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Paper: Astronomy and Writing: A First-Year Cosmology Course for Nonmajors
Volume: 431, Science Education and Outreach: Forging a Path to the Future
Page: 368
Authors: Martin, A. M.
Abstract: Astro 1109 (Spring 2009) is a first-year writing seminar offered through Cornell University’s Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. Every first-year student takes two of these seminars, each with fewer than 17 students; students are assigned to a course by ballot, creating opportunities for students to interact with a discipline other than their own. In Astro 1109, a non-mathematical course based on readings, discussion, and formal and informal writing assignments, students engaged with various forms of expository and persuasive writing focused on the topic of cosmology. The coursework covered fundamental questions of space, time, and relativity, black holes, the expansion of the Universe, dark matter and dark energy, and the anthropic principle. Assignments were developed to introduce students to a wide range of scientific writing for the lay audience. Throughout the course, an emphasis was placed on the importance of physical and textual evidence and observation, and the differences between a conjecture, a hypothesis, and a theory. Work for the course culminated in a four week research project, exploring the merits of the anthropic principle and the relationship between physics and philosophy, through which each student developed their own paper topic. Astro 1109 was designed as an outreach tool to improve scientific literacy by linking it to the traditional concepts of literacy and exposition. The assignments could be easily adaptable to students at different levels or with various levels of background on the topic.
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