Modern Astronomy relies on the scientific gathering of data concerning planets, the Solar System, and stars. Classical Astronomy is much different. It is concerned chiefly with simple visual observation of the heavens, and it is this type of astronomical study that Jay Ryan teaches in Signs and Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy. He guides students through the stages of the moon, how to tell time by the location of the sun and shadows, and identifying the major constellations, always relating the information to Scripture and a biblical worldview.
How Does This Work?
This isn't technically an astronomy curriculum—and that's probably where its charm lies. Ryan has written a lively text illustrated by reproductions of classic texts and artwork as well as his own black and white drawings. His style is anything but stilted or textbooky, and he focuses as much on the wonder and beauty of God's creation as on technical details. Nine chapters (including a prologue and epilogue) concentrate on the astral calendar and seasonal stars, making this an ideal year-round text. This is ideal for junior high or high schoolers—younger kids may have fun, but may not retain a lot of the material.
Students simply read from the hardcover book; what pace they take is up to you, though trying to get through a whole chapter in one day is probably unduly optimistic. There is a lot of information here, and the only way a lot of it will stick is if you complete the field activities outlined in the back of the book. Ryan encourages students to keep a field journal of their observations (you don't need a telescope or expensive equipment, just your eyes), and offers guidance for writing entries. The author's drawings are very helpful during observational periods as they show the reader what to look for.
Throughout the text there are excerpts and quotes from famous writers (some Christian, some not) concerning the heavenly movements. There are a lot of books out there right now purporting to be "classical education tools," but this seems to be one of the few that have really got it right. Students don't just come away with star knowledge, they come away with a true appreciation of the oldest science known to man, as well as of those who spent their lives devoted to it.
An extensive glossary and bibliography in the back of the book are useful reference tools, or segues to further study. Kids don't need to have great math skills to work through this course, just a good eye and a willingness to stand outside on really cold or really hot nights. Some of the activities include making charts, but Ryan guides you through the entire process.
A supplementary consumable worktext includes a fill-in-the-blank field journal and chapter tests with answers. The journal is illustrated, and all kids need do is make their observations and write them in the assigned space. Even charts and maps are ready for students to record information in, taking a lot of the mere busy work out and leaving plenty of room for focused study.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is an excellent program both for those who just like stargazing, and for those who want to pursue in-depth astronomical study. Probably use this before diving into a modern astronomy text, though it would also make a good supplement. The information is complementary to more technically oriented texts rather than contradictory, so how you use it is up to you. If you're looking for a good introduction to the study of the heavens from a decidedly Christian perspective, look no further.
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