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Education FAQs

Using Investigations

Are these investigations appropriate for my students?

Our investigations have been designed for students in advanced middle school, high school, and introductory college astronomy classes, and have been tested by more than 5000 students and teachers in diverse settings.

How long does it take to do a typical investigation?

The time depends on your implementation. If students just work on the online investigation with no pauses for formative assessment or discussion, it should take between 50 minutes to two hours. If you incorporate other elements, such as the phenomenon, developing a driving question board, pretest, formative assessment breaks, discussions, and the summative assessment or posttest, additional time will be needed.

How much does it cost to use the investigations?

Everything Rubin Observatory offers is totally free and available under a Creative Commons license.

Do I have to create a teacher account to use Rubin investigations?

While you do not have to create an account, doing so gives you access to assessments and answer keys. In the future, we hope to integrate teacher and student accounts so that you may quickly and easily access your student files and answer forms.

Can investigations be used in an asynchronous setting?

Yes. You may need to make certain tweaks, since we have designed each investigation for collaboration and discussion. Some instructors have set up group chat sessions or boards, or have encouraged students to form groups that meet at a mutually convenient time to work through the investigation together.

I can access the investigation, but my students cannot. What should I do?

As soon as you know you would like to use an investigation, test access to the investigation using a student account. In addition, test any external links within the investigation. In rare instances, we have found that a school firewall is blocking student access. Contact your IT department or helpdesk with the link address and ask them to permit access.

What is a checkpoint?

A checkpoint (indicated by an icon in the investigation) is a place where you can stop and do some formative assessment with your students. You may use them at your option. Students can proceed without stopping at a checkpoint. Since checkpoints occur at the end of a section of learning, they make good stopping points if you plan to extend the investigation beyond one class period.

Does every student need their own computer?

We encourage students to work collaboratively in small groups when possible. However, if you wish to assess the completed answers pdf of each student individually, each person will need their own computer.

Do students need to create accounts?

It is not necessary, but creating a student account ensures that if the investigation is unexpectedly interrupted, (such as a power failure or loss of internet access) student work will be autosaved. It will also prevent overwriting of cached work if the same computer is used by more than one class of students.

Creation of student accounts are only possible with the newest format of investigations. At this time, only Coloring the Universe is available in this format.

Can I use a phone to do the investigations?

While parts of the investigations will work on a phone, they are not designed to do so and you will not have full functionality. The same is true for tablets and iPads, or computers that have touchscreen capability. We have future plans to design a way to accommodate tablet and touchscreen use.

How can I move through an investigation quickly without having to answer all of the questions?

We have designed investigations to not progress until students have input at least a partial answer for each question. But if you wish to quickly scan through the investigation without having to answer questions, you can turn on “educator mode” by entering a password on the start page of the investigation. The educator mode password is provided in the teacher materials. It is the same password for all investigations.

Alternatively, just type a few keystrokes for open-ended questions, or click any answer for multiple choice questions. Once you have entered something for all of the questions, you will be able to return and navigate quickly forward or backwards using the Table of Contents menu.

As we convert investigations into the new format that gives an option for teacher accounts, teachers will be able move through the investigation without answering questions. (This replaces the "educator mode" option.) Currently, this option is available only for Coloring the Universe.

How can my students save their answers even if they did not complete the investigation?

Students can jump to the “Review your answers” page even if the investigation is incomplete. It is accessed by going to the Table of Contents in the upper left corner. The “Review your answers” page is at the bottom of the Table of Contents. Once there, click print/ save as pdf.

How can students gauge how far along they are in the investigations?

First, there is a progress bar at the top of each page in the investigation. Section break icons are embedded in the line so students can see their relative progress through each section. Touching the hollow circle that is the student progress marker will reveal a percent complete. Second, the Table of Contents in the upper left corner shows how many pages are in the investigation, along with progress bars.

Can the investigations be downloaded for offline use?

All interaction, data exploration, and the saving of student work is done in an online (cloud) environment, so at this time it is not possible to use investigations offline.

How can I use this investigation with my learning management system (LMS)?

You can include the investigation link, and any other links to relevant resources, such as the phenomenon or videos, in your LMS class page. Our assessments have been designed so that you may download them in Word or pdf formats. If you wish, you can use and/or edit these assessment questions and forms to create a quiz in your LMS. There are also formative assessment questions that you may wish to use. You can import formative assessment questions into Peardeck, Plickers, etc. or paste questions on individual PowerPoint slides, if you wish to display them to the class as a whole.

At this time, we do not offer the option to import student answers or completed pdfs as a group into an LMS. You will need to decide how students will send their completed work to you.

Can I access the interactive tools and data outside of the investigation, to explore data in my own way?

We have plans to make an interactive version of the tools that could be used to embed into a presentation, but they will not be able to interface with exploring data in a freeform way. Why? It’s a technical/time/cost challenge.

Is there autograding capability for the assessments?

Many of the questions in the investigation are open-ended, so there is no one “right answer”.

Additionally, when the proxy data that is now in use is replaced by a large Rubin data set, all students will be working with unique data. Autograding is not a possibility, because answers will vary.

Are there answer keys for investigations?

Our design philosophy is to create a parallel experience for students to how a scientist might view and analyze data. Investigations are meant to be open-ended in nature. They are not electronic worksheets that give auto feedback as to whether an answer is "right" or "wrong".

Many questions in the investigations are designed to be open ended and have no single correct answer. Additionally, sections in the investigations contain randomized data sets so not all students work with the same observations.

There are, however, answer keys for the assessments.


What are Essential Questions, and how can I use them?

Each investigation lists several Essential Questions that are designed to reflect the main memorable learning that will result from the activity. They are not interactive - that is, no response is requested. Essential Questions are open-ended in nature, with no one specific short answer. More information about Essential Questions

What is a Driving Question?

The Driving Question is meant to engage students at the beginning of a lesson by working through the provided phenomenon, and drive their learning through to the end of the lesson. What students do in order to answer the driving question should incorporate the learning outcomes of the lesson. More information about Driving Questions.

How can I use the checkpoints to do formative assessment?

Each checkpoint icon is located at the end of a section, at which point certain skills or knowledge should have been acquired by the students. These skills will be required in subsequent parts of the investigation. Two types of formative assessment are provided:

  • Sample questions with answers are provided for each checkpoint for the investigation.

  • If you are using checkpoints in conjunction with a phenomenon and a Driving Question Board (DQB), each checkpoint can be a place where students revisit their DQB and update it with answers and new questions.

How can I help students who struggle with reading?

Vocabulary words are hyperlinked to a glossary the first time they appear in an investigation. The glossary has been designed to be as non-technical as possible, often borrowing language from Simple English Wikipedia. Additionally, our investigations have been designed with multiple modalities for data interpretation and interactive tools, which can be helpful in interpreting new concepts in context.

Assigning students groups or lab teams enables them to work collaboratively through the investigation. If working in a group, an effective strategy is for one student to read each page of the investigation out loud as others follow along.

How can I assess student learning?

There are multiple ways to assess learning:

  • A short, downloadable multiple choice pre/post test

  • Two types of formative assessments are available. See the formative assessment section of each investigation for more details.

  • A downloadable summative assessment and scoring guide that is designed to assess to three dimensional learning

  • A Key Questions for Assessment document identifies specific places in the investigation that can be assessed for each identified learning component.

  • Other ideas for assessment may be found here.

How can I modify investigations to support all learners?

The Program Guide on the Rubin Education website gives details on general design principles and strategies to equitably support all learners in the section on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In addition, each teacher guide offers suggestions for advanced study, and in some cases, contains additional materials that may be used to supplement student learning.

How can I find out what background ideas my students need to know to be able to do this investigation?

Prerequisites for each investigation are listed in the teacher guide. A good way to find out what your students may know before beginning the investigation is to administer the short pretest provided. Another method is to begin the investigation by introducing the phenomenon, and conducting a class discussion to construct a Driving Question Board.

Is there anywhere in the investigation to help with improving inclusive student learning?

Each investigation contains one or more questions to invite personal funds of knowledge and world views. These inclusion questions are identified in the teacher guide for each investigation and may be used for discussion. In addition, open-ended questions offer opportunities for students to construct answers using their own thought processes.

The "Make Your Own Rubin Voices Trading Card" activity may be used to introduce diversity and encourage student interest in STEAM careers.

What is a Community of Practice?

The Rubin Observatory community of practice is a group of educators who use Rubin investigations. Beyond a network, members work together to share best practices, skills, and experiences from diverse perspectives. You can use it to ask questions, share teacher-developed materials, or explore suggested resources. Community members can also participate in special work sessions or live discussions.
There are two versions of the Rubin Community of Practice. To join on Facebook, search for Rubin Observatory Educators. Answer the 3 membership questions, and read and agree to the rules. To join an email discussion list, send a request to:


Are investigations designed for use with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

All investigations have been designed to support the three-dimensional learning style of the NGSS. Applicable standards and suggested storyline placement for middle school and high school are included. All investigations have a phenomenon with a driving question for the lesson. Pretests are provided to evaluate student knowledge before beginning the lesson. Formative assessment is linked to revisiting the phenomenon. The summative assessment and scoring guide evaluates NGSS three-dimensional learning.

Are investigations designed for use with the Curriculum Nacional (Chile)?

All investigations and support materials have been designed for use with the grades 9 and 10 physics curriculum of the Curriculum Nacional. Each investigation incorporates three-dimensional design.


How are you able to offer investigations without Rubin data?

All of the investigations have been designed and tested using authentic data from other telescopes and surveys. Once our own data become available, we will substitute and greatly expand the data.

Can I just download a big data set/ or raw image and analyze it in my own way?

Yes. You first have to have data rights to access the data if it is less than two years old. Then you would access the data in the same way a scientist would, by using an API, or through a broker. Be aware that this process requires technical expertise, adequate computing power, software, and storage, and time.

I want to see which supernovae or asteroids were discovered by Rubin Observatory last night. How do I do that? How do I access the data that is associated with the alert stream?

There are likely to be 10,000 supernova detections and about 3 million asteroid detections every night, many of them repeat observations. The Rubin alert stream does not filter and sort data, nor discriminate between new vs. repeat detections. Instead, data are sent to different brokers, and in the case of Solar System objects, to the IAU Minor Planet Center. It is more expedient to set up an account with a broker that classifies the objects of your choice, then set up filters for that set of objects so there is a manageable number of alerts for which you can retrieve data. Here is a link to brokers and more information about them.

"Coloring the Universe" seems to have a different format than the other investigations. What's up with that?

"Coloring the Universe" is the first investigation that has been redesigned to make use of teacher and student accounts. Use of accounts will guarantee that all work is autosaved, and also eliminate problems with investigations appearing broken due to previous versions being cached. We will convert all investigations to this format in the future.