Monday, December 5, 2011

Unit Resource Portfolio: The Solar System

With all the recent developments in our solar system, it can be difficult to keep up with the changes. This unit focuses on the most up-to-date information regarding the eight planets and five dwarf planets that exist in our solar system but also gives students an understanding that new discoveries and notions are being made every day. The below lessons give students the opportunity to look at the planets in our solar system, even the demoted dwarf planet of Pluto, and study aspects of each that are unique and interesting. This unit is extremely hands-on and gives students many opportunities to make predictions, observations, and conclusions about the solar system.

Virginia Standards of Learning 
SOL 4.7 The student will investigate and understand the organization of the solar system. Key concepts include:
a) the planets in the solar system;
b) the order of the planets in the solar system; and
c) the relative sizes of the planets.

SOL 4.8 The student will investigate and understand the relationships among Earth, the moon, and the sun. Key concepts include
c) the causes for the phases of the moon

Background Information:
- Our solar system is ancient. Early astronomers believed that Earth was the center of the universe and all other heavenly bodies orbited around Earth. We now know that our sun is the center of our solar system and eight planets, a handful of dwarf planets, 170 named moons, dust, gas, and thousands of asteroids and comets orbit around the sun.
- Our solar system is made up of eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
- Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are considered terrestrial planets. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are called gas giants.
- Mercury is closest to the sun and is a small, heavily cratered planet. Mercury looks like our moon. Since Pluto’s reclassification from planet to dwarf planet, Mercury is now the smallest planet in our solar system.
- Venus is second from the sun. It is similar to Earth in size and mass, and has a permanent blanket of clouds that trap so much heat that the temperatures on the surface of Venus are hot enough to melt lead.
- Earth is third from the sun. Earth’s atmosphere, the liquid water found on Earth, and its distance from the sun, among many other factors, make Earth a haven for life.
- Mars is fourth from the sun. The atmosphere on Mars is thin and there is a vast network of canyons and riverbeds on the red planet. Scientists hypothesize that Mars once supported a wet, warm Earth-like climate.
- Jupiter is fifth from the sun. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and is considered a gas giant. Jupiter has no solid surface.
-Saturn is sixth from the sun. Early scientists thought Saturn was the only planet with rings, but we now know that all four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) have rings.
- Uranus is seventh from the sun. Uranus is a gas giant.
- Neptune is eighth from the sun. Neptune appears blue through telescopes and is a gas giant.
- The eight planets sorted by size from largest to smallest are: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury.
- Pluto is no longer included in the list of planets in our solar system due to its small size and irregular orbit. Many astronomers questioned whether Pluto should be grouped with worlds like Earth and Jupiter. In 2006, this debate led the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the recognized authority in naming heavenly objects, to formally reclassify Pluto. On August 24, 2006, Pluto's status was officially changed from planet to dwarf planet.
- A new distinct class of objects called "dwarf planets" was identified in 2006. It was agreed that "planets" and "dwarf planets" are two distinct classes of objects. The first members of the dwarf planet category are Ceres, Pluto and 2003 UB313, given the name Eris.
- A dwarf planet has not "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit, which means it has not become gravitationally dominant and it shares its orbital space with other bodies of a similar size.
Earth completes one revolution around the sun every 365 ¼ days. The moon revolves around Earth about once every month.
- Due to its axial tilt, Earth experiences seasons during its revolution around the sun.
- The phases of the moon are caused by its position relative to Earth and the sun. The phases of the moon include the new, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, last (third) quarter, and waning crescent.
- The sun is an average-sized yellow star, about 110 times the diameter of Earth. The sun is approximately 4.6 billion years old.
- Our moon is a small rocky satellite, having about one-quarter the diameter of Earth and one-eightieth its mass. It has extremes of temperature, virtually no atmosphere or life, and very little water.
- Our understanding of the solar system has changed from an Earth-centered model of Aristotle and Ptolemy to the sun-centered model of Copernicus and Galileo.

Important Vocabulary:
cosmic dust - small particles less than 1mm in size produced from asteroids and comets
crater - bowl-shaped hollow on the surface of a planet, moon, or asteroid formed by a rock collision
dwarf planet - celestial body with all the characteristics of a planet except it does not "clear the neighborhood" around its orbit
gas giant - planet mostly made up of gas, includes Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune
moon - a rock that orbits around a planet or asteroid
orbit - the path of an object around an object caused by the larger objects gravitational pull
satellite - an object held in orbit around a planet or moon by gravity such as the Moon
terrestrial planet - planet made of rock, includes Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars

Day 1 - The Solar System
Students will:
  • Learn about the thirteen planets in the solar system and the difference between the eight planets and the five dwarf planets. 
  • Create a solar system to scale of the eight planets. 
  • Simulate the theories of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler using the solar system mobile. 
On the first day of the unit, students will be introduced to the eight planets and five dwarf planets of the solar system. They will learn the difference between the two types of planets and then create a solar system to scale based on the eight planets. After watching a video on the astronomers who contributed to the discovery that the planets revolve in elliptical movements around the sun, they will use the solar system mobile to recreate the theories proposed by the four astronomers as talked about in the clip. Lastly, students will receive charts to record the phases of the moon for the next two weeks.

Day 2 -  Pluto & the Dwarf Planets 
Students will:
  • Compare and contrast the characteristics of planets and dwarf planets. 
  • Read about the discovery of Pluto and it’s reclassification to a dwarf planet in 2006. 
  • Create a blink comparator to understand how Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. 
This lesson will focus on understanding the difference between a planet and a dwarf planet. Since future lessons will focus on each of the planets, this will be the students’ only opportunity to learn about the dwarf planets. We will start by creating a foldable that compares and contrasts planets and dwarf planets.
Then we will read selections from Pluto: From Planet to Dwarf by Elaine Landau to learn more about Pluto’s discovery in 1930 and subsequent reclassification in 2006. Lastly, we will create our own blink comparator out of simple items like a box and tracing paper so students understand the technique Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto.

Day 3 - The Sun 
Students will:
  • Recall what they already know about the sun. 
  • Compare the size of the sun to the size of the planets surrounding it. 
This lesson will begin by creating a KWL chart about what students already know about the sun and what they would like to know more about. Next the class will go outside with the solar system mobile they created earlier and use a long string and some chalk to draw a 13’ circle on pavement to simulate the sun. The group will then compare the size of the ‘sun’ to the size of the planets on the mobile. Inside, the class will watch NASA’s Sun For Kids video and pair up to create a chart in their science notebooks that lists “why we can’t live on the sun” and “why we can’t live without the sun”. Students will use the video and background knowledge to answer these questions. After discussing the answers as a group, students will reread the questions posted in our KWL chart and try to answer them based on what they learned.

Day 4 - The Moon 
Students will:
  • Identify the differences between life on Earth and life on the Moon. 
  • Explore the landscape, size, age and makeup of the Moon. 
  • Analyze popular misconceptions and subsequent historical contributions in understanding the Moon. 
  • Examine the movement of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth to create the phases of the Moon. 
The lesson will begin with a reading of If You Decide To Go To The Moon by Faith Mcnulty. The class will then use Google Earth to view the moon and discuss the lunar landscape and other characteristics of the moon. Next the class will discuss misconceptions about the moon and use Google Earth to prove why they are not true. Students will then watch the explanation of the phases of the moon from Wonderville and then take turns with the interactive portion at the end of the presentation to reinforce their knowledge. Next students will make an accordion foldable showing the eight phases of the moon.

At the end of the lesson students will do a 3-2-1 analysis in their journals and write three ways being on the moon is different than being on earth, two things people once believed about the moon that we know aren’t true, and one thing they’d still like to know about the moon.

Day 5 - Mercury & Venus
Students will:
  • Illustrate why Mercury and Venus are classified as terrestrial or rock planets. 
  • Demonstrate why Mercury’s day is longer than its year. 
  • Observe the greenhouse effect to understand Venus’s gaseous atmosphere. 
This lesson will begin with students making predictions in their science journals about two thermometers set in sunlight, one inside a covered jar and one in open air. They will hypothesize what will happen to the temperatures of each thermometer after sitting in the sun for the entire period. Then students will analyze pictures of Mercury and Venus as well as the class solar system mobile to make inferences about both planets. In their science journals, they will write about both planets' sizes in comparison to the other planets as well as their relative distance from the sun and why they are terrestrial planets. After a discussion on how Mercury’s day is longer than its year, the class will create a model of Mercury’s rotation using material such as a desk lamp, a ball, and clay to better understand it. Lastly, students will observe the thermometers from the beginning of class and make conclusions about why the temperature changes occurred. They will then make connections between the thermometer in the covered jar and the cloud blanket covering Venus to understand the greenhouse effect.

Day 6 - Earth 
Students will:
  • Compare the distance from the Sun, size, and makeup of Earth to those of other planets within our solar system. 
  • Outline the relationship between the Earth and the Sun regarding time and the seasons. 
  • Contrast the climates of various regions of Earth relative to the Sun. 
To begin the lesson, students will fill out the first two sections of a KWL chart handout regarding Earth. Next students will analyze pictures of Earth as well as the class solar system mobile to make inferences about the planet. In their science journals, they will write about Earth’s size in comparison to the other planets as well as its relative distance from the sun. The class will then do an experiment involving a flashlight to demonstrate the angles in which the sun hits either hemisphere during various seasons. After a discussion on the length of an Earth year, the class will use Google Earth to explore the various features of Earth including deserts, frozen tundras, and rainforests and relate their climates to their relationship with the sun. Lastly, students will volunteer some questions they asked in their KWL chart handouts and the group will discuss the answers to complete the charts.

Day 7 - Mars 
Students will:
  • Test for living cells in sand to examine how scientists test for life on Mars. 
  • Discover the characteristics of the atmosphere and terrain of Mars. 
  • Illustrate why Mars is classified as a terrestrial planet. 
To start the lesson, students will divide into small groups to start an experiment similar to how they test for life on Mars. They will make predictions about what might occur in three jars of sand and sugar water, one with salt added, one with baking powder added, and one with yeast added. Next students will analyze pictures of Mars as well as the class solar system mobile to make inferences about the planet. In their science journals, they will write about the size of Mars in comparison to the other planets as well as its relative distance from the sun. The class will then read Touchdown Mars! by Peggy Wethered and Ken Edgett and then write letters in their science journals from the perspective of a visitor on Mars and using the new things they learned about Mars from the book. Lastly, students will look at the three jars they prepared in the beginning of class and make observations about what happened within each. In the end, the class will conclude that the jar with yeast showed signs of life because the presence of living cells caused a slow but continuous reaction as the cells multiplied.

Day 8 - Jupiter & Saturn 
Students will:
  • Illustrate why Jupiter and Saturn are classified as gas giants. 
  • Create their own Jupiter storm to simulate the huge storm patterns and streams of gas moving at different speeds on Jupiter’s surface. 
  • Test predictions about Saturn’s density versus the density of the rest of the planets. 
The lesson will begin with students discussing the properties of a gas giant using the book Mighty Megaplanets: Jupiter & Saturn for clues. Then students will analyze pictures of Jupiter and Saturn as well as the class solar system mobile to make inferences about both planets. In their science journals, they will write about the sizes of Jupiter and Saturn in comparison to the other planets as well as their relative distances from the sun and and why they are both gas giants. Next the class will discuss the cloud patterns of Jupiter, including the Great Red Spot, and then simulate a storm on Jupiter by combining milk, food dye, and dishwashing liquid in a bowl. Then the class will divide into groups and do an experiment that asks, “Would Saturn float?” They will first make predictions about how a plastic ball and a marble will float in water and then test their theories. The class will conclude as a group that since Saturn has the lightest density of the planets and its density is lighter than water, it would float, unlike the rest of the planets which would sink.

Day 9 - Uranus & Neptune 
Students will:
  • Illustrate why Uranus and Neptune are classified as gas giants. 
  • Simulate the rings of Uranus to understand why we can’t see them from Earth. 
  • Demonstrate how Neptune was discovered via mathematical calculations rather than a telescope. 
As a review, students will do a think-pair-share to discuss the properties of gas giants. As a group, the class will discuss these properties and then students will analyze pictures of Uranus and Neptune as well as the class solar system mobile to make inferences about both planets. In their science journals, they will write about the sizes of Uranus and Neptune in comparison to the other planets as well as their relative distances from the sun and and why they are both gas giants. Next students will divide into groups to experiment with simulating light shining on the dust particles in Uranus’s rings. The teacher will light a candle, blow it out, and capture the smoke in an empty soda bottle and seal it. Next students will make predictions about where to hold the flashlight to see the smoke particles. Each group will then shine the flashlight at the bottle and then from behind and record which made the smoke particles more visible. The class will conclude that the particles (and thus the rings) are most easily seen when they are lit from behind (as they were in 1977 when Uranus passed in front of a distant star and the rings were discovered). Lastly the class will discuss the discovery of Neptune and do an experiment using materials such as a magnet and a paper clip to simulate how the pull of Neptune affected Uranus to prove Neptune’s existence.

Day 10 - Review 
Students will:
  • Create a foldable about the eight planets in the solar system and their unique characteristics. 
  • Review content from the Solar System unit.
The review will begin with students creating a diamond accordion foldable about the eight planets. The front will show the planets in order with some attention paid to scale as well as a mnemonic device to remember them in order.
Inside the foldable, students will divide the square into eight parts, four for the terrestrial planets and four for the gas giants. They will then use the entries in their science journals from the past two weeks to fill in information on each planet.

 The class will then divide in half and play a game of 'Solar System baseball' with the following rules:
1. If you answer a question correctly, you can move up a base.
2. If you answer incorrectly, it is an “out” (and the class answers as a whole).
3. Three “outs” and the inning is over and it’s the other team’s turn to “bat”.
4. The team with the most runs wins once all the questions have been answered.

Literature Connections

13 Planets: The Latest View of the Solar System by David A. Aguilar. Illus. by the author. 2011. 64p. National Geographic Children's Books. (978-1426307706). Gr. 2-5.
 The newest edition of this book includes the 8 planets and 5 dwarf planets that form our solar system. It’s a great introduction to the planets as it gives a brief overview of each planet and the sun, explains how the solar system formed, and briefly touches on the discovery of new solar systems orbiting distant stars. It’s enough information to get students acquainted with the planets before studying them more in depth as we’ll be doing later in the unit.

Far-Out Guide to the Sun
by Mary Kay Carson. 2010. 48p. Bailey Books. (978-1598451801). Gr. 2-5.

This book explores fascinating facts about the sun as well as mysteries still being researched today. It’s a comprehensive resource for learning about the sun because of the wide variety of topic it touches on, including the sun’s relationship with the earth, the age of the sun and its future, and the long journey research probe Solar Probe will begin in a few years when it departs Earth to research the sun.

How The Universe Works by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest. 1994. 160p. Reader’s Digest. (978-0895775764). Gr. 4-6. 

This book is the source of 90% of the activities within this unit. It’s an amazingly creative resource for hands-on experiments kids can do to learn about the universe. The materials and prep work involved are never too complicated and experiments that require parents to help out are clearly noted. I was so excited to discover so many interesting experiments within this book and it’s a wonderful addition to any upper elementary science classroom.

If You Decide To Go To The Moon by Faith Mcnulty. Illus. by Steven Kellogg. 2005. 48p. Scholastic Press. (978-0590483599). Gr. 1-4.
In this imaginative book, readers go on a journey to the Moon and gain a perspective on how things differ up there. It’s a great way to help students understand the atmosphere and lack of gravity of the Moon as well as its unique landscape. The end of the fascinating journey gives students an idea of the importance of air and water, “Earth’s special blessings”. The book is a great way of helping students understand why we can’t live on the moon.

The Magic School Bus Lost In The Solar System by Joanna Cole. Illus. by Bruce Degen. 1992. 40p. Scholastic Press. (978-0590414296). Gr. 1-4.
Another adventure with Miss Frizzle, this is the story of the Magic School Bus’s journey through the solar system. This series of books is always a great way to get students imaginations going and help them see science class as more of an adventure than a task. This book even ends with the class making a mobile of their solar system discoveries which is also an activity in the unit. Students will love doing the same thing as the students in the story. The only caveat is it still includes Pluto as a planet but that would also be a great way to show students that for a long time everyone believed it was.

Mighty Megaplanets: Saturn & Jupiter by David Jefferis. Illus. by the author. 2008. 32p. Crabtree Publishing. (978-0778737537). Gr. 4-6.
This book is a great introduction to the gas giant planets. Though it focuses on Saturn and Jupiter, it goes into detail about the gas giants in general. Students will love learning about the rings of these gas giants, from the bold rings of Jupiter to the less visible rings of Saturn. Because it can be hard to grasp the idea of planets made up of mostly gas, the imagery and fun facts in this book make it a great resource for helping students understand the wonders of these two gas giants.

My Science Notebook: The Moon by Martine Podesto. Illus. by the author. 2009. 104p. Gareth Stevens Publishing. (978-0836892154). Gr. 3-5.
This book is a series of letters to ‘Dr. Brainy’, a scientist who knows all about the moon. The questions range from simple to more complex but Dr. Brainy never fails to give a thorough answer that’s easy to understand. This book would be a great addition to a KWL chart about the moon if students looked through it to see if Dr. Brainy answered any of the questions they came up with.

Nicolaus Copernicus: The Earth Is a Planet
by Dennis B. Fradin. Illus. by Cynthia Von Buhler. 2004. 32p. Mondo Pub. (978-1593360061). Gr. 3-6.
This book is a beautifully illustrated biography on Copernicus and how he contributed to astronomy with his idea that the planets rotate around the sun. Students will love the pictures and the elementary-level text will make it easy for them to understand Copernicus’s theories and notions.

Pluto: From Planet to Dwarf
by Elaine Landau. 2008. 48p. Children's Press. (978-0531147948). Gr. 2-5.
This helpful little book opens with two true or false statements, one of which is true and one of which is false. The false statement of course is that Pluto is a planet and the book goes on to explain the discovery of Pluto and its reclassification in 2006. The book is a great resource for helping students understand the difference between planets and dwarf planets.

Touchdown Mars!
by Peggy Wethered and Ken Edgett. Illus. by Michael Chesworth. 2000. 40p. Putnam Juvenile. (978-0399232145). Gr. 1-4.

This adventure book brings the readers on the long journey from Earth to Mars as an astronaut. Readers get to explore Mars from its canyons and volcanoes to its moons, learning facts about the red planet along the way. It’s an imaginative piece of literature to add to the classroom and even contains a Mars A-B-Cyclopedia at the end for student reference.

Web Resources
Classzone: Distances between planets in the solar system
This incredible simulation is a great way to help students visualize the vast distance between planets. Since the mobile we make in this unit has planets that are to scale but not distances to scale, this video is perfect for teaching that aspect. Students will be amazed at the vast distance between the outlying planets

Kids Astronomy: The Solar System
This interactive site gives users a chance to see the solar system in motion and to click on any part of it to learn more. It's a great way to help students visualize the different speeds at which the planets orbit the sun as well as the size of their orbits and the consequent varying lengths of their years. In 'visiting' all the various places in the solar system (even including comets and asteroid belts!), students get a full page of fascinating content on that topic that is both comprehensive and easy to understand.

Magic School Bus Space Chase
This quiz game coincides with the Magic School Bus book above. With each quiz question, the player follows Miss Frizzle around the solar system and answers questions along the way. The material is extremely relevant to the unit and its a fun way for students to review what they've learned.

NASA: StarChild Learning Center
StarChild is a great source for the most up-to-date information since it was created by NASA. Students can explore various topics on the solar system on both a beginner and intermediate level. The site has the option to have content pages read to you as well, which is great for younger students. In addition to information, there are games and activities and its easy to toggle back and forth between levels if users care to do so.

Wonderville: Phases of the Moon
This kid-friendly interactive activity gives students a quick lesson on the phases of the moon before it involves them in finding the phase of the moon that matches the moon's current position. I found a lot of simulations involving the phases of the moon to be somewhat confusing for children but this one makes it clear and also provides great visuals to really drive the point home.

  1. Halfway through the unit, students will complete a Solar System Quiz that they will be graded on. (Answers: C, B, D, C, A B)
  2. At the end of the unit, students will complete the Solar System Unit Test. See also the
    Unit Test Answer Key
  3. Since the diamond accordion foldable created during the review was the product of notes taken in each student's science notebook over the unit, the foldable will be assessed as part of their grade. The rubric used to assess these foldables can be found here
  4. Each student's lunar chart will be collected and graded at the end of the unit. Students will be assessed on their ability to accurately describe which phases of the moon they observed and their diligence in observing and recording the moon's phases throughout the two week period. 
  5. Formative assessments will occur throughout the unit during all of the experiment activities that require predicting and testing. I will be looking for students who make thoughtful predictions, ask relevant questions before, during, and after the experiment, and can make educated conclusions by the end of it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment