Using Galaxy Zoo in the Classroom

Recently Jen Gupta, ICG Portsmouth’s Outreach Officer, wrote a very useful description of Navigator, a new tool for using Galaxy Zoo in the classroom (brought to you by Zooteach).

Jen’s excellent post shows many example screenshots of Navigator at work, and goes into much more detail about how to use it. Read Jen’s post here.

I’ve now used Navigator twice, once for an open evening in Oxford and once for a STEM festival at a school in Hampshire. The formats were very different: at the student open evening we gave 15-minute presentations that included classifying and then using Navigator to show and discuss the students’ classifications. The festival had about 1700 attendees in total, and Zooniverse was just one exhibit, so we had people wandering in and out in groups large and small. In Oxford we set up several computers for the students to use, and at the festival we had several iPads to go along with the desktop machine hooked up to the projector. But all were classifying in the group, and as the day went on we amassed more and more classifications to talk about.

Navigator: My Galaxies

So far I’ve found Navigator is really useful for two things in particular:

  • Discussing classification difficulties and distributions: the My Galaxies tool will show you how the group’s classification of a particular galaxy compares to whatever other classifications exist for that object. Sometimes a galaxy has one clear classification that stands out, and other times it looks like nobody really agrees about whether it’s smooth versus featured. You can use that to talk about why it’s important to have so many people classify one galaxy, and how it relates to how confident you are in your own classification (and why it means you should still classify even if you aren’t sure).
  • Making and testing predictions: The open night was for students about age 10, so many of them didn’t really even know what a galaxy was. The festival had students of all ages and plenty of adults as well. I showed some examples and explained that astronomers think elliptical (smooth) galaxies are made by merging two smaller galaxies together in a violent collision. From that you can predict that smooth galaxies should be bigger and brighter than featured galaxies on average, if you often make a smooth galaxy by crashing two featured galaxies together. You can use the Histogram tool to plot absolute brightness of smooth versus featured galaxies and see whether that prediction turns out to be true. (But remember that with magnitudes, more negative actually means brighter!)

I’m still pretty new to using Navigator, but I can already tell it’s a powerful educational tool and I can’t wait to see what people do with it!

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One response to “Using Galaxy Zoo in the Classroom”

  1. Jean Tate says :

    Very cool!

    Is there a forum where we can discuss this, how to use it, what worked (and what didn’t), etc?

    I mean, other than as comments to a blog post (such a forum is, um, painful to use, for discussion).

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