Earth and Space Science Class 4: Our Solar System

I want all parents whose children come to these classes to know that I love teaching your children! It takes me a while to prepare the material and to tidy up our house before everyone descends upon us, but it is well worth it.

We had small classes this week. I hope everyone recovers from illnesses and looks after themselves for the rest of the term. Last week we finished off with a short quiz about the planets in our solar system. This week we built upon this activity. We first made a solar system jigsaw,

solar system jigsaw cropped

solar system jigsaw

which led to some good conversations about scale (since the planets are not drawn to scale in that jigsaw, and the distances between them certainly are not). All groups then tried an activity about seeing planets (number 4.3 in the Universe in a Box activity book). I explained how the position of Mercury and Venus means we cannot see them in the middle of the night, and it is best to see them at dawn or twilight, hence Venus often being called the Morning Star or the Evening Star. Incidentally, there is a wonderful picture of Venus and Mars in the sky near a crescent moon as one of the recent APOD pictures. (26 February 2015: Love and War By Moonlight, taken by Kevin Bourque)

In one group we had a great discussion about what happens to Jupiter when an asteroid goes straight into the gas that makes up the planet. I haven’t found a link about this from a reputable website but it seems that if the asteroid gets close enough to the centre of Jupiter it just becomes absorbed into the core. Sometimes amateur astronomers manage to capture asteroid impact on Jupiter and I also found some photos of the damage that comet Shoemaker Levy did to Jupiter’s surface in 1994. The dark cloud of the explosion is larger than the size of our entire planet.

The younger group also modelled asteroids by breaking up bits of playdough and then squashing them together again (activity 4.4). The older group went outside to draw elliptical orbits with string and chalk (activity 4.5).

We also did a small scale model of our solar system by making the distance between the Sun and Neptune about 238 cm and the other distances were scaled appropriately. Next week we hope to get out into the field and do a larger scale model (scaling the distances to be metres instead of cm: Activity 4.6 in the activity book).

Additional activities

Visual

  • Subscribe to the Astronomy Picture of the Day. There are some wonderful pictures on here, with short explanations by an astronomer so you can understand what you are looking at.
  • Watch the Solar system video on BBC Bitesize.
  • Also watch this very short video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining how long you might be able to survive on each of the planets in the solar system.
  • Solar Walk app for tablets and smartphones.
  • Get an app with a map of the night sky (I use Mobius Sky Map), or subscribe to updates from your local astronomy society or planetarium, and go out on a clear night to see what you can spot in the sky.

Auditory

  • Watch the Neil DeGrasse Tyson video linked to above.
  • Listen to one of the many Solar System songs on You Tube. We like this one but don’t know why they say Mars is boring. I think that’s lazy songwriting.

Reading/writing

20140305-162527.jpg

Kinaesthetic

  • Do a jigsaw.
  • Go on a Solar System Walk.
  • Create your own Solar System model, perhaps using cooking ingredients like mustard seeds and lentils.
  • Go outside at night with an app mentioned above and have a look in the sky.
  • Get your own binoculars or telescope for astronomy.

Tactile

Pizza decorated to look like Jupiter, from ijuan12 on HubPages

And finally

We didn’t discuss exoplanets in the class, but this is a cool planet that has been discovered that is (so far) the only planet outside our solar system with rings that we know of – and they are 200 times wider than Saturn’s rings.

An artist’s impression of how this exoplanet would look, with rings far larger than those around Saturn. Photo supplied to ABC by Ron Miller.

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’!