Lesson 3 of 8
Objective: Students will explore the objects in our Solar System by building a poster representing the Sun, eight planets, dwarf planets, asteroid belt, Kuiper Belt, and the Oort Cloud.
This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.
MS-ESS1-1 Earth's Place in the Universe
PE: MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and Interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the Solar System.
DCI: ESS1.B Earth and the Solar System - The Solar System consists of the Sun and a collection of objects including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the Sun by its gravitational pull on them.
SP2: Developing and Using Models - The models in this lesson are the drawings of the eight planets. These models serve a the student's understanding of placement and position in our Solar System. The inner planets need to be modeled correctly by making them seem very small in relation to the Sun and the outer gas giants and they need to be relatively close to the Sun. The outer planets need to be correctly modeled by drawing them large in a decreasing order of size, with Jupiter being the largest and Neptune being smallest. Their distances should be exaggerated in comparison to the inner planets.
CCC: Scale, proportion, and quantity - scale is critical in this lesson. The correct scale of our Solar system must depict the inner planets as small and close to the Sun, while the outer planets are large and spread across greater distances. It is a students misconception to draw the planets at the same size and equally spread across their poster paper.
This lesson is built to follow Solar System Sentence Strip, which gets the students thinking about scale distances in a guided ware are you. The students are tasked with creating a poster of the Solar System which provides accurate colors and scale. Before the students are allowed to work on their final draft of the poster they must draw a rough draft the must be approved by the teacher first. An approved rough draft does not need color, but must represent the planets at a correct scale.
This activity provides the students with more freedom to express what they know about planetary distance and scale. Most students can draw the eight planets with details to complete this assignment. The difficulty for students is to correctly model the planets' size and distance to scale. The learning for this lesson occurs when the student's rough drafts are rejected and they must return to consider precision of scale in order to model the inner and the outer planets correctly.
- blank scratch paper
- poster paper
- colored pencils
- access to information about the Solar System
Students will create a poster depicting the Sun and the eight planets in our Solar System. The requirements for this poster are:
- The poster must include four facts about each planet and the Sun (9 fact boxes total).
- Use accurate colors (no purple Sun).
- No crayons or makers. Colored pencils only.
- Color must cover the entire poster (no blank space).
- Must address scale (distance vs. size) see TIP below.
- Must have a title.
- All objects must be labeled.
- Rough draft must be approved by the teacher before a student can start on the final draft.
TIP: As a class we discuss scale. Most posters that the students are exposed to have some sort of sacrifice made by the creator. Either the planets are resized to show detail or distances are reduced to fit everything in. My students are expected to address the issue of scale in their poster by either drawing their poster to the correct scale size AND correct scale distance to the best of their ability.
I tell them that I have seen two basic types of posters, one where the students draw the Sun in the center and position the planets orbiting around that center and the other places the Sun off to one side and the planets stretch off to the side. I provide two examples. I typically don't like to give examples, as most students tend to reproduce the example and not do any original work. In this case I make sure to provide an incomplete example to assist them to think about scale.
I encourage my students to do extra research and include more detail as extra credit. Some examples are listed below:
- Asteroid belt
- Kuiper Belt
- Oort Cloud
- Dwarf planets
- Orbital paths
- Rings around Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune (Saturn's rings are required)
- More fact boxes
In order to complete this assignment the students have to do a fair amount of research on our Solar System. Fortunately our textbooks cover this well. I do allow my students to use their school issued Chromebooks to conduct Internet searches, but I limit it to only one day. I have found that students will spend copious amounts of time researching great astronomy websites, but never commit pencil to paper.
Students doing internet research on their Chromebooks.
The rough drafts must be approved by me first. This causes two things to happen, (1) cut down on the amount of poster paper I have to pass out by limiting silly mistakes, and (2) forces the students to plan the scale within their poster. The rough draft does not need to be in color.
TIP: The hardest part of this assignment for students is accurately depicting scale. Students want to make all the planets the same size and/or want to evenly distribute them across the paper. By not approving the rough draft I am able to control this on the final draft.
Students using Solar System Sentence Strip as a reference.
I typically allow my students about two weeks to complete their posters, and provide two days of class time. I require the poster to be done with colored pencils and I know that many of my students only have access to colored pencils if I provide them.
An example of what I typically reject as a rough draft due to a poor example of scale.
Note that Neptune is smaller that Earth.