Day One of Where's Plaid Pete?

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SWBAT describe the organization of Earth's place in the universe.

Big Idea

How is the universe organized? Where is Earth's place in this huge system? Students listen to a read aloud of My Place in Space, and begin the research that will lead them to create an infographic.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Earth's Place in the Universe:  The Universe and its Stars -  that the sun is a star that appears larger and brighter than other stars because it's closer, and stars range greatly in their distance from Earth. (5-ESS1-1); Earth and the Solar System - that the orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns.  These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. (5-ESS1-2); Motion and Stability:  Forces and Interactions - that the gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near Earth's surface pulls that object towards the planet's center.  (5-PS2-1) and the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns  - Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for natural phenomena. (5-ESS1-1); Scale, Proportion, and Quantity - Natural objects exist from the very small to the immensely large (5-ESS1-1); and Cause and Effect - Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified and used to explain change (5-PS2-1).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete is Finding Earth's Place in the Universe - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 2  is 750 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.

Materials Needed:

The book My Place in Space by Robin and Sally Hirst (1990, Orchard Books)

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete is Finding Earth's Place in the Universe - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 2

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete is Finding Earth's Place in the Universe Lab Sheet - Lesson 2

A variety of resource books on space topics including:  the universe, the Virgo Supercluster, the local galactic group, the Milky Way Galaxy, the solar system, and Earth.  I have a few of the Seymour Simon titles on these subjects, as well as books that I have checked out from our school library.


Focus & Motivation

5 minutes

Introduce the Scenario

I hand out a copy of Plaid Pete is Finding Earth's Place in the Universe - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 2 to each student.  I explain that today - there is no Plaid Pete.  He's missing!  I say,"Today we will begin a two day lesson that kicks off our new unit.  I certainly hope by the end of it we discover where Plaid Pete is.  Let's read and find out just exactly what the context is for his disappearance, and maybe we will discover some clues about what we will be learning."

My students get their highlighters out, and are ready to prepare the scenario to read as scripts - Reader's Theater Style.  I explain that there are three parts today:  A new classmate by the name of Aidan, a classmate they are already familiar with - Dawson, and a narrator.

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

My students have become so adept at reading the scripts without my assistance, that today as I walk around listening to each team - I am stopping and "teaching" the section where Aidan really begins to describe infographics.  I am treating this similar to a small group mini-lesson - except I am only spending a minute or two at each team.  In each team I have those students who have a difficult time paying attention.  These students need small group instruction and will likely not have attended to this information in the script - they need more explicit instruction.  This bit of pre-teaching will set them up for success later.  In this Video Clip, I have a student who also needs visual support in addition to textual information, so I briefly pull her aside to my desk to show her an infographic on my computer.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria, explaining that we will be working on these for the next two lessons:  

Learning Objective:  I can describe the organization of Earth's place in the universe.

Language Objective:  I can write to develop an informational topic with facts and details. [ELP.4-5.7]

Success Criteria:  I can create an info graphic that describe's the organization of Earth's place in the universe.

Guided Exploration

25 minutes

This first section of this lesson will set the stage for this entire unit!  I want to begin our Earth in Space Unit in a way that engages my students and helps them begin to appreciate the wonder and staggering enormity of the universe we live in.  I also know that students at this developmental stage have a difficult time understanding the organization of the universe, and how Earth fits within that system.  I have just the book to hook them in - My Place in Space by Robin and Sally Hirst (1990).  Although the book is currently out of print, used copies are readily available.  

Introduce the Read Aloud

I gather my students close by in our meeting area.  I tell them, "I have a special book I would like to share with you:  My Place in Space by Robin and Sally Hirst."  I explain that the book is a story about a boy and his sister who live in Australia, and I point out where it is located on a world map.  I tell them, "Henry and his sister Rosie tell the bus driver that they want him to take them home.  The bus drive doesn't think they know their address.  Unlike Plaid Pete - these characters know exactly where they are in space!  Boy does the bus driver get a surprise! Let's listen and find out what happens."  

I read the book, stopping at each point as Henry relays his address:  12 Main Street, Gumbridge, Australia, Southern Hemisphere, Earth, solar system, solar neighborhood, Orion Arm, Milky Way Galaxy, local group of galaxies, Virgo Supercluster, and finally - the universe.  I make sure to pause at each stop in the address to show the astral phenomena that Henry names that appears in the darkened sky above them.  My students are also quite entertained at some of the macabre and humorous happenings in the village in the background that make this book so appropriate for this age level (a bank robbery, an alien, a headless tennis player - well - you have to read the book!).

When I have finished reading I ask my students if there were any surprises for them about our universe.  I hear a number of interesting comments.  "I didn't know it was so big."  "I didn't know Earth was so small."

Many of my students are just quiet - taking it all in.  I get the sense that they really don't know what to think.  

Introduce Video

I tell my students, "It is very difficult for most people to understand just how enormous our universe is.  I want to share a video with you that was created by the American Museum of Natural History.  It is called, "The Known Universe."  This video was created by a special team of scientists called, astrophysicists.  It isn't very long, and there are no words.  I am hoping that watching it will give you some idea of the immense size of the universe, and what a very small part of that universe we really are."  I share the video with my students.

When the video is finished playing, I ask my students to turn and talk in their teams.  I know it is important for them to process their reactions.  On a piece of chart paper, I have written the heading Our Reactions to "The Known Universe."  I ask my students to share out what they have discussed.  I ask them for their responses.  This is what our chart looks like:

I tell my students, "This is a lot to make sense of!  In order to create the 'infographics' that Aidan spoke about in the scenario - we first have to do some research.  Once we have done that, then we will learn the tools necessary to finish this project.  We might even be able to locate Plaid Pete along the way."

Team Activity

30 minutes

Introduce Research Task

I pass out a copy of Plaid Pete is Finding Earth's Place in the Universe Lab Sheet - Lesson 2 to each of my students.  We discuss the directions and the research task that they will be engaged in.  I have purposely not given them instruction (yet) on how to create an infographic.  At this point in the lesson, I want them to be focused primarily on the research portion - so we discuss the bulleted points at the top of the lab sheet:


  • Purpose:  To describe the organization of the universe using text and graphics that make it easy for your reader to understand.  Answer the questions:  How is the universe organized?  What are the parts of this system?  What pieces of information would interest my readers?
  • Patterns – Look for geometric patterns and shapes that will assist you in linking the content of your graphic with the design.  Note these in the "Additional Notes" Section
  • Audience:   The school community (students, teachers, parents, etc.)


I tell my students, "Until you have thoroughly researched each of these parts of the system of our universe and understand the information that you have to present, you will not be prepared to engage in the task of synthesizing this information into something as complicated as an infographic.  You need to research carefully continually asking yourselves, "What is it about this topic that is really worthwhile to know and understand?"

I have allowed my students to choose their own groupings - strongly suggesting that they base their choices on finding a group of 2 or 3 (no more than 3!) so that they have someone who is good at research and another person who is skilled in art or design.  I could have had students work independently, but I am still remembering that conversation I had last summer with the engineer who shared with me that the best thing I could do for my students was to teach them how to work collaboratively - and that this was equally as important as the scientific content.  

My students have researched informational and argument/opinion texts this year, so they know how to conduct research - taking bulleted notes in their own words.  They also know that they are expected to credit their sources.  They have been required to create a "Sources" page for each research report they have conducted this year. 

Introduce the Resources

I have a variety of classroom books in my library about space by Seymour Simon.  I love them because they are high quality texts that really require students to use close reading skills to understand the content.  I have also collaborated with my school librarian to check-out a tub of materials to support my students in this effort.  

Although I will provide the remainder of this class period for students to begin this task, I know that in order for them to adequately research these topics I will need to provide additional time.  I will be providing extra time during our literacy block for my students to work together on this task.  I can justify this additional time because they are truly meaningfully engaged in an authentic literacy task that incorporates Common Core State Standard Objectives across multiple content areas:  Science, Reading and Writing, as well as Technological Literacy.  Besides that - it's the end of the year and they are having a blast!

This is an example of one student's work:

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

 Rallying the Troops for Tomorrow!

It makes my heart happy to hear groans of dismay when I give the warning signal that we will need to make the transition in two minutes.  My students are enthralled by what they are reading!  Space is a fascinating subject.  

As in our previous unit, it's time to collect a few questions for our "Burning Questions" chart. I begin to pass out the Post-It notes, and my heart does a few flip-flops as a number of my students ask me if they can have two or three.  Students are now asking more questions than they did before.  Part of this is because they know I will read every single question, noting who the student was who asked the question (They love the attention!), and part of it is because they really do love getting answers to their questions - particularly when the ones providing the answers are themselves or their peers.  I collect the Post-It notes and tape them on our chart.  Now, we are ready for tomorrow!

I carefully read through the Post-It notes after my students have left for the day.  They have asked some amazing questions!

How do scientists know what is in the universe?

How big is the universe?

Does the moon have a core like Earth?

How do we know how far away things are in space?