Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

2010 marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s astonishing sightings of features on the moon, stars, and moons around Jupiter that no one had seen before. Recreate these new ways of seeing and exploring from the materials and techniques Galileo had on hand, while you reflect on the times and works of Galileo. What was it like to improvise new ways of seeing and exploring from the materials and techniques on hand? What do we notice? What surprises us? How can we relate to past experience and ideas? What are we curious to research? How does our experimenting grow into our learning?

Let your own curiosity drive your explorations.

Course Structure


Course work centers around lab activities, experiments and observations, extended through readings and looking at historical materials. Class participation is essential. Written assignments: an ongoing notebook journal with observations and responses to classwork, readings and discussion; class notes for one meeting, and a reflection paper. Work is due by assigned dates. Doing readings will enhance class activities. Grading is P/D/F. My responses give feedback for doing later work and passing the course. I encourage collaboration in class activities, constructing things, experimenting, observing and discussion. In your writing (including in your notebook), acknowledge contributions from others. During and between classes, I will try to keep your research going by asking questions, reflecting on what we have said and done, experimenting, introducing historical sources, and other materials or resources.


A notebook-journal is required. It includes notes, data, sketches, drawings, descriptions of activities, short responses to assigned questions, readings, and class discussions. Direct observations go on paper. Reflections or later analysis can be electronic. Record the day’s date. Observing the moon, the sky, properties of materials, experiments, historical work, and yourself as a learner are course activities to record and develop in your notebook. The entire notebook is due at the end.

Class Notes

Everyone is asked to write up notes from our lab and experiment activities during one class meeting to distribute at the next (or later). Choose a date to do this (Ses #s 6, 7, 9, 10). Describe the process of an activity or discussion. How did it develop? Note questions; surprises; changes in procedure, in what happened or in ideas; original, spontaneous responses.

Experimental Research

We develop experimental activities together. Possible openings are:
physical effects that are intriguing, confusing…..
historical observations, experiments or apparatus
your ideas for observing, trying or making something…..

What do you notice? What might you do next? Play and explore things. You might become involved in constructing, taking things apart, measuring, diagramming, drawing, photographing. As part of the last meeting (Ses #11), share something from your experimenting and of your reflections on Galileo, his story and experimenting.

Reflection Paper

Write a reflective paper about how you learned in experimenting and in relation to Galileo. Discuss your experiments, history, materials and setup, data and observations, and ideas that came to you. Refer to your lab notebook, class notes, and readings. Where relevant, specifically cite readings, historical sources, and contributions of class members. This is due 2 days after Ses #11.

Educational Research

In this course, teaching and learning are intertwined and exploratory, using a research method called critical exploration. Activities and the curriculum evolve through our observing, experimenting, interacting. Our evolving story is a classroom context of research that I do. Many forms of documentation and recording (such as notes, audiotape, photos, videorecording) will be used to document our experimental process. These recordings become a resource for class summaries and discussions on what we have done and for my reflections in the course of teaching.

Course Participation

Participation with others during class activities, investigations, discussions and visits is required. Engage with others and the class thoughtfully. Respect the uncertainty, doubts and confusions of others and of yourself. Seek to open the space wherein questions and doubts arise spontaneously and are meaningful beginnings for reevaluation and investigation even of what we always supposed was so. In this space, we meet Galileo.


Grading is P/D/F. My responses give feedback for doing later work and for passing the course.

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.


1 Intro. to course and Galileo; activity with looking and relations of things  
2 Activity with viewing geometrical relations; shaped mirrors and lenses “Perspective Activity” assignment due
3 Activity with lenses and materials/ Activity with Galileo’s computing device. Visit to glass-blowing lab - to be scheduled during part of Ses #4, 5, and 7 “Activity and Observing” assignment due
4 Activity with lenses and light

“Geometric Activities” assignment due

Class Notes assignment due

5 Harvard instrument collection and Houghton Library, Harvard “Responses to Galileo” assignment due
6 Motion, sound and materials “Excerpts on motion” assignment due
7 Motion, sound, time explorations “Reflecting on Galileo” assignment due
8 MIT Museum visit “Slide Rule” assignment due
9 Ongoing explorations  
10 Ongoing explorations (cont.)  
11 Class sharing about explorations and relating to Galileo’s story Reflection paper due 2 days after Ses #11
Course Info
As Taught In
January IAP 2010
Learning Resource Types
notes Lecture Notes
group_work Projects
collections Image Gallery
assignment Activity Assignments
assignment_turned_in Written Assignments with Examples