The Center of Our Solar System- The Sun- Part 3

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SWBAT create a model of the Sun and compare the size of the Earth to the Sun. They will also be able to compare the size of the Moon to both the Earth and the Sun.

Big Idea

Understanding the relationship of the Earth to the Sun is important for students so that they have a basis for other concepts they will be learning about the Sun and the Solar System.

Lesson Overview- 5E Lesson Plan

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 3: The Center of Our Solar System: The Sun- Part 3

5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science. The 5E Lesson Planning Template and 5E Lesson Planning Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about the solar system by studying the sun, the moon, planets and stars. In the first three lessons the students will learn about the Sun. Lessons 4 through 7 focus on the movement of the Earth around the Sun. Lessons 8 is about Orreries, lessons 9 and 10 cover solar eclipses, lessons 11 and 12 are about the moon, lesson 13 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 3 lessons (14-16) are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will create a model of the Sun that will allow them to compare the size of the Earth to the Sun as well as compare the size of the Moon to both the Earth and Sun. This lesson incorporates math and art components. It's important to note that this project will take 2 to 3 days to complete and the break down of each day is described in the lesson narrative.

You will also need the following materials to complete this lesson: 

  • butcher paper (I recommend yellow so you don't have to use as much paint). You need enough paper so the students can make a Sun the diameter of 138.5cm or 54.5 inches. I usually have to get 2 pieces of the paper and tape them together to get the right diameter.
  • yellow, orange, red, and black tempera paint (if you use yellow butcher paper, you won't need yellow paint)
  • paint brushes and sponges
  • white index cards or construction paper to make labels (cut into 2-inch by 4-inch pieces).
  • Pencils or markers
  • 1/2 inch round adhesive labels (blue)- these are hard to find, so I use happy face stickers from Smilemakers and they are just the right size.
  • 4 small pins with round white heads to place across the round labels ("Earth").

Since this project takes a lot of time to complete, I combine my 8 science groups into 4  larger groups so they can plan and complete the project in a shorter amount of time. Therefore, the materials above are per group and the entire class will be creating 4 "Suns". Make sure to also give yourself enough time to gather the materials. You could prepare the circles ahead of time by measuring and cutting them, but I prefer that the students do this so they get some measuring and mathematics practice. The idea for this lesson comes from the Eye on the Sky curriculum that I learned about in a workshop.

Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson focuses on the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of the NGSS but not any specific performance expectations of the NGSS Standards. However, it's important for students to understand the big idea of comparing the size of the Earth to the Sun and the size of the Moon to the Earth. This give them a good background for understanding the performance expectations of 5-ESS1-1 and 5-ESS1-2. The DCI and CCC for this lesson are explained below.

Disciplinary Core IdeasThis lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Idea from the Earth and Space Science:

ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars. Stars range greatly in size and distance from Earth and this can explain their relative brightness.

Crosscutting Concepts:

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

  • Natural objects exist from the very small to the immensely large. (5-ESS1-1)

Science & Engineering Practices:

Developing and Using Models

Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions.



10 minutes

This is one of my favorite lessons to do with my students in this unit. They love that they get to paint during science and they get excited to see the final product of their large Sun model.

I start the lesson by showing the students images of the Sun from the book The Sun, by Seymour Simon, I show them the most recent images of the sun using this link from NASA, and I show them images from a the June 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine with the headline "Solar Super Storms".

After they get excited about seeing the images, I tell them that they will be creating a scale model of the Sun by using paint, paper, paint brushes, measuring tape, and string. I show them where the materials are located and tell them that they will be working in larger groups for this project.

To give the students a better understanding of scale I show them this resource to give them and idea of what scale means. I also tell them that since we are focusing our investigations on the Solar System in this Unit, I wanted them to create a model that would show the comparison of the size of the Sun to the size of the Earth and the Moon. I also have this Scale Poster posted in the Science Room for the students to refer to as a visual reminder of the Crosscutting Concept we are studying in this lesson.

I tell them that creating a scale model is making something that is much smaller than the real object but they are relatively the same size in comparison  to each other. The purpose of creating this scale model of the Sun is to show how much larger the Sun is in comparison to the Earth and the Moon. I explain that the Sun we will be making will be very large- having a diameter of 138.5 cm (54.5 inches) and our sticker, the "Earth" is only 1.27cm (1/2 inch). The pin "Moon" is even smaller, only 0.32cm (0.13 inches) wide in diameter.

I normally have 8 groups comprised of 4 students working together during science investigations, but for this project, I combine the 8 groups into 4 groups of 8. This will allow for the project to take less time and less space in the science room. This can even become a whole class project if you are really pressed for time. 

We also talk about the different parts of the Sun that they saw in the book and in the pictures and I write down the following terms on the board. I explain to the students that we will be using these terms to label the Sun models. In a later part of the lesson, the student will copy these words into their Science Notebooks and define them.

Corona Prominence
Solar flare Magnetic Loop
Sunspot Diameter


Explore/ Explain

180 minutes

This lesson will most likely take 2 or 3 days to complete, depending on how long your science block is. Each day will take about 60 minutes to complete.

Day 1:

  • After the "Engage" portion of the lesson, I tell the students that they will be making a large model of the Sun using the yellow butcher paper and measuring tools. 
  • I tell the students that they need to create a Sun that has a diameter of 138.5 centimeters (54.5 inches). This measurement will allow for there to be 109 "Earths" spanning the diameter of the Sun.
  • We review the meaning of diameter radius and I tell the students that they need to come up with a plan with their groups on how they will measure and create the circular shape of the Sun with the materials we have. I ask them how they will measure the diameter and how they will create the circle shape of the Sun on the paper. 
  • I give the groups 10 minutes to discuss their plan and draw or write what their plan is so that I can check to see that they are on the right track. Here's a student's Sun Model Planning 
  • After checking their plans for drawing and cutting out their Suns, I give them the rest of the class time to measure and cut out their butcher paper and circulate to make sure they are working together and measuring correctly.
  • After they have cut out the paper, I let the students start painting if there's enough time.

I have the students make a plan before they start creating a model so that they can have a focus for what they need to do for the project. It's also a good way for the groups to work together. I also emphasize to them that being a scientist requires having a plan written when completing projects and doing experiments.

Day 2 (or Day 1 if there's enough time.

  • If the students haven't started painting their Sun model the previous day,  I have them begin this process by starting with the lightest color first. Here are students painting the Sun
  • Since we are using yellow butcher paper, we start with orange paint.
  • I tell the students that they don't need to paint all of the paper and can keep some yellow showing. I then have them use red paint.
  • They use paint brushes to start and can use sponges later to create a more layered affect.
  • I make sure that they use only small amounts of black for Sunspots- it ends up looking like a pizza if they paint too many black spots. 
  • I remind the students to also paint prominences, magnetic loops, and solar flares using extra paper and attaching it to the Sun or they can paint these on the paper if they haven't cut out the circles yet.
  • We add these items so that we make an authentic replication of the Sun.
  • We also decided to add a section of our model to represent the layers of the Sun. since many of the articles and books we are reading about the Sun mention these layers, we thought that it would be a good idea. 
  • We section 1/4 of the Sun model and paint in the "core", "radiative zone", "convective zone" and "photosphere". We also add these words to the Word Wall. Sun word wall vocabulary cards

I guide the students with their painting to some extent, I tell them that I want it to look like some of the photos we have seen and that it should have the different colors. They really get into the painting and I encourage them to take some ownership of their project, and try not to direct it too much after they get going. I remind them that this is a model of the Sun and it won't look exactly like the Sun.

Day 3:

  • We make sure that the paint has dried on the Sun models and hang them up around the room.
  • We create labels for our Sun models to identify the different parts (solar flare, prominence, magnetic loop, sunspot, core, radiative zone, convective zone, photosphere, and corona.) These terms are also included on our word wall and I tell the students that they will need to copy them in their Science Notebooks at the end of the investigation as well as define the words. Painted Sun with labels
  • I tell the students to tape these  vocabulary labels to their Sun. 
  • I then use one of the students' Sun paintings to guide a discussion about the size of the Sun and how it compares to the size of the Earth and the size of the Moon.
  • I ask the students to make predictions about how many Earths it would take to cover the diameter of the Sun and I make a list of their predictions next to the Sun.  
  • I then show the students the round stickers and tell them that it represents the Earth. (These are 1/2 inch blue Avery round stickers but I use happy face stickers from Smilemakers that are the same size). Here are students Putting on the Earth Stickers
  • I distribute the stickers to each group (it should take about 109 stickers to cover the diameter of the Sun) and tell them to start placing the stickers across the widest part of the Sun.
  • We then count how many stickers it took to cover the diameter of the Sun and we check the predictions to see who came closest.
  • I then ask the students to predict how many moons would cover the diameter of the Earth and record these on the board.
  • I show them the push pins with the round white heads on them (these should be small enough to show a 4 to 1 scale of the Moon to the Earth). 
  • I ask the students to place the pins across the diameter of the blue round sticker.
  • We then check to see who had the closest prediction.Making predictions

As we are completing this activity I tell the students that the Sun is very large in comparison to the Earth and that 1 blue sticker represents the Earth. I then tell them that it takes about 4 moons to cover the diameter of the Earth and I show them one of the white push pins (these are map pins) and that one of the pins represents the Moon. 

It's important to emphasize that the measurements should be accurate to create the proper scale. We had to change the type of sticker we used for the model (a hole reinforcement sticker) and this still didn't give us the right proportion. 

After we complete the size comparisons of the Sun, Earth and Moon, I ask the students why it's important to create models of objects.


20 minutes

As a whole group we fill out the How Big is the Sun worksheet and post it next to the Sun model. We use this as a sign to show the comparison of the sizes of the Sun, Earth and Moon.

I also give them a quick assessment: How Big is the Sun? to see that they understood the activity. They work with their science groups to decide on the answers and the students then write the answers to the questions in their Science Notebooks.

I can also evaluate the students during the completion of the project by looking at their plans, listening to their discussions with their science groups, and observing how they participate in the group discussion.