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Grades 3-6

This lesson and it's extensions will provide students with an understanding of the enormity of our solar system. The students will gather data from the video and the teacher. Through the hands-on activities the students will create models of the planets to scale and place them in scale relative to their distances from the sun. The students will also go to a local planetarium and either write to or use the Internet as a means of gaining more information from NASA.

Earth, the Environment and Beyond:The Solar System (Agency for Instructional Technology)

Students will be able to:

Groups: (enough for groups of 3-4 students)
Each Student:
Have pictures of the planets, the solar system and man-made space satellites displayed around the room. Where possible, pictures taken by actual satellites would be the best. Pictures of astronauts such as Sally Resnick, Sally Ride, Neil Armstrong and others should also be displayed. There should be a variety of student-appropriate literature containing both fiction and non-fiction works available in a reading center.
The students should be dressed in "lab coats" which could easily be a too-large shirt. Secured to the pocket of the shirt should be the child's name written on a piece of masking tape identifying the child as "Dr. (child's last name)," with NASA written below the name.

On a chart or blackboard have a large circle in the middle with the word "sun" written, radiating from the circle should be nine lines ending with circles. In each circle should be the name of one of the nine planets. Tell the students to share what they think they already know about the planets and write this information in the appropriate planet circles. Include all the information whether or not it is correct.

Introduce the students to Mission Control (their classroom) where blast-off to the nine known planets is about to take place. Tell them they are about to travel where no man has gone before! Tell them that most of our data, until recently, had been gathered by people while on planet Earth. Tell them we have the means to send man-made machines into space to help us gather information that we can analyze. Tell them, "who knows, maybe one day one of you will become an astrophysicist, an engineer or an astronaut who will help to bring greater knowledge to us about our solar system. Maybe one of you will help to design a craft such as the Hubble Spacecraft that is right now out in space sending us information about our solar system!"

Preview the vocabulary so that while the students are viewing the video they will have a greater understanding of the concepts and terms used.
The focus for viewing is a specific responsibility or task students are responsible for during or after watching the video to focus and engage students' viewing attention. To give the students a specific responsibility while viewing, each child will record data learned from the video and eliminate and/or add information, compare and contrast the differences between terrestrial and gaseous planets, describe the surfaces of the planets and list the planets in their usual order from the sun.

FAST FORWARD the video Earth, the Environment and Beyond: The Solar System to the audio, "The planets closest to the sun are the smallest and their centers or cores are made of metal." The video will have the sun in the lower left of the screen and three of the planets will be slowly revolving to the right. Mars will not yet have appeared. PAUSE the video and use the screen to point to the sun and the planets (do not list the planets by name). Tell the students they are about to learn about the nine planets starting with the closest or the terrestrial planets. Tell the students they should listen to the video and learn what the word terrestrial means and to be able to tell which planets are considered terrestrial planets. BEGIN the video with the words, "The planets closest to the sun. . . "

PAUSE after the audio, "their Earth-like size and composition." Ask a student to define the meaning of terrestrial planet. Discuss which planets are considered to be terrestrial planets. How are terrestrial planets like Earth? (Show the students the man-made satellite orbiting the planet on the screen.)

Tell the students they will now see and hear what types the next four planets are. Tell them to compare and contrast these with the terrestrial planets. RESUME the video.

When the screen has a picture of the sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune after the audio, "They are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune," PAUSE the video and point to the planets on the screen. Ask a student to describe what is similar about these planets and what they are called.

Tell the students that in order to help them remember which are the terrestrial planets, which are the gaseous planets and what those terms mean, they will review the video we have seen. REWIND the video to the picture of the sun in the lower left corner and the three planets Mercury, Venus and Earth and the words "The planets closest to the sun. . ." While the video is re-winding tell the students to silently recall what they remember about the planets. RESUME the video. PAUSE the video after the words, "They are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune." FAST FORWARD the tape until the words "Inside the Solar System" appear on the screen. STOP the video. Have a discussion about what the students have learned thus far. Review the terms terrestrial and gaseous.

Tell students that "we are now going to continue our journey by taking a closer look at each of the nine planets. I am going to give each of you a data collection sheet. On it you will record the distance of each planet from the sun, information about the surface of each planet and the number of natural satellites of each planet. You should also note any special features of a planet. You will not need to write the information for each planet because each of you will be responsible for recording this information for one planet and then sharing your information with the class. Sometimes the distance will be stated in both kilometers and miles, with others, it will be stated in just kilometers. At other times it will be given to you in relation to Earth or another planet. For example, the tape might state, 'It is thirty times the distance of Earth, or it is twice as far as . . .' It will be easier for you to record the data if you use these abbreviations."

Note to teacher: Teacher should put these on the board or chart: km - kilometers, m - miles, mm - millions, b - billions, or Earth X___.

Hand out materials to each student and assign each student a planet. Tell the students that the information will be given about the planets in their order from the sun which is Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Tell the students they are now about to enter the solar system where amazing things are occurring and that with careful observation and note-taking they will be able to share the things they have learned with their fellow scientists.

BEGIN the video with the words "Inside the Solar System" on the screen. PAUSE after the words, "enormous volcanoes up to twenty-three kilometers high." Ask the students recording data about Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars to share what they learned. Invite other students to also share. REWIND the video until the words "Inside the Solar System" appear on the screen. PAUSE the video. Tell the data collectors that they will have a second chance to record anything they missed during the first viewing. Tell the other students they should pay close attention to the surface details. RESUME the tape. The students should view and record necessary data while viewing and listening. PAUSE after the words, "enormous volcanoes up to twenty-three kilometers high." At this juncture the students should have had the opportunity to record the required data.

Tell the students, "We are now about to travel millions, even billions of miles into the solar system in order to visit the gaseous planets and Pluto. Two of these planets have at least fifteen known moons. Learn about a planet that might be able to float in water like a cork, see and hear about a planet that is so large it has the mass of all the other planets and their satellites combined. Data collectors be prepared. Fasten your seatbelts and let's go the five outer planets!"

FAST FORWARD until the words "Are the asteroids of value to the human race?" appear on the screen. RESUME the video. PAUSE after the words "It has only one moon." Discuss the answers to the previously asked questions. Tell the data collectors they will have a second chance to check the accuracy of their information.
REWIND to the words on the video "Are the asteroids of value to the human race?" While the tape is rewinding, tell the students to silently list the planets backwards. RESUME the video. STOP the video after the words "It has only one moon."

Facilitate a discussion about the planets and their relation to the sun. The students should be able to distinguish one planet from another by describing their various features. They should be able to analyze the differences between a terrestrial planet and a gaseous planet.

At this time each student should have his/her section of the data collection sheet complete in order to share this information with classmates while they complete their sheets.

Tell the students that it will now be their task to convert all the distances they have in kilometers to miles. Tell them you will give them a calculator to help them perform this. To convert kilometers to miles multiply the number of kilometers by .6. (Put this equation on a chart for the students to see.) The teacher will give the distance of 3,720,000,000 miles or 5,952,000,000 kilometers from the sun for Pluto which is not mentioned in the video. (Put this information on the chart.) The students will record this information on their data collection sheets. Tell the students to begin to make these calculations. (Pass out calculators and paper, if needed.) Tell the students that some of the distances in the video were given in relationship to the Earth or to other planets. The students will probably need assistance and the teacher should be available to them. (If the students want to convert miles to kilometers, they multiply by 1.6.)

Once the students have converted the distances, they will create a model solar system. Put the students into groups of three to four students per group. Tell them that each group will create a solar system with each planet placed approximately correctly to its relation to the sun and that this is considered to be a "scale" model. Tell the students that their scales will not be absolutely accurate because they will need to round off some of the numbers and that planets are in different positions due to their time in orbit around the sun. In fact, Neptune, until 1999, is closer to the sun than Pluto. Tell the students they will now need to use their calculators to determine the relative scale. (If they use the scale of one and one-half inches equals about 18,000,000 miles, the finished project will be about eighteen feet long. Depending on the size of your classroom or available space, you can make this scale larger or smaller.) Tell the students to work together to find the relative distances between the planets using the scale of one and one-half inches equaling about 18,000,000 miles. (Put this on chart paper. The students might need help.) They should arrive at the following conclusion:

Mercury = 1.5 inches from edge of sun
Venus = 3 inches from edge of sun
Earth = 4.5 inches from edge of sun
Mars = 7 inches from edge of sun
Jupiter = 22.5 inches from edge or sun
Saturn = 45 inches from edge of sun
Uranus = 85.5 inches from edge of sun
Neptune = 135 inches from edge of sun
Pluto = 186 inches from edge of sun

Once the calculations have been achieved, tell the students they will now construct their solar systems. Tell them to create a "sun" at one end of a black strip of paper (have a sample prepared to show) and use the edge of the sun from which to measure. Tell them to create and place one planet at a time, adding black strips as needed. Tell the students that they should create their "planets" by using the information from their data collection sheets to color and design them.

Note to teachers: See attached worksheet for students to determine the diameter of each planet so they can create correctly-sized planets. If you wish your students to do so, use it, and tell them to calculate the missing information and make the scale of one inch equals about eight thousand miles. Explain to them how to use the Earth's Diameter Ruler (attached worksheet) to create the diameters of the other planets. By putting a hole in the center of the Earth's diameter, they can calibrate the compass accordingly to create the diameters of the rest of the planets. A hole punch is best used for Mercury and Pluto. Each planet should be drawn and cut, then labeled on the back. Coloring can be done either before or after cutting. Because it is so large, I would not advise making a correctly-sized sun.

At this time each group should be supplied with measuring tools, compasses, glue, scissors, crayons, hole punchers, drawing paper and about twenty sheets of the black strips of paper. They should begin their projects. Once the scale model has been completed the students can add moons if desired. When projects have been completed, have them sign their work and display it appropriately.

A trip to a local planetarium.

Students with access to the Internet will be requested to find additional information about the planets. They will be given addresses to do so. (See attached appendix.)

Students without access to the Internet will be requested to write to NASA or other space agencies to request additional information about a specific planet. (See attached appendix.)

Students will be given the opportunity to view the ITV video The Earth in Space:The Universe and Us to compare and contrast the information stated there. Although much of the information will be the same, the information relative to a planet's distance from the sun, and its diameter does vary.

Arrange for an astrophysicist to come to speak with the class. Very often local universities have professors who will come to speak with a class or have the class visit the university.

Arrange for a tour of a facility which is responsible for creating parts of satellites which are developed for space exploration.

There are many astronomy clubs that welcome visitors. By contacting one of these clubs, arrangements can be made to visit them or to have one of their members visit your class.

Make arrangements to visit a university with a large telescope and learn how to use it.

Meet with students at night and show them how to use a telescope and/or binoculars to view the skies.

Art: Have students create a wall mural depicting the surfaces of the planets. (See Appendix )

Language Arts: Have the student create a travel brochure for a trip to a particular planet. Have them include special sights that a visitor might want to see while visiting the planet. Gather travel brochures to such places as Disney World for them use as models for their travel brochures.

Have the students research the travels of the Hubble Space Craft and other spacecraft that have been responsible for much of our recent knowledge and write a paper detailing their findings.

Science/Math: Give the students the information of the gravitational pull of each planet and have them find out how much they would weigh on each planet and graph the results. (See Appendix.)

Have the students learn how long it takes for each planet to orbit the sun and have them determine how old they would be after one revolution on each planet. (See Appendix.)

Master Teacher: Barbara Passo

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