Earth and Space Science Classes 6 and 7: Recap of astronomy, and on to Earth science/Weather

My whole family were ill for about a week so I cancelled one Friday’s class and rescheduled to the next Thursday for those who could make it. We did a whistle-stop tour through the history of astronomy by looking at key figures and placing them on a timeline. The children didn’t seem to have heard of many of the characters so that would be an area worth exploring more, if they were interested. I also introduced a few women astronomers and those from cultures other than the Euro-centric/’Western’ developed countries that tend to be mentioned in these timelines.

Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of the mathematician Theon Alexondricus. She worked in the famed Library at Alexandria and became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria. She used astrolabes to locate and track the movement of the stars, and produced a detailed table of her observations. Sailors used the astrolabe and her tables for navigation for the next 1200 years. We have no pictures of Hypatia but this is a picture in the British Museum showing an Egyptian woman from around the fourth century BC.
Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of the mathematician Theon Alexondricus. She worked in the famed Library at Alexandria and became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria. She used astrolabes to locate and track the movement of the stars, and produced a detailed table of her observations. Sailors used the astrolabe and her tables for navigation for the next 1200 years. We have no pictures of Hypatia but this is a picture in the British Museum showing an Egyptian woman from around the fourth century BC.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first to directly observe and precisely analyse pulsars, while a postgraduate student in Cambridge. The Nobel Prize for this discovery was given to her male supervisor and one of his male colleagues, which outraged many prominent astronomers at the time. The photo shows her (right) at the launch of the International Year of Astronomy in Paris, 2009. By Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian-American astrophysicist born in Lahore who worked in many areas and received the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for his mathematical theory of black holes. By Biswarup Ganguly [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
After trying out my digital thermometer and hygrometer (a device which measures humidity), we went into my garden to peer at my neighbour’s handy little weather station with anemometer, wind vane, rain gauge and what looks like a solar cell (perhaps for recording hours of sunlight). We had a pretty informal discussion about what meteorological measurements we could make and how they might be useful, particularly focussing on three situations: (a) tornado prediction; (b) crops susceptible to fungal diseases; (c) bush fires.

We then set to making our own anemometers (which measure windspeed). These are not too tricky to make, although younger children might prefer making paper windmills (pinwheels) instead (but you don’t really need a hammer to stick the pin into the wooden skewer or dowel).

Even with a home-made anemometer you can make measurements of windspeed. This is explained in the video below:

In the next class, the younger children rearranged some cards to make a diagram of the water cycle.

Then we talked about changes to the Earth’s Surface – rapid or slow, and natural or caused by humans. I had printed out various situations in which geographical features change, many of them showing floods or drought. We discussed why water was essential for life, and briefly touched on weathering and erosion.

The sandy bank of the Snowy River just north of Suggan Buggan, Victoria. Before the river was dammed upstream the sandy area would have been completely under water. Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Bidgee using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Smegs07 at en.wikipedia
The sandy bank of the Snowy River just north of Suggan Buggan, Victoria. Before the river was dammed upstream the sandy area would have been completely under water. Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Bidgee using CommonsHelper.
Original uploader was Smegs07 at en.wikipedia

The younger children drew their own diagrams or plans of an imaginary settlement with essential features like water, food, shelter, medical aid etc. While they were drawing I read from the DK book ‘A Life Like Mine’, created in association with Unicef and setting out the Universal Rights of the Child. The children altered their diagrams a little based on whether they had fulfilled certain requirements. I loved the way one child drew a water treatment unit next to the river when she realised it was important that our water supply was clean.

town planning 1

This activity worked fairly well. It was a hit for some children who do not usually enjoy writing, but enjoyed labelling their diagrams. However, some children were not keen on the drawing and I wished I could have planned a more kinaesthetic activity, perhaps a board game or one where they had to construct and place certain key buildings/infrastructure on a 3D landscape.

The water cycle is not in the syllabus for older children. We skipped that part and went straight on to discussing changes to the Earth’s surface with the same pictures as before. I also used some information I prepared a year ago covering features of different types of extreme weather (e.g. cyclones or tornadoes). I supplied the children with photos, diagrams, descriptions of how they form and other parts of information and they had to assign the information into the right rows or columns in a large grid on the floor.

To be honest these activities were not a great hit with the older children, and in both classes I had distractions including my daughter screaming in the background. I would redesign this session if repeating the course.

Further information:

Recap of material from previous classes

Solar System Trading Cards This is simply a card game online, with no cards to print out, although students might be interested in designing their own.

Revision of Astronomy and Space

You can skip straight to the ‘activity’ if you don’t want to read all the revision notes. Be aware that in England and Wales Key Stage 3 covers Year 7 to Year 8.

Advances in Astronomical Thought

Australian Aboriginal Astronomy: some info on Wikipedia and in an ABC article. NASA’s Planet Quest timeline shows key advances in astronomical thought, starting 450 BC. You can have the sound on or off and autoplay on or off

Weather measurement and prediction

Learn about weather instruments and weather forecasting on weatherwiz kids. There’s more about weather forecasting here on exploringweather.com, and about tornado forecasting here, and about observing the weather in Australia here (including information about Aboriginal observations of the seasons). Try this interactive activity. You can skip the anagrams at any point just by clicking on ‘continue’. Disaster Resilience Education (includes interactive game – although my students were not particularly impressed by this one).

Make your own anemometer following the video above or one of these two links: wikihow or US South East Regional Climate Center (pdf).

Water cycle, and uses of water

Printable water cycle or interactive one on three different levels – I’ve linked to the intermediate one but you can quickly change to easy or advanced.

Article about how we use water

Oxfam UK Water Week has videos and other educational resources.

Old Bernie’s Story‘ is an online game about changes to the environment, especially use of water.

Landscape formation

How Uluru was formed

Erosion and weathering

Even if the Twelve Apostles take less than a day to collapse, the processes take years to wear rocks down so that it reaches that point. However research in 2013 in South Africa found that some natural processes can erode rocks instantaneously.

Family board games

You might like to play these games that tie in with this topic:

Survive:Escape from Atlantis!;

Flash Point: Fire Rescue;

In the Year of the Dragon.

Gamers say the first two can be played from ages 8 and up but the third one is recommended for ages 12 and up.

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