The Universe in the Classroom

No. 54 - Spring 2001

© 2001, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112.

Eratosthenes and Us,
It Just Keeps Going and Going and Going…

students with globe


"From this project I learned that I can be good at math and science and now I even like them." - Liza

"At first I did not understand anything but later when I talked to Maya I understood better. Then Liliana explained it to me again and after I heard it two or three more times it began to make sense. I just had to hear it over and over again until it finally sunk in." - Cierra

"As for my participation in this project it was involuntary, but I am grateful for such a wonderful opportunity." - Eli

In the spring of 2000 we completed our third use of a unit based upon Eratosthenes' measurement of the size, or more accurately, circumference of the Earth. The genesis of this project was when one of us, Paul, attended a workshop on getting scientists involved in K-12 education. The workshop emphasized hands on activities and a constructivist approach (see sidebar on constructivism). At that time his eldest daughter had just started the 5th grade at Glenarden Woods Elementary School, in Glenarden, Maryland. At this school, each year the 5th and 6th grades study one of three ancient cultures (Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, or Medieval Europe) in a year-long thematic unit that involves language arts, social studies, and art. But, at the time, integration of math and science into this unifying theme was very limited. Since these cultures have an astronomical heritage, (but for that matter so does practically every culture), the accidental coincidence of the workshop and his daughter's schooling suggested his involvement with the school in helping bring in hands-on astronomy projects relevant to that year's chosen culture into the classroom.

We cast about for an astronomy project to do, and we eventually decided to duplicate Eratosthenes' measurement of the size of the Earth (see sidebar on Eratosthenes) based upon a suggestion given to us by Dr. Dave Dearborn via his connections at the Center for Archeoastonomy. We decided to do the project for several reasons:

Here we relate our experience the second time we did the project in 1998. This year was unique in that we were funded by a NASA IDEAS (Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science) grant to support curriculum development and a teachers' workshop.

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