This page contains curricular materials that I have developed for a course on the Copernican Revolution. The course is intended to satisfy a science requirement for non-science majors. The course explores the historical development of astronomy from the Ancient Greeks to Isaac Newton. The main purpose of the course is to use early modern astronomy as an example for illustrating how scientific theories are developed and tested and how scientific knowledge changes over time.
I teach the course using interactive methods. Students work in small groups to complete worksheet-based activities. Most of the activities involve using computer simulations. Some of the activities make use of free planetarium software (Stellarium). Most activities use computer simulations that I have created using the Easy Java Simulations (EJS) package. These simulations are part of the Open-Source Physics (OSP) project and are available for free using the links below, along with all of the worksheets for the activities. Interested faculty may also be able to get a pre-publication version of a textbook for this course.
For a more detailed description of the course see http://berryactivelearning.blogspot.com/2009/06/ast-120-copernican-revolution.html.
You can also download my most recent course syllabus.
The course is primarily built around several individual student
projects. The projects give students the opportunity to apply what
they have learned in the course. Projects focus on observing
planetary motions, constructing Ptolemaic and Copernican solar system
models based on observational data, observing (and understanding) the
appearance of the Moon, and examining arguments for and against the
Copernican theory. The list below provides links to the handouts and
grading rubrics (if available), as well as a
listing of the relevant activities and labs, for each project.
- Observing Your Solar System. In this project
students must determine the number of planets in their
individualized solar system (see below),
classify each as inferior or superior, and measure various
important astronomical quantities.
- Ptolemaic Modeling. In this project
students must construct a Ptolemaic model for their solar
system using the observational data gathered in the first project.
- Copernican Modeling. In this project
students must construct a Copernican model for their solar
system using the observational data gathered in the first project.
- Star Sizes and Kepler's Laws. In this project
students examine arguments against the Copernican theory based
on the size of stars. They also verify that Kepler's
Laws are valid in the Copernican model of their solar system.
- Project Handout: PDF (127
KB) TeX (16
- Activities/Labs: The Tychonic System, Parallax, Earth's Orbit:
Kepler's Second Law, Mars' Orbit: Kepler's First Law,
Harmonices Mundi, Kepler's Laws
- Observing the Moon. In this project
students make observations of the real Moon and try to make
sense of their observations using a simple model of lunar phases.
- Defending the Copernican Theory. In this project
students must use concepts from Newtonian physics to respond to a letter, from a fictional 17th
century student of natural philosophy, attacking the
The first three projects are all based on individualized simulations
of the night sky as seen from a planet in a fictitious solar system.
Each student receives a JAVA program that simulates the apparent
motion of the Sun and some planets against a fixed background of
stars. I have created 30 different simulations so that each student
in my class gets their own unique solar system.
- Download a
single example of a solar system simulation. (1.1 MB)
- Download a zip archive
containing all 30 solar system simulations as well as an Excel file
(and PDF printout) giving the required data for each system. (29
- Note: you should assign the 30 solar systems at random to the
students in your class and privately document which solar system (by number)
each student receives. Change the name of the solar system file from
"ejs_YourSolarSystem01.jar" to "StudentNameSolarSystem.jar"
(using the actual names of your students, of course) and then
distribute the files to your students. That way your students will
not know which system they have, so even if they get a copy of the
solar system data file they will not be able to determine the data for
their solar system without doing the necessary work (unless they want
to rely on a 1 in 30 chance of guessing correctly).
Warning: I am continuing to refine these simulations, as well as develop new ones. I will try to keep an up-to-date version of the simulations available here, but this could lead to some incompatibilities between the most recent version of the simulations and the activity/lab handouts posted below. If you want a version that should work well with the handouts, use the class-tested version. Otherwise, use the most recent version.
- Class-tested Simulations: complete list of
class-tested simulations for the Copernican Revolution course, with links to
download the JAR files.
- Full Simulation
Package: a single JAR file containing all of the class-tested
simulations for the Copernican Revolution in one Launcher package.
- Updates: updated versions
of some of the simulations, and maybe some new simulations.
Activities and Labs
The table below contains a list of topics (arranged into 7 groups) that students explore in my Copernican Revolution course. For each topic I provide a link for downloading the corresponding worksheet (in pdf format), a list of the simulations related to that topic (all simulations are contained within the CopernicanRevolution.jar package linked above), and a list of any other materials needed to complete the activity. The worksheets designated with "(A)" are activities designed to be used in a single 75 minute class period (with some time left over for a short lecture review). The worksheets designated with "(L)" are laboratory exercises designed to be used in a single 120 minute laboratory period. Ideally these materials should be used in the order in which they are listed, but there is some flexibility (especially with some of the labs).
CRtex.zip (4 MB).
If you would like to edit the worksheets but need them in a different format please email me (email@example.com) and I may be able to accommodate you.
Please watch out for typos and other errors in these handouts. I cannot guarantee that they are without flaws - but the handouts posted here are all materials that I have used in my own class. Please work carefully through the exercises yourself before you give them to your students!
||The Game of Science (A)
of Science Materials
||The Dome of the Sky (A)
|The Celestial Globe (L)
||a celestial globe
|Motion of the Sun (A)
|The Moon (A)
|Observing the Moon (L)
|Shadows and Gnomons (L)
|The Planets (A)
|The Zodiac and Precession (A)
||Eratosthenes Measures the Earth (L)
|Two Sphere Universe (A)
|Aristotle's Physics (A)
||steel ball, graduated cylinder, pennies, book
|Spheres of Eudoxus (A)
|Ptolemy's Syntaxis (A)
|Ptolemy's Universe (L)
||Motions of the Earth (A)
|Copernicus' Theory of the Planets (A)
|The Scale of the Universe (A)
||The Tychonic System (A)
|The Comet of 1577 (A)
||Starry Night or other commercial software that shows comets
||Kepler's Mysterium (A)
||shapes for building Platonic solids
|The Species Motrix (A)
|Earth's Orbit: Kepler's Second Law (A)
||compass, straight edge
|Mars' Orbit: Kepler's First Law (A)
|Harmonices Mundi (A)
|Kepler's Laws (L)
||Message of the Stars (A)
|Sunspots and Solar Rotation (L)
|The Moons of Jupiter (L)
||Revolution of the Moons of Jupiter CLEA program
|Falling Bodies (A)
||lead ball, wood ball
|Free Fall (L)
||Free Fall apparatus (Pasco, Cenco, etc)
|Neutral Motions (A)
||Newton's Laws of Motion (A)
|Centripetal Forces (A)
|Universal Gravitation (A)
Paul Wallace and I have written a textbook for the Copernican Revolution course that we have taught at Berry College. Although the textbook is not yet ready for publication, interested college faculty or high school teachers may be able to obtain a pre-publication version of the text for review and possible use in a college or high school astronomy course. Please contact Todd Timberlake (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in receiving an electronic copy of the textbook for review.
- Paul Wallace first developed this course on the Copernican Revolution and wrote the first version of the textbook for the course. He also developed the original versions of the laboratory exercises. Without his hard work and inspiration the Copernican Revolutions course at Berry would not exist.
- All of the simulations were developed using the Easy Java Simluations authoring tool by Francisco Esquembre (see the EJS Wiki page for more information).
- EJS is part of the Open Source Physics project by Wolfgang Christian and collaborators (see the OSP page on ComPADRE for more details).
- Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni provided much helpful advice on improving the simulations.
- The simulations were packaged using Launcher and LaunchBuilder by Doug Brown.
- Todd Timberlake developed all of the EJS simulations in the CopernicanRevolution.jar and ejs_astronomy.jar packages. He created all of the handouts for the activities and made significant modifications to the lab handouts originally developed by Paul Wallace.
- A couple figures in the handouts have been borrowed from sources that I now can't remember. (If they are yours, please let me know so I can either cite you or remove the figures if you wish.)
All of the materials on this page are available free of charge. Feel free to download the materials and explore them with no obligation whatsoever. However, if you use any of these materials in a class please contact me (email@example.com) to let me know. I would like to receive feedback on the simulations and the worksheets (especially if you find an error!) and I would like to keep track of where they are being used. If you make any modifications of the simulations or worksheets I would like to know about it (if you made it better then I want to use your improved version!).
The Java programs in the CopernicanRevolution.jar package are Open Source Physics (OSP) programs that were created using Easy Java Simulations (EJS) and are freely distributable under the GNU GPL license. For more information about the Open Source Physics project visit http://www.compadre.org/osp/.
All of the curricular materials (including the narratives in the Launcher package) are copyrighted by Todd Timberlake and/or Paul Wallace and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. You may modify and redistribute these materials for non-commercial use as long as you clearly cite the original author (Todd Timberlake for all simulations materials and the activity handouts, Paul Wallace and Todd Timberlake for the lab handouts) and release the materials under the same license.
Presentations On This Material
I have given a few presentations on this material and the links below provide access to my presentation materials.
- "Modeling the History of Astronomy: Ptolemy, Copernicus, and
Tycho" poster presented at the 2013 Winter Meeting of the
American Association of Physics Teachers, New Orleans, LA,
January 2013. A PDF of the poster is available here.
- "A Body Falling Through the Earth: Newton versus Hooke"
talk given at the 2012 Summer Meeting of the American Association
of Physics Teachers, Philadelphia, PA, July 2012. Slides and computer simulations available here.
- "From Ptolemy to Einstein: Using Computer Simulations in
Astronomy" workshop with Mario Belloni and Wolfgang Christian at
the 2012 Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics
Teachers, Philadelphia, PA, July 2012. Workshop materials available here.
- "Using Computer Simulations in Introductory Astronomy,"
(with Mario Belloni)
invited talk at the 2010 Summer Meeting of the American
Association of Physics Teachers, Portland, OR, July 2010. The
following materials are available: Slides and Simulations Package.
- "Exploring the Copernican Revolution through computer simulations," International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group Biennial Conference, University of Notre Dame, June 2009. Click here for a PDF of my slides (452 KB).
- "Exploring the Copernican Revolution through computer simulations," 2009 Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, University of Michigan, July 2009. Click here for a PDF of my poster (1.1 MB).
- "Using Computer Simulations to Explore the History of Astronomy,"
workshop presented at the 2009 Meeting of the European Science
Education Research Association, Istanbul, Turkey, September
2009. The following materials are available: Slides (PDF, 460
activity handout (PDF, 108 KB), Simulation Package (JAR, 4 MB), Paper in the ESERA
Todd K. Timberlake (firstname.lastname@example.org)