Astronomy by Observation
Excerpt from Astronomy by Observation: An Elementary Text-Book for High-Schools and AcademiesThis book has grown out of actual school-work, in which it was the teacher's object to make pupils studying elementary astronomy observe and think.The following are its chief peculiarities:1. An efficient, easy, well-tried plan for teaching the constellations is described. Its use will obviate the necessity of a teacher doing work out of school-hours, by enabling students to become independent observers.2. Careful directions are given when, how, and where to find the heavenly bodies. Their motions are described in the order in which they can be seen by an observer, and in familiar language. Thus, the textbook may be a guide to the observation of beginners.3. The student is excited to thought. Facts are stated first; theory afterward, as a deduction from the facts. The selection of subjects for the student's thinking is a little different from that of other school astronomies. The general principle governing this selection is to make the student understand what he can see. The author has also desired in some degree to separate the work of the elementary teacher from that of the college professor. To observe the facts from which Copernicus argued; to discuss them; to perceive how they prove his conclusions; to use in this the simpler geometrical conceptions, seem to the author suitable elementary work. It would be excellent elementary work if it could be combined with some practical angular measurements of a simple kind on the heavens.Practically, neither the college professor nor the elementary teacher can draw a clear line separating their work. It would be very unfortunate if these few words suggest, for judging of the authors humble book, a severe abstract rule, which the practical condition of the schools makes it impossible for any elementary teacher to observe.The author knows high-school work well. The thinking of this book is fairly within the comprehension of the students of our reasonably good schools. The professed study of the theory of astronomy, in which there is no thinking, is a counterfeit.The book presumes in those who study it a little knowledge of elementary geometry, and of the refraction, reflection, and dispersion of light. As all high-schools teach as much of these subjects as is needed, it seemed better to take thus much knowledge for granted, than to make a digression for the purpose of presenting it.The author has probably experimented as much as anybody in teaching elementary pupils by observation and by questions which drew them out to discuss theory. But much review is always required, and, in order to save time, a text-book is necessary for it Also, we can not ring up the planets, like scenes in a theatre, to be studied during the school-session, and therefore the theory must sometimes be taught in advance of actual observation. The author hopes the book will be useful for these purposes to teachers who use improved methods.In writing it, another class of teachers has been much in view. In our high-schools and academies the teaching of astronomy is often in the hands of instructors who have little or no practical knowledge of the science. They are usually intelligent persons who would improve if the text-book were a guide to observation.Another class of persons has also been in view. Of late years a great spirit of study has arisen among young people out of school. Their situation is very favorable for the study of astronomy, since they are not bound by school hours and sessions, but can take the planets when they come. It is hoped that they will be encouraged to study the heavens if a sufficient guide to observation is furnished. 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