Reflection: Perseverance Planetary Distances using Toilet Paper - Section 3: Student Activity


For this activity I hand out a two page extended version. I explain how to do this activity, but never allow the students to see the second page. I purposely set it on a nearby table and tell the students that when they finish the first page they are to pick up the second page and continue marking off objects.

This second page is never meant to be completed. The second page includes distances to objects that are VERY far from the Sun. The nearest star (Proxima Centauri) would be measured in millions of toilet paper squares. I is my intention for the students to get frustrate and feel that their is no possible ware are you to measure out that many toilet paper squares during the allotted time period. It is through this frustration that I hope students learn and appreciate the scale of our Solar System and realize that the distances in space, even to are nearest neighboring star, are immense.

One of the frustrations that I encounter teaching astronomy is that many posters and models sacrifice scale in order to fit pictures into the frame. I have seen many NASA produced posters that show the planets in our Solar System as being right next to each other in order to fit them all on one picture. While this sort of picture looks nice hanging on a teacher's wall. It provides a misconception that students internalize about distances in space. It is my hope that this activity dispels those inherent misconceptions and give students an idea of how vast the cosmos really is.

  I want the students to get frustrated
  Perseverance: I want the students to get frustrated
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Planetary Distances using Toilet Paper

Unit 11: Solar System
Lesson 1 of 8

Objective: Students will be able to experience the vastness within our Solar System as they measure off the the distance between the planets using toilet paper.

Big Idea: Students are able to get a sense of the scale of the Solar System with toilet paper.

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planetary distances activity
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