Primary links


Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

Subject: Science

Grade: 7-12

Topic: Astronomy

Content: Students will learn about Apsáalooke astronomy while experiencing the scientific practice of European astronomy.

Goals: Students will be able to identify Apsáalooke constellations as well some of their European counterparts. Students will know how to use a star chart.


Science Standard 4: Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate knowledge of the composition, structures, processes and interactions of Earth’s systems and other objects in space.

Science Standard 5: Students, through the inquiry process, understand how scientific knowledge and technological developments impact communities, cultures and societies.

Science Standard 6: Students understand historical developments in science and technology.

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 2: There is great diversity among individual American Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined by entities, organizations and people. A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian.

Essential Understanding 3: The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will define a star and constellations, describe the life cycle of a star, explain the apparent motion of stars, use star charts to locate stars and constellations, and appreciate the significance of stars to Apsáalooke culture.

Materials: Star charts for the Northern Hemisphere throughout the year; text; star map hand-out. The Stars We Know by Timothy McCleary,

Introduction: The purpose of this lesson is to have students look at Apsáalooke astronomy and how Apsáalooke people view their world in terms of astronomy. It is also designed for students to gain an understanding of star evolution, magnitude, distances and constellations.

Development: This active learning technique will develop life-long astronomy skills.

Practice: Teachers will introduce students to Apsáalooke astronomy through the text The Stars We Know, facilitate a discussion with students about the concept of a star, constellations and how stars evolve. Teachers will lead students to understand the difference between apparent magnitude and absolute magnitude. Showing a flashlight at varying distances is a concrete means of demonstrating the difference. Give star charts to students and demonstrate their use. List vocabulary associated with star charts for students. Choose a suitable night for a star gazing party, after students have gained an understanding of stars, constellations, star charts, rotation and revolution. Assist students in using the star charts. Ask students to determine the declination and latitude of specific stars, and to compare the change in the stars’ positions over time.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Students will demonstrate how to use star charts properly, describe orally or in writing the life cycle of a star, and explain orally or in writing what magnitude means and why some stars appear quite bright but may actually have lower absolute magnitudes. Students should explain orally or in writing and in drawings three Apsáalooke constellations and how they can be used as points of reference in the night sky.

Closure: Students can discuss the usefulness of identifying stars and constellations and their changes throughout the seasons.

Background Information on Stars

Apparent magnitudes of stars are assigned using a ratio scale. The ratio of brightness from one number to the next on the scale is 2.5, with brightness increasing as the number decreases. So a first magnitude star is 2.5 times brighter than a second magnitude star, and a third magnitude star is 2.5 times brighter than a fourth magnitude star. A first magnitude star is also 6.25 times (or 2.5x 2.5) brighter than a third magnitude star. The scale is relative to the apparent magnitude of them. The brightest star is Sirius, whose assigned apparent magnitude is -1.44. Scientists measure absolute magnitude by determining what brightness (or apparent magnitude) a star would have if it were placed exactly 10 parsecs from Earth. A parsec is a distance of 3.26 light years. Apsáalooke stargazers identified groups or patterns of stars, known as constellations, in the night sky. Constellations have often been used as landmarks to locate other stars and objects in the sky. Because Earth rotates, stars appear to move across the night sky along east-west paths, similar to our Sun. The revolution of Earth around the Sun causes different constellations to be seen at different times of the year.