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    Re: Celestial Navigation as a college course
    From: John Huth
    Date: 2010 Apr 12, 10:03 -0400
    I think one can make a gut out of just about anything or make it very difficult.

    I developed a course called The Physics of Sound and Music with a colleague.   He was very enthusiastic, but was too heavy on the math and theory.   The students found it too difficult.   I then taught this solo for the next two years.   The second year, the course evaluations said that it was still too difficult, so I dialed back the math further.  In the third year, maybe 10% of the students said it was too easy and 10% said it was too difficult.   i figured I'd titrated it at just the right amount.

    I'm reading these comments closely as I'm trying out a course next fall that uses primitive navigation as a theme to do physics.   The "primitive" hook allows me to go beyond simple celestial navigation to include more items.

    Here's a rough mapping

    dead reckoning -> vectors, velocity

    forces on ships, hulls -> newton's laws, forces
    turbulent, laminar flow

    forces on sails -> Bernoulli's principle

    weather -> latent heat of transformation, Coriolis effect

    waves -> general principles of waves, how water waves are different, diffraction, refraction

    dip angle -> some trig, history


    basic motion of stars in the sky

    sun - > polarization of light, Rayleigh scattering, length of day vs. latitude
    ecliptic, equation of time (introducing elliptical orbits), declination

    moon -> parallax

    latitude and longitude - some history, shadow sticks, spherical trig

    full treatment, including refraction, dip angle, but not St. Hilaire

    planets - > inverse square law, elliptical orbits

    tides -> static theory, amphidromic points, resonance

    jets -> contrails, some climatology

    birds -> migratory patterns

    radio waves -> ionosphere, polarization, some E+M

    maps -> more spherical trig, mercator and other projections

    compasses -> magnetism, some geophysics


    Color of the ocean - > some quantum mechanics.

    anyway, that's a rough outline.   It has more content than a basic celestial navigation course, but it uses the theme to teach a lot of science, and also some history in the process.  It's still in the works.   I'm dialing back some of the fine points of celestial nav in order to introduce a lot more physics.   The biggest trick is getting the level right.  

    I'll also be doing exercises where they have to calculate correlation coefficients and do some error analysis, so they get a bit of stat in addition to the general math.   I avoid calculus, but do a fair amount of work with trig and algebra.

    On Mon, Apr 12, 2010 at 12:41 AM, Paul Saffo <psaffo@mac.com> wrote:
    Back when I was at Harvard, "gut" was slang for an outrageously easy course. One notorious gut (a "roaring gut" in the parlance of the time) was "Boats", J. H. Parry's course on the marine discovery 1450 - 1650.  I thus scorned it as not a serious course, which I came to greatly regret when I read his book "The Age of Reconnaissance" some years later.  I am sure there is not a member of this list who didn't balance out a term full of tough classes with one or two others they could sail through -- "Boats" would have been a nice counterpoint to organic chemistry! In this instance, I wince at the thought that I passed up the opportunity to hear Parry lecture!

    By the time I took Frances Wright's class, she limited it to 6 students/year and we met two nights a week at the observatory.  While not Organic Chem by a long shot, she ran a tight ship and it was a full curriculum with grading noticeably tougher than the average Harvard course.  This for two reasons. At least in my year, everyone who took the class was doing so for a specific reason -- I think I was the only one in the class who wasn't taking it in anticipation of doing some serious blue water sailing (In my case, I was trying to develop some archaeoastro methods). Dr. Wright wanted to be darn sure her students had the skills they needed to avoid getting drowned!

    The second reason (as I understand it) is that Dr, Wright and Bart Bok started the class during WWII to teach midshipmen navigation.  Back then of course, lives depended on mastering the subject, and Frances carried that attitude forward all the way to when I took the class.

    And it is always funny to discover what from a brief 4 years sticks with one for the long term. I wouldn't have guessed at the time that I would gain a major life lesson from Astro 99, but  "Constant Vigilance" has proved to be a guardian divinity on more than one occasion, helping me steer me away from countless close nicks and on at least one occasion, to divert me from major catastrophe.


    On Apr 11, at , Frank Reed wrote:

    Spinning off from the "professionalism in Navy" thread...


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