The Sky and the Solar System

ASTR 161      Spring 2022
Service Learning Syllabus

Global mosaic of Pluto in true color from NASA’s New Horizons Mission

Instructor: Dr. Jennifer Scott (she/her)
Contact: • 410-704-3017 •  SC 3150D
Students may expect responses to emails within 24 hours on weekdays, often sooner.
Emails sent over a weekend can usually expect a response by Monday.
Student Hours: 1-2 PM M • 1-2 PM Th
During these times I invite you to meet with me in my office.
My Zoom space will also be open: 
Email me if you wish to make an appointment outside these regularly scheduled times.

1. Course Catalog and Class Fee Description 
A course for non-science majors covering observational astronomy, telescopes, Earth as a planet, the Moon, Solar System, Sun, general properties of stars. Development of enough algebra – based physics to understand these topics at a non-technical level. Three lecture hours and one two-hour laboratory period. Core: Biological & Physical Sciences or GenEd II.A.

The $10.00 lab fee will be used to purchase materials needed for labs and in class activities. Additional information is available at

2. Learning Goals and Outcomes
University Core Learning Goals for Biological and Physical Sciences
Students will…

Display competency in essential skills required of a college graduate by demonstrating knowledge of methods used to collect, interpret, and apply scientific data.
Explore & integrate knowledge in order to understand how various disciplines interrelate by: articulating relevant basic assumptions, concepts, theoretical constructs and factual information of a discipline • understanding and applying relevant discipline-specific methodologies and strategies of inquiry • applying appropriate critical-thinking/problem-solving skills and communication skills in discipline specific contexts.
Use inquiry & critical judgment to make decisions by: reflecting and evaluating claims and evidence (rather than merely reporting information). • thinking in complex terms that move beyond an either/or binary approach.

ASTR 161 Course Goals
In ASTR 161 students should gain understanding of…

The nature of science: The universe is knowable and how we know it through experimentation, observation and theory. • Different types and degrees of uncertainty play a role in all of these.
How science is performed: Scientific ideas change over time. • Science is a cultural process.
Basic concepts in astronomy: The nature, scope, evolution of the physical universe and how the Sun and Earth fit in • Astronomical quantities and relevant physical laws • Some useful tools from related subjects like math and physics
Critical thinking & quantitative reasoning: Analyzing what you read and hear • Making “back-of-the-envelope” estimates

In this Service-Learning section, students will also…

Think creatively & work collaboratively: Work with teams of fellow students to develop or adapt classroom or laboratory exercises into astronomy-based activities for elementary-aged students
Support a community after-school program: Engage in science enrichment activities with elementary-aged students • Serve as role models
Strengthen communication skills: Deliver astronomy content knowledge in setting- and age-appropriate ways
Reflect on experiences: How has teaching helped you learn astronomy content ? • What have you learned about science education?

3. Course Content
In this course, we will discuss:

• The origins of astronomy as a science
• The motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars in the sky
• How scientists in general and astronomers in particular accomplish their work
• The properties of light and atoms
• The overall properties of the solar system what they tell us about how it formed
• Some basic features of individual planets and how they relate to one another
• The Sun and the nature of stars

Refer to Blackboard for details on the course schedule and assignments.

This course will not emphasize mathematics in the material. However, we cannot avoid math altogether and some basic algebra and geometry will be required. See the Background Material for some refresher pages. If you have trouble with this, please see me.

4. Requirements
The grading criteria and overall components of the course grade are outlined in Section 5 and course policies, including policies on late assignments are given in Section 6.

The instructor will guide each student’s learning in this course by:
• holding regular student hours
• being available outside those hours by appointment and through email communication
• being open and receptive to ALL questions
• making every effort to treat all students fairly and with respect

The student will direct their own learning in this course by:
• attending lectures and labs
• keeping up with the necessary readings and assignments
• turning in assignments promptly
• keeping informed of course grade and seeking help when needed

5. Grading
Overall Philosophy
I aim for you to be as informed as possible about the grade you are earning in this course throughout the semester. If you are concerned about how well you are doing, examine your grades on Blackboard. See this page for more details on how final course grades are calculated. Consult this Strategies page for tips on how to do well in this course.

My goal is to provide ample opportunity for students to do well in the course. I allow you to drop one exam and one lab grade. I provide many ways to earn the 100 possible Participation and Engagement points. You can earn up to 15 points of extra credit in 6 different ways. All of this gives you good control over your own grade, and you can recover from a bad exam day or a missed assignment.

Some assignments and test items will consist of short essays and/or written answers to some questions. All written work will be graded for grammar and coherence, as well as content.

The labs and exams will include some calculations. I will always provide the equations needed to answer lab or exam questions. For full credit, you must show your work and your reasoning on these kinds of problems whenever possible.

Participation and Engagement
As shown in the grade break-down below, part of your grade will be based on how often you come to class and how much you participate in class discussions and activities. These points will come from  graded and ungraded  in-class questions and small group activities. Attendance at labs is mandatory for lab credit.

Grading scale
percentage points letter grade
>92% 870-940(up to 955) A
90-92% 843-869 A-
87-89% 814-842 B+
83-86% 776-813 B
80-82% 748-775 B-
77-79% 720-747 C+
70-76% 654-719 C
67-69% 626-653 D+
60-66% 560-625 D
<60% 0-559 F
Components of your final grade
Component Point value Description
Exams 200 Three exams, lowest score is dropped.Coverage is not technically cumulative but concepts build on each other. Worth up to 100 points each.
Final Exam 100 This exam will cover the entire course, and the grade cannot be dropped. Worth up to 100 points
Concept Quizzes 150 Taken throughout the semester via Blackboard. Worth 10 points each.
Lab Activities 200 You must be present at the lab to earn credit.
Service-Learning 190  You must be present at the Service-Learning activity to earn full credit.
In class Participation & Engagement 100 From in-class questions and small-group activities. 
Optional Extra Credit 15 Select from the list. Worth up to 5 or 10 points each. Can earn a maximum of 15 points total from these.

6. Course Policies
Your continued enrollment in the course implies agreement with these policies.

Academic Integrity
All students are responsible for reading and abiding by the Towson University Code of Conduct and Academic Integrity Policy. Towson University policies prohibit all forms of academic dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism, falsification, and fabrication. It is your responsibility to understand what these terms mean. Any violation of the Academic Integrity Policy will result in a score of zero for the assignment or exam in question and letters to the Chair of the Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences and to the Registrar’s Office. Particularly egregious and/or repeated offenses may result in failure of the course.

Participation and Engagement
Attendance is not strictly mandatory, but you will not earn points for questions posed in class if you are not present with your internet-enabled device, to be used for responses.

You are responsible for reading the appropriate chapter in the class notes and in the textbook before coming to class. You will respond to questions and perform exercises in class and these will be of more benefit if you have engaged with the material beforehand.

Please come to class prepared to participate fully. Do not eat, drink, read extraneous materials, or engage in personal use of electronic devices while you are in class.

Graded Work
If you miss a deadline for an excused reason you can foresee, discuss this with me ahead of time- as soon as you are able. If it is unexpected, contact me within 48 hours of missing a deadline. If you would like to discuss how a particular assignment was graded,  come to my student hours or make an appointment. I will not conduct discussions about individual grades before or after class or via email.

Exams: There will be no multiple choice make-up exams. If you miss an exam for an excused reason as defined by University policies (with documentation), you may choose either a) to take an open format make-up exam within two weeks of the exam date, or b) to treat that exam as the one to be dropped from your final grade as described in Section 5. If you miss an exam for an unexcused reason, option b) will hold.

Labs: If you miss a lab for an excused reason as defined by University policies and with documentation, an average of all other lab scores will be counted for the missing lab.

Service Learning:  For Preparation and Reflection components, 20% of the points will be deducted per day late, ie. after 5 days you will receive a zero no matter what. Days start counting at the due date and time and include weekends. Late assignments will  earn full credit only with an excused reason, as defined by University policies and with documentation. If a student misses the Execution portion of a Service-Learning assignment for an excused reason, as defined by University policies and with documentation, and thus cannot perform the Reflection, an average of all other Service-Learning scores will be counted for the missing Service-Learning visit.

Concept Quizzes: There is no make-up for these online quizzes if you miss the deadline. Plan enough time to allow for any possible technical problems.

In Class Work: You may earn the points for in class work if you miss class for an excused  reason as defined by University policies and if you provide documentation of that absence. However, make-up of Participation-Engagement points will only be for special circumstances, as it will still be possible to earn the full 100 possible points even if you miss one or two class periods.

Mask Requirement
The University has set clear expectations about mask wearing for the safety of all in our community. Face coverings over the nose and mouth are required at all times while indoors and KN95 masks are required in all classrooms. There are no exceptions to this rule. Students not wearing a KN95 mask – or wearing a KN95 mask improperly – will be asked to wear a mask or to fix their mask position. Any student refusing to wear a KN95 mask properly will be asked to leave the classroom immediately. Students who have additional incidents with the mask expectation after a first warning will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for failure to comply with this University directive.

Diversity Mission Statement
The Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences, in accordance with the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics Diversity Plan
and with the Towson University Diversity Strategic Plan,
believes that we must support initiatives that promote diversity among FCSM faculty, staff and students while continuing to meet the workforce needs of the State of Maryland. To fulfill that vision, we are committed to increasing the quality and diversity of our students, faculty and staff while increasing retention and curriculum initiatives.

Title IX policy
Towson University is committed to ensuring a safe, productive learning environment on our campus that does not tolerate sexual misconduct, including harassment, stalking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, or intimate partner violence [Policy 06.01.60]. It is important for you to know that there are resources available if you or someone you know needs assistance. You may speak to a member of university administration, faculty, or staff, but keep in mind that they have an obligation to report the incident to the Title IX Coordinator. It is a goal that you feel able to share information related to your life experiences in classroom discussions and in one-on-one meetings. However, it is required to share information with the Title IX Coordinator regarding disclosures, but know that the information will be kept private to the greatest extent possible. If you want to speak to someone who is permitted to keep your disclosure confidential, please seek assistance from the TU Counseling Center 410-704-2512 to schedule an appointment, and locally within the community at TurnAround, Inc., 443-279-0379 (24-hour hotline) or 410-377-8111 to schedule an appointment.

Repeated Course
If a student fails this course, it can be repeated once. As described in the undergraduate catalog, a third attempt to take this course requires prior approval.

Course Withdrawals
See the undergraduate catalog for a description of course withdrawals and the university calendar for a list of important dates. Please feel free to consult with me if you have any questions related to course withdrawals.

7. Additional Requirements for Graduate Students

8. Bibliography and Course Materials
The textbook for this course is a free online Open Educational Resources text available through Blackboard.  Labs will be made available through Blackboard.

In-class response device
To avoid requiring students  to purchase a clicker for this course, we will be using smart phones or other internet-enabled devices to respond to  questions posed in class. The use of these devices in class is restricted to these responses, unless prior approval is given. If you do not have an internet enabled device you can bring to class each day, I will lend you one. Please discuss this with me.

Web Materials
There is a Blackboard site for this course, at This will be the portal for posting the course readings and for accessing and submitting course assignments. From Blackboard you can access this syllabus, the course schedule, information on assignments and on extra credit options from this page. You may check your course grade using Blackboard as well.

Copyright Statement
Materials provided by the instructor in this course are for the use of only the students enrolled in the course unless stated otherwise. The Towson University Policy on Intellectual Materials states that course materials are owned by the creator.  This means that disseminating course materials including but not limited to lecture notes, labs, and homework assignments outside the course, online or otherwise, is prohibited. This also means that I will not distribute any of your course products without your permission.

9. Counseling Resources
Students who are experiencing personal difficulties or mental health challenges are encouraged to seek free and confidential assistance at the Towson University Counseling Center (TUCC). Same-day appointments are available, and you can reach a crisis counselor by phone after hours. For more information about TUCC, please visit their website at To make an appointment or for after-hours crisis assistance, please call 410-704-2512.

I look forward to a rewarding semester. Enjoy!