Solar System


Ag_science_solarsystem

Build a model of the solar system
Grades 4-6

The vastness of the solar system is difficult for most students (and many adults!) to comprehend. The sheer size of the sun and planets, the tremendous distances between bodies, and the extreme age of our solar system may seem unfathomable to students when discussed in a theoretical sense. However, most students are eager to learn about space. The task for the teacher is to present the information in a manageable way, preferably with hands-on activities and demonstrations.

Initial solar system topics that are more easily comprehended by students include facts about the nine planets, the order of the planets from the sun, relative sizes of the planets, and relative distances of the planets from each other and from the sun. Students who master these facts may be directed to learn about and experiment with rotation vs. revolution of planets and orbital paths.

Preparation
Textbook information, charts, and other reference materials should be available.

Procedure
The teacher reviews facts about the nine planets, including the names of the planets, order from the sun, and relative sizes.

Students are instructed to use the Blocks to build a model of the solar system. There are two ways to do this. The first involves placing the sun (represented disproportionately as a small sphere) at the center, with the planets in orbit around it. The second method involves showing just a small wedge of the sun at one corner, with the planets placed in order away from it.

While it may not be practical to expect students to make the planets proportional, students should show some understanding of which planets are larger and which are smaller, as well as which ones are similar in size.

Students can use the ABC tool to label each planet. (Hint: after typing the names, use the arrow keys to rotate and resize words.)

Students may be asked to use the Move Tools to demonstrate a planet in orbit  (revolution) and a planet rotating on its axis. Students who have placed the sun in the center of their solar systems may be asked to illustrate the orbital path of a particular planet.

Evaluation
Students are evaluated on their correct placement of the planets and the correct representation of the relative size of the planets. Students may be asked questions about how the placement of a planet relative to the sun affects temperature. The students' creative use of backgrounds, colors, and textures in their models may also be assessed.

The teacher may evaluate individual students on the ability to demonstrate planet rotation and orbital revolution. Students may be asked to explain the effects/results of each phenomenon (e.g., rotation causes night and day, while revolution establishes our year). Students may be asked to explain the how rotation and revolution would be experienced on planets other than Earth.

Extensions
If the teacher is interested in a better demonstration of the relative distances of the planets from the sun, students can be divided among nine groups, with each group assigned to one planet. Each group should use the Blocks to create and then print a scene from their planet. In a large room or hallway, establish the location of the sun. Then, place the planets at the following distances from the Sun to achieve a correct distance scale (actual distance in parenthesis):

Mercury: 4.6 inches (36.0 million miles)
Venus: 8.7 inches (67.2 million miles)
Earth: 1 foot (93.0 million miles)
Mars: 18.3 inches (141 million miles)
Jupiter: 5 feet, 2.5 inches (438 million miles)
Saturn: 9 feet, 7 inches (891 million miles)
Uranus: 19 feet, 2.4 inches (1.78 trillion miles)
Neptune: 30 feet, .6 inches (2.79 trillion miles)
Pluto: 39 feet, 2.8 inches (3.65 trillion miles)

Students choose a planet with moons and construct a model of both, using the Blocks.  Evaluations are based on correct labeling, placement, size, and demonstration of orbit.

Students use the Blocks to model the Earth and its moon; then, the students move the moon around the Earth to show the moon's orbit (the Blocks will show the moon disappear behind the Earth). Students should then demonstrate the conditions under which a solar eclipse occurs.

Using their original Blocks solar systems, students add comets, meteors, and asteroids.

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