Combining RealWorld Experiences with WorldWide Telescope Visualization to Build a Better Parallax Lab
We present a lab activity designed to help students understand the concept of parallax in both astronomical and non-astronomical contexts. In an outdoor setting, students learn the methodology of distance determination via parallax. They identify a distant landmark to establish a reference of direction, and then measure the change in apparent direction for more nearby objects as they change position in a 2 meter radius “orbit” around the “Sun.” This hands-on activity involves large, visually-discernable angles so that students can internalize the concept of parallax from everyday experience. However, students often have difficulty transferring this experience to the astronomical realm, so we pair this hands-on activity with a more explicitly astronomically-based activity using the WorldWide Telescope visualization environment. Students apply
the same methodology in this environment and learn how the apparent motion of stars is related to their distance from Earth. The combination of hands-on activity and
computer-aided visualization is designed to produce a deeper understanding of parallax in the astronomical environment, and an improved understanding of the inherently three-dimensional distribution of objects in our universe. More formal assessment is underway.