Introduction and Pre-Assessment

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SWBAT demonstrate prior knowledge about patterns in the sky.

Big Idea

Do your students already know that the moon has phases? Do they know that the sun moves across the sky? Find out today what prior knowledge they bring!

Instructional Notes

In this unit, students are not only studying space, they are observing and making discoveries about patterns in the sky!  The NGSS standard states, 1-ESS1-1. Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

So, today I start with a pre-assessment.  It's important to me to see who comes with background knowledge.  I also want to see if there are some misconceptions that I'll need to address throughout the unit.  I don't like to think of pre-assessments as a test or graded in any way.  Rather, it's a tool for me to help tailor the unit to this particular group of students!

Next, I need to hit some discussion points with my class; namely What are objects in the sky? and What is a pattern?.  These two discussions come straight from language in the standards, and without them, I really can't move forward.  If my students don't know that patterns are repeating, that's a big deal!  I will need to build a lot of background knowledge and pull out examples and math manipulatives.  And, as my students are naming objects like planes and clouds, I need to focus them on the sun, earth, and stars-- the objects that are constant and in nature.

There is no additional formative assessment in today's lesson, since the pre-assessment and class discussion will give great insight into where students are.  

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:


 Without further ado, let's count down to a great unit!  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Blast off!


  • What are objects in the sky? (Displayed)
  • What is a pattern? (Displayed)
  • PreAssessment Space Systems, 1 per student
  • Beach ball, tennis ball, bouncy ball (or 3 different-sized pieces of clay)

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

The warm-up will be the paper PreAssessment.  I ask students to set up folders so that they cannot see each others' papers.  Then, I read the questions aloud and repeat them.  

Friends, today you are going to answer a few questions to help me know more about what to teach over the next few weeks.  If you don't know an answer, make your best guess!  It's okay to not know, because I haven't taught you a thing yet!

Put your finger on the number one.  

I like all students to stay together because I don't want anyone to rush through the test.  Plus, reading aloud supports my developing readers.  I encourage students to reread their answer and check their work as well.

Here are some other Assessment Best Practices.

Once students have finished, I play a transition song.  Students put their papers in my "black basket" and then come to the rug.

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

The exploration today is also part of the pre-assessment.  The science concepts behind the patterns in the sky are due to the spatial relationships of the sun, earth, and moon.  For example, the appearance of the sun moving across the sky is actually the earth rotating.  While the NGSS does not require first graders to understand the science "why's" behind the patterns, I will teach them in this unit.  Only the patterns will be assessed at the end though.  I think it's important to expose children to the science "why's," as it lays a foundation for their later space units!

Students will sit on the perimeter of the rug.  I will put 3 balls in the center: a bouncy ball, a tennis ball, and a beach ball.  It's a common misconception for children that the earth is the biggest, so we'll address that now.

Friends, here we have 3 different sized balls.  One is the earth, one is the sun, and one is the moon.  Turn-and-talk with a friend.  Which ball should be which?  Why do you think that?

Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.  

Today, students actually starting assigning labels to the balls before I even stated the question!

There was a lot of disagreement, though.  I was unable to preassess whether students understood the relative sizes.  So, I decided to take a quick vote.

Voting showed that all but one student thought that the largest ball should represent the sun, although at least one student picked this ball because it was yellow (and not due to size).  However, throughout the lesson I was struck by some other misconceptions (like in this video, where a student thought the sun had exploded previously).  There is truly a lot to learn in this unit!

Students also had inconsistent ideas about whether the earth or moon should be the smallest.  Here is our discussion.

After listening to student ideas today, I do not confirm or deny any ideas.  Rather, I tell them that we'll be learning more about this over the next few weeks, and then they'll all be experts!  Next, I ask these questions to see if students understand the spatial relationships:

If this ball is the moon and this ball is the earth, does either of them move?  How do they move together?  Turn-and-talk with a friend.

If this ball is the earth and this ball is the sun, does either of them move?  How do they move together?  Turn-and-talk with a friend.

Here is a video of our discussion.  Many of my students think the sun rotates, which is a misconception we will need to address in this unit, as it relates to the patterns we see.  Again, after listening to student ideas today, I do not confirm or deny any ideas.  Rather, I tell them that we'll be learning more about this over the next few weeks, and then they'll all be experts!  (On the other hand, if all of my students had seemed certain that the earth moves around the sun, I would not need to spend a lot of time on this concept.)

There are two last ideas I need to pre-assess.  We will discuss these two questions also using the turn-and-talk model:

What are objects in the sky?

What makes a pattern?

After these questions, I want to highlight the objects sun, moon, and stars as permanent objects from nature (not man-made).  And I also make sure students can give examples of patterns as repeating sequences.  If you have not yet taught a patterns unit during math, or if your students do not understand patterns, I suggest using your next science block to reinforce patterns.  Check out this awesome lesson to help you teach patterns!

Here is where we recorded our ideas on the easel, and after today, I will add it onto the K "What we Know" section of the KLEWS chart.  I also love telling this joke (it's so old and corny!) when we talk about patterns:

Pete and Repeat were in a boat.  Pete fell out.  Who was left?  (The kids all say, "Repeat."  Then I repeat the joke again and again and again....)

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

In closing, I introduce the Essential Question that will guide our work in this unit: How can patterns we observe in the sky help us make predictions?  I tell students that by the end of this unit, we will be able to answer this question.

I write the Essential Question on the top of a KLEWS chart.  A KLEWS chart is a science version of the KWL chart.  Throughout our earlier discussions, students had a plethora of questions about space.  So, here in the lesson closing, students prepare their Science Journal for the unit and also begin adding questions to the KLEWS chart "W" What I'm Wondering section.

Adding our questions to the KLEWS chartMore questions!Our initial questions


There is no formative assessment for this lesson.  Here, though, is a break-down of how the pre-assessment questions align to the big ideas!

Which objects in the sky can be seen during the day?  The moon can also be seen during the day.  The stars can't be seen because the sun (also a star) is so bright!  The assessment limit in the standards for stars is just that they can be seen only at night; note that stars do also move across the night sky!

Which objects in the sky move?  The moon, sun, and stars appear to move due to the earth's rotation and tilt.

Draw two shapes the moon appears to be.  The moon changes shapes as it goes through phases.

Draw a diagram to show the movement of the sun.  The sun's position in the sky changes, as it appears to rise and set during the day.  A diagram is one way we can show movement.

A Park Ranger wants to plan a long hike on a day with more hours of sunlight.  Which season should the Ranger choose?

Circle One: Summer or Winter            Why?

The amount of daylight changes in different seasons.  Summer has more daylight hours than winter.