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Grades 4-6


Students are introduced to the solar system and its place in the universe. They begin to grasp the idea of very large numbers by estimating and computing how long it will take the class to make a million x's. Students estimate and measure to make relative scale models of the planets.
ITV Series
Look Up, Earth: Its Place in the Universe


NASA, Our Solar System
Learning Objectives
Students will be able to:
Pre-viewing activity
The class will need

Each group of 4 students will need:

Viewing activities
The class will need:

Each group of 4 students will need:
Post-viewing activities
The class will need:
Mercury: 2 CM Saturn: 58 CM
Venus: 6 CM Uranus: 26 CM
Earth: 6.4 CM Neptune: 24 CM
Mars: 3.4 CM Pluto: 1.6 CM
Each group of 4 students will need:
Pre-Viewing Activities
1. Show the students a 500 ml container (pint jars are about right) filled with jelly beans. Ask, "How many jelly beans do you think are in this jar? How could we find out? Without counting the jelly beans one by one, how could we estimate close to the number?" Listen to students give ideas. Then set the jelly beans aside and show the class a pint jar filled with a small item such as small beans. Say, "We're going to figure out some different ways to estimate how many beans are in this jar."

2. Divide the class into groups of four students. Give each group a 500 ml container (or pint container) filled with small beans. Say, "Today we are going to have a contest. I am going to give you three minutes to find out, as near as you can, how many beans are in your container. Time the class. Ask each group to report their answer. There will likely be a wide range of answers. Ask, "Why do you think there are such big differences in our answers?" Help the students understand that since they didn't have time to count, they had to rely on other methods and make guess. Explain that they were estimating. Have different groups report their methods for coming up with a good guess.

3. Say, "Do you think there are the same number of peas in each container? Are the number of peas close? How can we make better estimates of the number of peas in the jars?" Discuss with the students various ways of estimating unknown quantities. (Some methods are dividing into small cups and counting a sampling, weighing a sampling, arranging the split peas on a grid and counting
a sampling...) Direct the students to use a sampling method to estimate how many peas are in their containers. When they have completed this activity, compare the different groups' estimations. Most of the estimations should be fairly close. If any of the estimations are dissimilar, discuss with the students how this could be.

4. Again show the class the container of jelly beans. Say, "Now that you have learned some ways to help you estimate, how can you guess the number of jelly beans in the jar? We will have a contest to see who can come closest to guessing the correct number of jelly beans. I hope you will use the things we have learned to help you guess." Give the students a day or two to have an opportunity to make their guesses by writing their name and guess on a paper.
Focus Viewing
It is important to give students a specific responsibility while viewing the video. Knowing what they are expected to look for in the video and what they are supposed to learn helps them focus on particular information as they view the video. Tell the students that today they are going to find out more about the universe we live in. They will learn more about our earth, our solar system and the planets in our solar system. Tell them to watch for things about each planet in the solar system that makes it unique.

Viewing Activities
1. BEGIN the tape at the segment entitled The Universe" and immediately PAUSE on the frame that says the universe". Ask the students, What do you think scientists mean when they say 'the universe'? What is in the universe? Is there anything not in the universe?" How big is the universe? Where did the universe come from?" To give the students a specific responsibility for viewing this segment ask them to look for the answers to these questions. RESUME the tape. STOP the tape when Robot says and then it will shrink back, only to expand again." Discuss with the students the answers to the questions posed before you played the segment.

2. RESUME the tape. PAUSE when Robot says, if I signed Robot, they might think everyone else on earth is like me." Ask and discuss with students, How would we write our address if we were writing to someone in another country? What do you think we would have to write on our address if we were writing to someone on the opposite side of the universe?" Tell the students to watch the video and look for those things that we might have to add to our
address. RESUME the tape and STOP when Imagination says, but all those ideas still seem pretty overwhelming, Robot." Have the class help you write you class address as described in this segment on the board. This would be a good place to do the language arts activity suggested in the Extension section of the lesson.

3. Talk with the class about how difficult it is to comprehend the size of the universe. Tell them that we use very large numbers to describe the universe.

Explain: Besides our sun, the star nearest the earth is Alpha Centauri, and it is 4.3 light years away. Astronomers use the measurement of light year to describe how far stars are. One light year is the distance it takes a beam of light to travel in one year.
One light year is 9.44 trillion kilometers (5.88 trillion miles). How long do you think it would take a jet traveling 800 kilometers (500 miles) per hour to fly that far? It would take 1,340,000 years! What is a million? What does it mean? How could we show a million? Is it possible?"

Give the students a specific responsibility for viewing by asking them look for a way that might understand how much a million is. START the tape where Robot says, When ideas seem difficult to understand " and on the screen two children are pasting stars on balloons. STOP the tape where Robot says, Yes, that's a good way to try and understand large numbers." Ask the students to suggest ways we can find out what a million is. Develop a system with the class. Divide the class into groups of four. Have each student make x's on a piece of paper for one minute. Have each group add the total number of x's. Record the totals on the board. Have students calculate how many x's the entire class can make in one minute. Ask the students to figure out how long it will take to make 1,000,000 x's.

4. FAST FORWARD to the segment entitled Solar System". PAUSE. To give the students a specific responsibility for viewing ask them to look for three things about how planets move in the solar system. Ask them to look for another name for orbits. (Planets spin in orbits or ellipses, they all move in the same counter clockwise direction, they orbit at different speeds, depending on how close they are to the sun and they spin on their axes.) STOP when Robot says, They spin around their own axis or center like a spinning top." REMOVE THE VIDEO.

5. INSERT the NASA video, Our Solar System". Ask the
students if they know the names of the planets. (How you use this video will depend on their knowledge. If the students are familiar with the names of the planets, this video will be a review of names and an overview of the individual planets. If they don't know the names of the planets I like to use this video to teach them.) BEGIN the video at the very beginning when the title shows. PAUSE when the narrator says," with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto furthest away." Point at the screen and ask the students to try to tell you the mnemonic words for each of the letters. Review with the class until they can repeat the mnemonic saying. Say, Who can tell me what the name of the planet is for each letter?" REWIND to the beginning until you see the title on the screen. PAUSE and tell the students they may sing along with the video. PLAY the tape through this first section until the narrator says, Mercury is the smallest..." You may want to repeat this segment several time so that the students are really familiar with the mnemonics.

6. When you have repeated the first segment several times to your satisfaction, to give the students a specific responsibility for viewing ask them to look for one interesting fact about each planet. RESUME and PLAY TO THE END. Ask the students to share their interesting facts with a person sitting near them. After they have had time to share their ideas, say, One of the things we like to know about the planets is how big they are. We know that Jupiter is the largest planet. But how big do you think Jupiter is compared with the other planets?" Listen to comments and lead into the post viewing activities.
Post-Viewing Activities
Activity 1
Divide the class in groups of four. Show the class a newspaper representation of the planet Jupiter. Say, "If this circle represents the size of Jupiter, how big do you think the other planets would be?"

Give each group a full sized piece of newspaper, a string to make a compass for drawing a circle and a card with the name of one of the other eight planets. Instruct them to decide how big they think their planet is compared to Jupiter. Ask them to make it out of the piece of newspaper and label it. Show them how to make a circle with a string and pencil compass by tying the string to the pencil and holding the string in the center and then drawing a circle.

When the groups have completed making the models of their
planets, place the models across the front of the room. Ask the students what they think about the models. Point out where their models are correct. Help them see discrepancies.

Explain that to compare the planets it is best to show them in relative size. Give each group another full sized piece of newspaper and another card with the diameter of their planet relative to the model of Jupiter. Ask the students to measure and make another model of their planet using this new information. Remind them that if they use a compass that the string length represents the radius and should be half the diameter.

When the groups have completed these models, display them in the front of the room. Ask the students what they have learned about the relative sizes of the planets. Emphasize the small size of the first four planets and Pluto in comparison to the next four gas planets. Mention that the sun would be a circle _____ cm in diameter and that it would take _____ sheets of newspaper to make it.

Activity 2
Say, "We have made a representation that compares the relative size of the planets. How else could we compare the sizes of the planets?" Explain that scientists often use graphs to help communicate information. "We are going to show the relative sizes of the planets by using a bar graph."

Divide the class into groups of four. Write the diameters of the planets in kilometers (miles) on the board. Ask the students to work together as a group and round them off to the nearest 100,000 kilometers (mile). (Review round off if necessary.)

Place an overhead transparency of a graphing grid on the overhead projector. Show the students how to label the vertical axis with appropriate numbers. Show them how to arrange the bars for the nine planets along the horizontal axis. Demonstrate several planets, filling it in on the overhead transparency.

Give graphing paper to each student and have them use the information to make their own bar graph.
Action Plan
Have a "star party". Arrange for an evening viewing of the sky. Arrange for telescopes and invite an astronomer to show students visible planets, some major stars and galaxies. Or arrange for a star
lab to visit your class or a field trip to a nearby planetarium.

Have students research latest findings about planets from recent space probes and make projects to share the information. Students can make charts and diagrams to show their information.

Research how space technology has improved daily life. Make a bulletin board of things related to space age technology. Invite a guest from the space industry to come and speak to the class about how the space industry has improved our every day life.
Language Arts
Have students write a letter to an imaginary being in another part of the solar system, explaining about life on Earth.

Math/Social Studies
Another activity to reenforce the idea of very large numbers is to have the students calculate how many days, hours, etc. since historic events such the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Have students make bar graphs to organize the information they gather in surveys. To augment social studies activities, they can take surveys in their school and of people they know in their neighborhoods to find out consumer preferences, political preferences and voter choices.

Master Teacher: Patricia Spigarelli

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