Constellations-Moving Patterns In The Night Sky

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SWBAT describe the appearance and apparent motion of groups of stars in the night sky relative to Earth.

Big Idea

Students will investigate patterns of constellations and construct a planisphere to illustrate why constellations appear to move throughout the year.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Out of This World-A Journey Through Our Solar System unit focuses on students recognizing Earth is a part of the “solar system” that includes the sun, planets, moons, and stars and is the third planet from the sun. Through models, investigations, graphing, and computer simulations, students learn that Earth revolves around the sun in a year’s time, rotates on its axis once approximately every 24 hours. They make connections between the rotation of the earth and day/night, and the apparent movement of the sun, moon, and stars across the sky, changes occur in the observable shape of the moon over a month. The unit wraps up as students learn about the brightness of stars, patterns they create in the sky, and why some stars and constellations can only be seen at certain times of the year.

Lesson Synopsis

Constellations-Moving Patterns of the Night Sky lesson begins with an interactive gallery walk through stations displaying different constellations, where students observe known constellation patterns. Then they find out more about constellations through an interactive reading task and construct a planisphere to find out why and how constellation appear to move through the sky at different times of the year. After developing an understanding about these patterns in the sky, students plot different constellations on a graph. They select one constellation and write a description of it and an explanation of how it appears to change throughout the year.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

  • 5-ESS1-1: Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from Earth.


  • 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.

  • 5-PS2.1: Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.


Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices...

2.) Developing and Using Models: Students use a planisphere for observations of the stars to describe their seasonal patterns that can be predicted.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Constellations- Moving Patterns of the Night Sky lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

1.) Patterns: Students use create a planisphere and use it to observe the patterns in the stars to describe n relation to the seasons

2.) Cause and Effect: Students make observations to provide evidence of the effects of the apparent movement of the stars throughout the year by the Earth's rotation.


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System


Classroom Management Considerations

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


10 minutes

Sparking Curiosity

I begin asking: "Have you ever looked up at the night sky and found patterns that created images among the stars?"  I share: These patterns of stars are called constellations.

Next, I direct students attention to different constellations displayed around the room. Each display has one pattern (a specific constellation) next to an image of the night sky where that particular constellation  is. I hand out Patterns in the Night Sky graphic organizer and explain their task.

Students are travelling to each display with the graphic organizer to observe a pattern of stars and try to locate it in the sky. Then they are drawing this pattern under the pattern column and inferring what the pattern might look like.  

We reconvene as a class and students share what the patterns they observed and what they think they look like. 


30 minutes

Finding Out More About Constellations

I hand out a reading passage found online and share: "We are reading to learn more about constellations." This reading passage provides students with information about what constellations are, how they got their names, and how to find them. Within the reading are different images of known constellations. Students examine these images and read about them.  

Why do Constellations Move in the Sky

After we read, I pose the question: Will you see the same constellations in the sky all year? Then ask students to turn and talk. I listen to some conversations  during this time. I am looking to see if students can connect what we learned earlier in this unit about Earth's rotation causing the appearance of some stars to move.

Then I hold up a planisphere.


I explain that this is a circular map of the stars that are seen in the sky dependent upon location, time of year, and time of night. It will help us learn why stars in the sky appear to move and show what stars are in the sky at differents times of year. The window shows us parts of the sky and stars we see during certain months.

I hand out a planisphere template and review the directions for creating one and students begin. Once created, I hand out Introduction to a Planisphere which is a series of questions that guides students through using  the planisphere. These questions give students opportunity to practice locating stars and constellations for dates and times of year. It helps them develop an understanding of how the night sky changes through the seasons.

As they analyze the stars visible during certain months, we discuss that even though some constellations are not visible to us at that time of year, that does not mean they have disappeared. Here I make the point to connect the Earth's rotation to explain why they are unseen.

I ask students if they notice any stars that appear throughout the year.  I explain that these are called circumpolar stars and are located near the poles of the Earth and can be see all year.  


25 minutes

Focusing on The Movement of A Constellation

After developing a sense of how to use the planisphere, I ask them to locate one constellation they are interested in, based on shape, relation to birthday, name etc. Next, I have them use their planisphere to track the movement of this constellation. I want them to notice the times of year and parts of the night the constellation is visible.

I explain their task is to illustrate this particular constellation month by month. I show them the Tracking A Constellation chart they are using to diagram the constellation month by month. I make the point that each circle should be a replica of that selected constellation according to the month shown and if the constellation is not seen during a particular month, that the circle should be left blank.

Constellation Analysis

Finally, they write an analysis of that constellation. It should include a description of the constellation, times of year it can be observed, how and why it appears to move. 

They work on this for the remainder of the class and finish as homework.  I collect it the next day and use as an assessment.  I have some students share their constellation analysis to the class. This lets me get a quick snapshot of how they went about analyzing their tracking sheet.