Jenny Holloway, BHP Teacher
Washington, USA


Kepler’s supernova remnant, SN 1604. NASA/ESA/JHU/R. Sankrit & W. Blair. Public domain.

I’ve always found BHP’s Unit 3 (Stars & Elements) daunting. On the surface, it appears that BHP teachers must master the subtler nuances of astrophysics, chemistry, and nuclear fusion to adequately teach the star life cycle. If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of astrophysics is enough to make you run for the hills. Fortunately, there are activities like The Life of a Star that make teaching this threshold less intimidating.

The Life of a Star, which is the opening activity of Lesson 3.0, is designed to hook students’ interest in the content of this unit, and serve as a quick formative assessment of their background knowledge. The activity asks students to place four images from the star life cycle in order, from the birth of a star through its death. Using evidence, students work in pairs to place the images in order and describe what stage the image is referencing. In my class, students work together for a few minutes and then I field their guesses, so we’re placing the images in order as a class.

This activity (as well as the Planet Card Sort in Unit 4) is incredibly valuable for me to gauge my students’ level of understanding and misconceptions about stars. With a simple image sort, I can determine if my students know anything about the death of stars or what happens during their lifetimes (usually, their knowledge is relatively limited). And it’s valuable for them, too. It helps students focus on the themes that matter: the conditions that create a star, what happens during its lifetime that is so significant, and how its death produces further complexity for our Universe. And, perhaps most important, it keeps you sane: Remember, Unit 3 is simply another example of increased complexity, this time demonstrated through the life cycle of stars—t’s not a foray into advanced astronomy.

About the author: Jenny Holloway has taught history at Washington state’s Mount Si High School since 2012. She teaches three sections of the year-long BHP course to ninth graders.

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