 6 Top Tools for Teaching About the James Webb Space Telescope
Tap into the excitement over the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope with educator Erik Ofgang, who details free standards-aligned resources available to teachers. Explore the STEM toolkit, Webb virtual platform, NASA professional development webinars and more.

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.