In this activity, students will learn about populations of stars by making an analogy with human populations. They will graph properties of humans and stars (the latter using real astronomical data) and look for relationships between the properties they graph. Finally, they will determine what can be learned about each population using this technique and decide ways in which the technique is limited.
This activity serves as an introduction to stellar astronomy, but it also works as an illustration of the general methods that scientists use when confronted with a new set of data that they are trying to understand.
The activity is aimed at a high school audience, but it could easily be modified for use with middle school students. The essential activities can be covered in 40 minutes, or the entire project can be stretched to 4 hours or even much longer. (The activity is broken up into several sections that teachers are free to select from, and time estimates for each section are included.)
This resource is hosted by the Cornell Science Inquiry Partnerships (CSIP) program.