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  • Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 22 March 2019 Referencing Hub media

    Teacher Matt Boucher and his year 7/8 students learned more about measuring light brightness by helping scientists look for exoplanets. The unit on light was taught while Matt was part of a research project funded by the Teaching & Learning Research Initiative. The aim of the project was to explore the benefits of engaging primary students in online citizen science projects.

    Point of interest

    At approximately 36 seconds into this video, you’ll see an animation showing the observational sectors that each of the four cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) can observe and how they rotate to cover 85% of the night sky. The full video can be viewed here.



    After the kids learned a lot about how light worked and particularly things about light and shadow and brightness and some of its properties, we then started to look into how that was used by scientists. And so, in using the Agent Exoplanet and the Planet Hunters, they allow kids to look at graphs of data to help make those graphs of light and darkness data from different stars and also to interpret what might show a planet and what kind of planet that might be.

    That skipped directly to that process, which we couldn’t do in class. We don’t have access to a space telescope or anything like that.


    He needed his students to understand first how it is that scientists go hunting for planets.

    He had students lined up in front of the light source with tablets that had a lux meter on it measuring light. He had a tennis ball hanging off a long stick, which he passed around and around the light source. The students were able to construct their own knowledge by downloading the information off the lux meters on the tablets about what happens when a solid object passes in front of a light source.

    So he was able to have them mentally relate that model to what the scientists are doing when they’re analysing this data of photos taken from outer space. That hands-on connection was really powerful for the students.


    They could see how that data was generated in the first place, even though they weren’t able to do it themselves, and what kinds of things they could see from that data, what sizes of planets or what distance of their orbit, which would have something to do with the temperature of the planet.

    So by them understanding that whole process, they were then able to dive in and use the real data to help real scientists to do it. So I felt like that really expanded out what I would have done in my light unit.

    Because I’ve used two different online citizen science projects, it let the kids have a go at it and some were more engaged with one than the other and so they were able to spend a bit more time on the one that they engaged with greater. They really got interested in it, because they understood how that data was being generated.

    And what cooler context for your little unit on light in intermediate school than actually helping scientists to find a planet outside of our Solar System?

    Matt Boucher and his students from South Wellington Intermediate School
    Brigitte Glasson, science education consultant
    Dayle Anderson, Victoria University of Wellington
    Victoria University of Wellington
    The Teaching & Learning Research Initiative
    Agent Exoplanet, Las Cumbres Observatory
    Planet Hunters TESS
    Lux Camera — Light Meter & Measurement app, Tu Anh Do
    Light basics resource, Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

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