Making a 2 dimensional Orrery.

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SWBAT demonstrate that the moon revolves and rotates around the Earth while the Earth rotates and revolves around the Sun.

Big Idea

Creating a model orrery of the Sun, Earth and Moon will help students visualize the movement of these 3 objects in the sky and how they are the basis to understanding other patterns we observe.

Lesson Overview-5 E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 6: Making a 2-dimensional orrery.

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 few lessons the students will learn about the Sun and Earth connection. The next lessons will cover the relationship of the Earth and Moon. Further lessons will discuss the the stars and the final lessons will teach the students about planets. ( I will add more details of which lessons these are as I flesh out the Unit).

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will learn about how the Moon orbits or revolves around the Earth. This lesson is a continuation of the previous lesson about the rotation and revolution of the Earth around the Sun. They will also be making a 2-dimensional orrery to depict the Sun, Earth and Moon in rotation and revolution.

  • different colored chalk (sidewalk chalk works best)
  • measuring tape
  • string
  • wrap around map from previous lesson
  • Science Notebooks
  • Pencils 
  • copies of the Orrery instructions and worksheet for each student (I copy the worksheet on card stock so it is more durable. You can also use different sized paper plates and have the students draw on each one.
  • brass fasteners (brads)- 2 for each student
  • Students will need scissors and crayons, colored pencils or markers
  • copies of the Sun, Earth, Moon worksheet for each student

This lesson focuses on NGSS Standard 5-ESS1-2- Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky. (Although we are not representing data in this lesson, it's important for students to understand why these patterns occur so that thye can better interpret the data in later lessons).

The Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of the NGSS that this lesson covers are described below. 

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

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System. The Earth’s orbit and rotation,and the orbit of the moon around the Earth cause observable patterns.ts:


Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for natural phenomena. (5-ESS1-2)

Science and 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.



20 minutes

I remind the students of our CHAMPS for outside learning and that we are going to go out to the playground for a short time. We do this to review our playground model for the Earth's rotation and revolution around the Sun and I explain that we are going to add the Moon to our model.

We head outside and I tell them that we are now going to add the Moon to our playground model and I ask them how and where they think the Moon moves. I tell the students to talk to their science groups (group of 4) in a "Round Robin" cooperative learning strategy to share their ideas. After 2 minutes of sharing, I ask for a representative from each group to share what was discussed. Some students mention that the Moon orbits around the Sun, some state that the Moon orbits around the Earth, and a few decide that the Moon doesn't move at all. 

After sharing their ideas, we have a group discussion about how the Moon moves around the Earth. I explain to them that the Moon also moves in a clockwise direction and that it rotates and revolves like the Earth does, but at a different speed. I  ask the students how fast they think that the Moon revolves and rotates around the Earth and if none of them can figure it out, I tell them that it takes approximately 27 days (27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes and 11.47 seconds to be exact) for the Moon to both rotate and revolve and that this is why we only see one side of the Moon when it is visible. (In a later lesson we will talk about the phases of the moon and discuss the time it takes for it to go through this phase cycle).

I then tell the students to return to their chalk drawings from the previous day (hopefully they are still visible) and that they should add the moon to their playground model drawing 1 meter from the Earth and to draw the orbit around the Earth about 2 meters in diameter. I then tell them that they need to replicate the model from the previous lesson and add the rotation and revolution of the Moon. This will require 3 students- one for the Sun, one for the Earth and the 3rd for the Moon. I ask them if the movement of the Moon is faster or slower than the Earth and whether it is faster or slower than the Sun. They should determine that the Moon moves slower than the Earth but at about the same speed as the Sun. The students practice the moon model  movement and I check with the groups to make sure they are understanding the model. I tell them to make sure that everyone gets a chance to be a part of the model. I give them about 10 minutes to explore and then we return to class for the next part of the lesson.

This is the Playground diagram bird's eye view. I do not show this to the students because I want them to come to this model through the discussion and demonstration. It will also be used in the Evaluate section of the lesson.


30 minutes

I had no idea that the name of this Solar System model was an Orrery until I was doing the research for this lesson. It comes from the work of Isaac Newton who worked out the mathematics of the movement of the planets and then Charles Boyle, the Earl of Orrery, commissioned George Graham to build a mechanical model of Newton's Ideas in 1700. The name Orrery stuck, even though it's difficult to pronounce.

I tell the students this information since it's important for them to understand the background of how scientific models are developed. I also show them some photos of a few other versions of the model since our classroom orrery is very basic. I also show them this video of a Lego orrery.

I then let the students know that we will be making our own 2 dimensional orrery that has the Sun, Earth and Moon and that in a later lesson we will create a 3 dimensional model. I remind them of the playground model we created and practiced outside and I asked about how the Sun, Earth, and Moon moved. The students discuss that the Earth revolves or orbits around the Sun and that the Moon revolves around the Earth. 

I tell the students to take out colored pencils, crayons or markers, and scissors. I have made the copies in black and white and on card stock paper so the students can color the pieces themselves. I hand out the Orrery instructions and worksheet for them to color and cut out. I remind the students to make sure to read the instructions first before they color and cut out the model. As they are cutting out the pieces for their orrery model, I pass out the brass fasteners. I walk around and help students as needed. 

I chose this particular model after a search on Pinterest. There were many nice worksheets and versions, but I felt that they were a bit basic for fifth graders. I chose this one when I came across a blog called "Lie Back, Look Up" because it has more details than the other models.  Here is one Student orrery and another Orrery made by a student.



10 minutes

I give the students a few minutes to practice using their orrery models and then ask them to show me how it works. I quickly check to see that everyone is moving the Earth and the Moon in the proper directions. 

I then give them a Sun, Earth, and Moon worksheet to evaluate their understanding of both the playground and 2-dimensional models. When they have completed the worksheets, I collect them to look for any misconceptions they may have had and I return the worksheets with some feedback (grades??)  so that they can put in their Science Notebooks.