Earth and Space Science Class 3: The Earth, and Seasons

Our planet.

Our green and blue planet, the only one which has oxygen in our atmosphere, the only one in our solar system on which carbon-based life-forms can live and thrive.

By NASA ESA (http://www.nasa.gov/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In this class, the younger group learned about how the Earth is round, not flat, and how there is no right way up for our globe as ‘down’ means towards the centre of the Earth.

I shone lamps on the globe to talk about Day and Night and we talked about the different temperature and rainfall in each season.

The older group did day and night very briefly (since I wanted to make sure we had covered that part of the NSW syllabus). I think everyone in the group has relatives or friends living in the Northern Hemisphere, either in Europe or North America. We all know that they are in bed in the middle of our day, and so we have to schedule Skype or FaceTime calls for the morning or evening.

We moved onto seasons and I tried to explain how it is not to do with the distance from the Sun but rather the angle the Sun’s rays make on the Earth. If the same beam of light is spread out into a larger area, there is less light (and heat) per unit area.

I have covered this before, but I know it is a tricky concept for people to understand. If I present this course again, I will design a different activity. For now, the seasons are explained in this article on NASA’s Space Place website, and the MIT video below:

I then produced some rainfall and temperature charts from Sydney and London, but with the city information rubbed out. I wanted the children to decide which chart came from where, and whether the seasons fitted in with our imported European model or not.

Graph from the BOM Indigenous Weather Knowledge site http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/dharawal/dharawal_graphs.shtml
Average monthly rainfall chart from BOM Indigenous Weather Knowledge website http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/dharawal/dharawal_graphs.shtml

I rushed through how to read graphs, to make sure the children knew what I was talking about. We brainstormed vocabulary associated with the four seasons. Then we tried to allocate different months to each of the four seasons to see if they fitted with the model.

In all honesty, this activity was not a hit. Personally I find reading charts fascinating but I guess it is not to everyone’s taste. 😉 Again, I will redesign this activity for another time.

However, clearly the Sydney weather does not fit with the European four seasons. For one thing, we never get snow in Sydney, and secondly our summer is quite wet and humid rather than hot and dry. The closer you get to the equator, the closer you get to two different seasons rather than four – basically a wet season and a dry season.

It has also been suggested that across Australia we would understand our weather better if we designated five or six seasons instead of the European four. Many of the traditional Aboriginal groups had six names for the seasons. They used observations of plants and of animal behaviour to indicate changes between the seasons, as well as precipitation and temperature. There is more information about Aboriginal seasons here and here.

A few different season models using information from Aboriginal tribes. Image taken from the Australian Geographic article “Should Australia have five Seasons?’ by Katie Duncan, April 12, 2011 http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/ag-blog/2011/04/should-australia-have-five-seasons/

Next week’s class will be about the Solar System, and to finish off the class, in both groups, we played a game from the Universe in a Box activity kit. The children had 2D scale pictures of the planets to order, plus cards with information and a little quiz on it. This was a popular activity. If you download the Universe in a Box kit you can print out your own copy of the cards and children can also colour in the pictures on the front if they wish.

Further information and resources:

Try keeping a nature diary. This is such an easy way to get out and about (especially good for kinaesthetic learners) and to have a visual record of changes in the seasons.

For visual learners I have only just found the MITK12 YouTube channel and they have quite a few Earth Science videos. I recommend checking them out.

There’s a simple game about the orbits of the Earth and Moon on BBC Bitesize, although I found setting the orbits a little frustrating.

Create symbols for each season and paint them on stones, as we did in a recent YuuMii workshop.

Students might like to make a model of the layers of the Earth. You could do it with modelling clay or bake a cake!

For auditory learners Videos as above.

Reading and writing

Go to your local library and dig out picture books about day and night and seasons, or venture into the non-fiction section to find some children’s books about astronomy and Earth science. I don’t have a favourite at the moment on the topic of The Earth or day and night, although for children from about 4 years old upwards, Why We Have Day and Night looks suitably quirky.

My youngest son loves the Guyku book by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, with haikus for each season of the year. Perhaps your children would like to write their own haikus?

Kinaesthetic/tactile

Tactile children might like to make models of the Earth’s layers as above in the Visual information.

There are more ideas on the NASA SpacePlace site but I haven’t checked them out – do let me know if you try any of the activities on the site, or if you know of some great activities that I haven’t included above.

Earth and Space Science Class 2: The Moon

Major changes: No Lego or Pokemon cards in the living room during this week’s class! During last week’s class I was feeling a little under the weather (mostly due to lack of sleep) and my 10 year old son also decided to skip class but proceeded to distract everyone by rummaging in Lego boxes during the class time. I responded to feedback and made sure that all boxes were removed from the living room. My 10 year old was under strict instructions to join in with the class and not to be a distraction. He mostly followed the instructions… but next week I need to do something about our duct tape weaponry.

In the class we were studying The Moon. I first asked each child to come up with an interesting fact about the moon that the other children might not know. I know some children don’t want to be put on the spot, but others are welcoming of the opportunity to show off their knowledge, and it helps (to a certain extent) to establish a baseline so that I don’t aim too high or low in my directed activities.

We are still using activities from the Universe in a Box kit. We started off with 1.3 Lunar Day. Two children hold hands and rotate while facing each other. This is to show that although our moon is rotating around its own axis at the same time as orbiting the Earth, it has the same time period of rotation as of the orbit. In other words, it rotates around the Earth every 29.5 Earth Days, and takes the same time to rotate fully around its orbit, so it always faces us with the same side. This is called tidal locking and can be observed in other planet-moon systems too. There is more information about it in the Universe in a Box kit and you can watch a very short animation of tidal locking here. I forgot to use the masks provided in the kit, which would have added a little more excitement to the activity, but perhaps embarrassed the children who were involved.

The next activity linked in to a comment I had last week about being able to fit the diameter of each of the seven planets in between our Earth and our moon. I first thought this was highly unlikely but have had to change my opinion based on this activity.

1.2 Distance to the Moon. Taking our globe, and a polystyrene ball as our moon which I worked out was roughly a quarter of the diameter of our globe, I asked the children to stand where they thought the moon was.  We then used a metre rule to measure out the distance using a scale of  2 cm to every 1,000 km. Try it yourself. (Data taken from the Universe in a Box activity pack.)

Earth’s diameter 12,742 km

Moon’s diameter 3,476 km

Average distance from Earth to Moon 384,400 km

(Note that the Moon’s orbit is elliptical, hence the need for an average distance.)

It is a lot further than you think!

I couldn’t do 1.5 Reflecting Moon, or 1.6 Lunar Phases Visualised as it is near impossible to completely darken our living room. I had made a little model of the moon phases using the instructions in 1.7 Lunar Phases box model. This is a very easy activity to replicate at home. You have a box with an opaque ball suspended in the centre for your moon, a torch shining onto one side of the moon, and four holes to allow for viewing from each side. As long as you choose an opaque object and your torch is aligned properly, it works very well. I also added some flaps of paper over each hole so that you don’t get unwanted light shining from each side.

In my first class I then got quite flustered because I couldn’t find my pictures of the moon phases. Luckily Julija from YuuMii was present and happily provided her moon phases pictures for an earlier-than-planned art class.

There were plenty of other activities to do! We looked at the shapes that different cultures see in the moon, by overlaying transparencies onto a picture of the moon’s surface. (1.9 Multicultural Moon) I also talked about the formation and evolution of our moon and those who were not painting came and created their own lunar landscapes by dropping stones into a tray of flour and cocoa powder. This is another fun kinaesthetic activity (1.4 Lunar Landscape) and the children were very sensible with their stones and no-one got hurt.

lunar style landscape

Here is a video simulation by NASA of the evolution of the moon which shows early volcanism and bombardment by meteorites.

In the later class, I had found my cards with the moon phases. Hooray! The children all thought this was easier than it actually is, but with a few prompts realised you have to pay attention to the position of the features on the moon, to make sure you get the right sequence.

moon phases

I may have confused people when I talked about the Earth’s shadow on the moon. A New Moon is NOT the same as a lunar eclipse. Please read this to correct this error.

There is another activity from the Universe in a Box: 1.1 Mini research project observing the moon every day or night for about a month. I am sorry that I did not hand out pages for recording observations but you can print these out at home if you download the activity book here.

Further Information and resources

For Visual learners

Watch the videos above about the evolution of our moon.

You might like to download the iOS app Moon Globe to show features on the moon, and what the moon looks like with different illumination and from different angles.

The app Solar Walk explains the moon phases better than I probably did in the class!

Moonshot is a beautiful book about Apollo 11.

There is a short animated dreamtime story about how the moon was made here.

Auditory.

Although I talk a lot during classes, I am not an auditory learner myself, so I find it harder to think of suitable ways to cover this material for auditory learners. Many auditory and visual learners will learn well from documentaries about the solar system or astronomy.

However, I was really pleased to find the Astronomy for Kids podcasts, created by a 10 year old boy here in Australia. The NASA Star Child website also has an audio version of their page about the moon.

If you have other suggestions on learning materials for auditory learners, please let me know.

Reading/writing

Read about the moon on the Nine Planets website.

See the book Moonshot, linked to above.

Read about how earth’s moon stabilises the planet’s tilt and wobble, but not as much as it was previously thought

Look out for children’s stories based on lunar mythology, for example How the Moon Regained Her Shape which draws on Native American folklore, or The Rabbit in the Moon (Chinese).

Children can carry on creating their own lapbooks or mini books about Earth and Space science, adding facts about the moon to the material about the Sun from last week.

Kinaesthetic

The activities I didn’t manage to do in the class (1.6 and 1.7 )would be good activities to try at home. I think they would really help to clarify how the moon rotates around the Earth and how we see different phases of the moon depending on the relative positions of the Earth, sun and moon. You can also try making your own lunar phases box model (1.7).

There’s a freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers using Oreos to model the phases of the moon. As a British expat, I can’t help but prefer Jaffa cakes instead, although please note that the teacher should have said ‘new moon’ instead of ‘total eclipse’!