Astronomy - The Dark Side

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While running a school astronomy club called 'The Dark Side', I made some resources which could be useful for anyone doing the same or for the teaching of astronomy in regular upper primary to lower secondary science classes. Here are the links to the materials.


            Overview                           Structure of the program

            Space Facts                       PowerPoints for teaching aspects of astronomy

            Competitions                   For fun and encouraging learning

            Star Gazing                       Information for running Star Gazing nights

            Planetarium                     Information for Planetarium visits

            Family Nights                   Information for running Family Nights

            Astronomical Tidbits       Interesting astronomical facts

                                                                                                            image of Eagle Nebula: pxfuel.com image of Darth Vader: flickr.com




Below is an overview of how the club was run.

Dark Side Program

Meetings were held every Friday afternoon in the library from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. They were held throughout all four terms. In addition, one evening event was held each term.

Recruiting was Important

When I started the club, I advertised for a week or so in school notices, newsletters, assemblies etc., as well as telling students I interacted with. As a result, two people turned up to the first meeting. But one of them kept coming and brought along friends, so that after a couple of terms, we had about 20 members.

At the start of the next year, I went into all the Year 6, 7, 8 and 9 classes dressed as Emperor Palpatine and accompanied by a student dressed at Darth Vader, both wielding light sabres, and told them about the Dark Side. As a result, I got about 50 students at the first meeting. Over the next couple of years the numbers continued to increase, getting an average of 50 to 60 at meetings right to the end of the year. Because families were invited, up to 150 people would turn up to some of the evening events.

Afternoon Meetings

In general, meetings had four parts:

  1. An entertaining video or slide show, not necessarily related to astronomy, with music, to encourage prompt arrival and seating (5 minutes)
  2. News from the world of astronomy and any announcements about Dark Side matters (10 minutes)
  3. Space Facts presentation (30 minutes). One of the PowerPoints (see below) was presented and I added further explanations. Questions and discussion were encouraged, even if they went off at a tangent. In many cases, one PowerPoint would need two or three sessions to get through. This was good as there are only 28.
  4. Activity (45 minutes)

Each term the Activities included approximately:

  • One astronomy video from YouTube or elsewhere
  • One Emperor’s Cup quiz game
  • One Freddo Challenge quiz game in Terms 1, 2 and 3; the Cosmic Shield in Term 4
  • One or two sessions where members were told the topic of next week’s quiz game and could research
  • A couple of RAP (research and production) sessions where members worked individually or in small groups on a slideshow on some aspect of astronomy, a construction project like a model solar system, or did general research and quiz preparation. The slideshows and models could be presented to the meeting and/or at the Family Night.
  • A party in the last week of the term

Evening Events

The evening events were generally:

Term 1: Star gazing evening on the school oval

Term 2: Star Wars – three-Friday-evening movie marathon

Term 3: Visit to the Brisbane Planetarium or second Star Gazing evening

Term 4: Family Night in a suitable area in the school – a presentation to the members’ families

Families were welcomed at the evening events and were encouraged to attend.

Barbeques were held at the evening events and the sale of sausages and drinks raised quite a bit of money which was used to buy equipment like telescopes.

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Space Facts

These PowerPoints are designed to guide instruction. Questions and discussion are encouraged, even if it goes off at a tangent. In many cases, one PowerPoint will need two or three sessions to get through. This is good.

The PowerPoints are ordered in a suitable teaching sequence, more basic ones on the left, more advanced ones on the right.

Download the files and open them in PowerPoint rather than viewing on-line so that they render properly.

Introduction to the Universe

Things that hit the Earth

What the Universe is made of

The Night Sky


The Solar System


History and Future of the Universe

The Sun

Lives of Stars

History of the Earth

The Moon


4 percent of the Universe

96 percent of the Universe

Sub-atomic Particles

Quantum Theory

Position in the Sky


The Big Bang

Inter-stellar Medium

History of Astronomy

Black Holes

Geology of the Earth

Exoplanets and Extra-terrestrial Life

Special Relativity

Gravity and General Relativity

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Instructions and materials for the three types of competition are given in the links below.

They are provided as Word documents so that appropriate sections can be copied, saved and printed as needed.

Download them in Word rather than viewing on-line so that they render properly.

Emperor's Cup                           Freddo Challenge                         Cosmic Shield

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Star Gazing

The following is a brief account of how the Star Gazing evenings were run.

It is possible for one teacher to run the afternoon meetings, even if numbers get up into the 70s as they did at one point. However, running the Star Gazing evenings is easiest with 5 or 6 staff. Volunteers weren't hard to find.

A letter was sent home with the students with details of the event. It was a requirement that students who attend be accompanied by at least one person over 18 who is prepared to take responsibility for them. The adults were welcome to bring along other family members, e.g. younger children.

One teacher was assigned the job for the whole evening of checking people in when they arrive and checking them out when they leave. They also collected mobile phone numbers in case there were any discrepancies at the end.

At the starting time, I gathered those present and explained the procedures for the evening, then people went off to their activities.

There were three activities and everyone was assigned to one of three groups on arrival. The three groups rotated through the three activities, spending about 30 minutes at each.

Activity 1 - Naked Eye Astronomy

A teacher uses a laser pointer to point out features of interest in the sky and talks about facts of interest behind them. The group sits/lies on the ground to make looking up easy.

Activity 2 - Telescope Astronomy

When the Dark Side started, the school had a limited supply of telescopes and binoculars. Before the event, I liaised with a local astronomy group for some of their members to bring out their telescopes. We generally got about 8 to 10, a lot larger and more sophisticated than what the school had. The owners also brought the expertise in using them as well as knowledge of interesting things to look at.

We paid $5 per person present to the group to cover their expenses. We charged attendees $10 to cover this and the food and drink (see below).

We didn't ask for blue cards, but the telescopes were close together and at least one teacher was constantly present. Also, all children had parents with them. We never had problems.

Activity 3 - Fire

Before people arrived, a fire was lit in half a 44-gallon drum. Also, a large quantity of damper was made and cups, sticks, honey, milo, instant coffee, milk and a washing bowl and water were procured. A few students who stayed after school helped make the damper as well as setting up telescopes, tables, chairs etc.

The damper was wound around the end of a stick and cooked over the fire. The damper was then removed and honey poured into the hole produced by the stick. An urn of water was heated over the fire to make the milo and coffee. Again, one teacher needs to be with the fire for safety.

Other things that needed to be done included ensuring that all bright lights around the school were turned off and that any sprinkler system was de-activated (we learnt that through experience!) and that someone cleaned up any remaining mess the next morning.

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Suggestions for a Planetarium visit

Unlike the other evening events, the Planetarium visits never attracted large numbers - maybe 30 at most.

We required parents (or other adults) to drive the students to the Plnetarium and stay for the shows.

Check out requirements for booking and payment and make arrangements accordingly. It can be worth allowing time before the show to peruse the exhibits and maybe arrange to meet for coffee or food somewhere nearby after the show.

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Family Nights

The Family Nights were held near the end of the school year and were, in a way, the culmination of the year's work. Significant time was devoted in the Term 4 meetings to preparing for the evening.

The format is fairly flexible, but the following are some components worth including.

  • Slide shows or other on-screen entertainment as people arrive and before the main proceedings get under way
  • Displays around the room
  • Welcome speech by a couple of the students
  • Some slideshows produced by students during the year
  • Dramatic and/or dance performances by students, often with a space or Star Wars theme
  • Astronomical trivia game involving students and family members (a successful format is the 4-corners quiz where multiple-choice questions projected on a screen have four options and participants go to the corner of the room corresponding to their coice (as indicated by letters on the wall). Those who go to the wrong corners are out. The last person in gets a chocolate prize.)
  • The finals of the Cosmic Shield quiz for girls and boys
  • The presentation of certificates for those who have attended sufficient meetings during the year
  • A sausage sizzle at the end of the indoor part of the evening

Students' families were invited to see what the students had been doing and to be entertained by them. Students who attended were required to have a responsible adult present, if only so they would be taken home at the conclusion of the evening. A few students would generally stay after school to help set things up. I would take note of who was there, check their parents arrived and take note of anyone who was still unaccompanied.

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This site is produced and maintained by David Ilsley in Brisbane, Australia.

The contact email is           d.ilsley@gmail.com

Please feel free to email if you are a teacher thinking of using the materials and would like some help.

Also feel free to email if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, or if you find errors in the materials – there are bound to be a few.

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Except where otherwise stated, this astronomy site (ast.m1maths.com) is copyrighted under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License CC BY-NC 4.0. This allows the materials to be printed, copied, adapted and stored locally. It also allows them to be re-published for non-commercial purposes as long as clear attribution is made to M1 Maths (ast.m1maths.com). Please contact David Ilsley on d.ilsley@gmail.com with inquiries re any other uses.

Many of the resources on this site are based on material the author produced for use while working for Canterbury College. These are used with permission.

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