Take your students on a journey to the history of astronomy from the pre-telescopic era to the first Scientific Revolution, with a focus on Galileo’s pioneering observations with the telescope.
Student Learning Objectives:
- Compare the solution to some common problems in ancient times and nowadays (orientation, time calculation, etc.)
- Improve propensity for observing celestial phenomena
- Reflect on how the need to solve new problems leads to technological advancement
- Learn about the history of the telescope and the revolutionary importance of Galileo’s observations
- Deepen some notions of astronomy and optics
- Understand the revolutionary scope of Galileo’s discoveries on the perception of man’s position in the universe and how modern discoveries are leading to a new change in the human understanding of the world.
Astronomy, telescope, observations, time, sky, stars, planets, lenses, mirror, light, geocentric theory, heliocentric theory, opposition to dogmatism, freedom of thought
School, Museum (onsite or virtually)
5-6 hours (in school)
1.5 hours (in the museum)
Internet, smartphones, PCs, tablets
Connection with the curriculum
This virtual pathway is a multidisciplinary learning tool, the using of which can include elements from several subjects. It represents multidisciplinary elements for STEAM pedagogy. In relation to the Italian school curriculum:
- Primary school (9-10 year old students): This pathway is suitable for the last two grades of primary school as a complement to the subjects of Astronomy and History.
- Middle school (11-13 year old students): In middle school, this pathway is related to the subjects of Science, History, and Geography.
- High school (14-18 year old students): Due to its interdisciplinary nature, this pathway is particularly suitable for high school students, encompassing the subjects of Philosophy, Literature, Science, Physics, Astronomical Geography, and Arts.
This educational pathway follows an inquiry-based pedagogical approach, organised into 3 logical stages:
Teacher Support Materials
Useful resources, suitable for the age group of your students, are available at the “Teacher Support Materials” tab.
Click on the “Follow-up Activities” tab to find out more activities for schools offered by the Galileo Museum. We also suggest two virtual pathways we think suitable for your students to continue their astronomical journey they began with “Galileo’s New World”.
Phase 1: Provoke curiosity
You can start with a PowerPoint presentation (available at “Teacher Support Materials” tab) that uses the speaker’s notes, visible only to you, to offer hints on the procedure to follow and references to a wider documentation on the topics covered, including materials that will be given to the students at a later phase.
You can then use the following questions to initiate discussion, placing students in a familiar context suitable for engaging their personal interests and passions, and helping them observe the sky with a critical eye:
- Have you ever made any astronomical observation?
- What does the sky look like at night?
- If we look at the sky at night why do we see the stars and planets moving?
Students should be then left free to respond and share their experiences and opinions. At this stage, your role is that of a facilitator, helping your students reflect on the apparent motion of the vault of heaven and the challenges associated with observing the sky even without the modern means available today.
You can then proceed with a second group of questions that focus on the representation of the sky in antiquity and the constellations. For example, you can ask your students:
- Why do you think the ancients imagined the sky as a sphere?
- Have the constellations always been the same?
- Do they have scientific validity and what are they for?
The discussion that will follow aims to address the concept of the celestial sphere and help your students reflect on the different appropriation by different cultures of a phenomenon common in many civilisations, that is the grouping of stars into known figures. It can also be an opportunity to introduce notions of mythology in the discussion.
This is followed by some slides with coordinate diagrams (available at the “Teacher Support Materials tab) in order to answer the question:
- How do we determine a point on the Earth’s surface and the sky?
For the younger students (9-13 year old), the focus is on terrestrial coordinates so as to mention the celestial ones later, while for the 14-18 year old students the various types of celestial coordinates are explained in more detail. If you wish to further explore the topic, a booklet for each of the two age groups (available at the “Teacher Support Materials tab) gives you links to the relevant sheets. You can also use the following videos:
The geocentric theory is then introduced succinctly, attempting to answer the question:
- What was the predominant cosmological model in antiquity and why did it survive for so long?
Finally, two generic questions about Galileo Galilei and a series of 11 short videos about his life can be used to provoke interest in the character and personality of Galileo, the protagonist of the museum visit.
At the end of the pre-visit stage, you can also share with your students useful materials to help them prepare their onsite or virtual visit to the museum and interact with the museum guide.
For further support, you can also contact Museo Galileo’s education team at: email@example.com
Note: All pre-visit materials are available at:
- “Teacher Support Materials” tab
- Galileo Museum website
Phase 2: Active Investigation
Activities, normally held in presence on the museum premises, can also be conducted online based on the circumstances.
During the visit, the museum educator asks students questions to test their knowledge regarding the methods of observation of the sky and the instruments used before the invention of the telescope.
Building on the activities you did during the pre-visit phase, the educator can ask your students the following questions:
- Why has man observed the sky since ancient times and what practical problems could be solved by observing and calculating the position of the stars (orientation and calculation of the time of day and night)?
- Looking at the sky, how did ancient civilisations imagine the universe?
- Here, the geocentric theory is discussed, illustrating images that recall the connection between planets and gods in Greek-Roman mythology
- How do we orient ourselves nowadays and what could be used in antiquity?
In this case, reference can be made to the use of the astrolabe, the sundial and the nocturnal clock in comparison with instruments we use today, such as satellite navigation systems to check whether the pupils have grasped the concept of terrestrial coordinates
- Do you know what the ecliptic is? Can you spot it in the sky?
- How long did the idea of a geocentric system survive?
- Here, the figure of Copernicus can be used to introduce the heliocentric system in a simple way
- Where is the turning point? What is the instrument that provides the evidence for the Copernican theory?
- In this case, we talk about the discovery of the telescope
Phase 3: Gather evidence from observation
Practical evidence accompanies all stages related to the discussion of astronomy in the pre-telescope era and the modern age.
For the pre-telescopic era
For modern times
The focus here is on the history of the telescope and the analysis of how the telescope works by introducing Galileo’s discovery and use of the telescope as an astronomical instrument. Before proceeding, students can be asked: How did Galileo see the sky with his telescope? Which kind of image could he obtain with his instruments?
The educator then proceeds with the following tasks:
- Analysis of lens properties and verification with the use of the magnetic board illustrating the passage of light rays through the various types of lenses
- Introduction to the basic principles of optics (refraction, reflection)
- Developments in the study of light and vision: review of Newton’s light experiment (for high schools)
- Comparison between some drawings from Galileo’s works and modern images from space probes
- Evolution of the telescope
- Reconstruction of the telescope: based on the notions of optics received during the visit and the observation of the lenses’ shape, the students build a functional Galilean telescope and use it. This activity can be carried out either during an on-site visit or remote visit.
Phase 4: Discussion
The on-site or virtual tour to the museum ends with a visit to the original instruments on display in the museum’s rooms. During the visit, we reflect on the geocentric theory, the consequences of Galileo’s discoveries, why the Church opposed him, and recent news about the space race and the role scientific instruments play in these journeys.
Phase 5: Reflection
The aim here is to help your students reflect on the knowledge they acquired in the previous phases and develop their critical thinking.
Click on the “Teacher Support Materials” tab to find all you need to complete this phase. The materials organised according to the age group of your students include:
- PowerPoint presentations that include cards and videos of the topics covered during the museum visit
- Worksheets to create replicas of ancient instrument and simple toys (e.g. the nocturnal and the constellation projector)
- Quizzes (and their answers)
- Suggestions for further activities at school or at home
Phase 6: Communicate explanation
In this phase, the aim is to encourage students to communicate their experience by learning to appreciating different points of view, the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and the added value of inclusion and diversity.
There are, of course, plenty of group-based activities you may already use in your everyday practice. From our side, we suggest the following activities, organised per age group.
Class activity for 9-13 year old students
You can ask your students to draw what inspired them most during the activity and tell them that their works will be published on the Galileo Museum website!
To help them in this creative task, you can download colourful worksheets at the Galileo Museum website, print and give them to your students so that they can be able to reproduce, for example, an ancient nocturnal in order to learn how to guess correctly the time at night.
Class activity for 14-18 year old students
Split your class into 4 groups. Each group is given an assignment related to a specific step of the evolution of the astronomical observation and its philosophical implications. Tell the groups that they can communicate their assignments with either a PowerPoint presentation or a video or any other format they feel comfortable with.
Group 1: pre-telescopic observations. Illustrate and describe the geocentric and try to explain why it remained the predominant theory until the beginning of the modern era.
Group 2: the Galilean revolution and its implications for the perception of a New World. Explain how Galileo used his celestial discoveries (i.e. satellites of Jupiter, phases of Venus) to refute geocentrism and the idea of heavens’ perfection.
Group 3: telescopes’ evolution and new astronomical discoveries after Galileo (e.g. the real shape of Saturn, a wider view of the Solar System thanks to the discovery of new planets, the works and discoveries of later scientists like Cassini, Huygens, Newton, Herschel etc.).
Group 4: reflection on technological advancement and new space challenges (discovery of new worlds, race to Mars, space tourism)
Note: All post-visit materials are available at:
- “Teacher Support Materials” tab
- Museo Galileo website
- Find out more school activities offered by the Galileo Museum
- Want to take your students on a walk to our solar system? Try out the Virtual Solar System Pathway!
- Interested in learning more about our place in the universe? The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics is about the universe and its history. Find the lesson about this here.