The Universcale (A Project)

15 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT to compare objects that span the scale of the known universe

Big Idea

Sometimes we can best understand our universe by looking at extremes

Start Up

15 minutes

We start this project by revisiting the lesson "how big is it." I like to show a video that shows the incredible sizes of the stars in our universe. I like this video on you tube:

More than just being entertaining, they ask a question in the video that reflects part of the goal of this project. 


When it shows the largest star in the sequence, VY Canis Majoris, it states that a plane flying its circumference at 900km per hour, would take 1100 years to circumnavigate the star. If the diameter is 2,800,000,000 km, are they correct?

I give students a few minutes before we share our findings.

The Universcale

35 minutes

In this project, I ask students to pick two objects from the Universcale that seem amazing. I give them about 15 minutes play with the animation and zoom through the universe. The goal is to start with the animation and find a few objects that they want to compare:

This is a great alternative:

Students should write out the measurements of each object to begin working on the project itself. 

I prefer that they pick something very small and compare it to something very large. Of course, any comparison that they find interesting will do, but I am looking for something that shows the vastness of scale in the universe. For example, they might ask, "how many times larger is the sun than a single bacterium?" They might also ask, "how many fleas would we line up to span the Milky way?"


I give students this worksheet to guide them on some of the project questions:


For the project report I want students to assemble these answers into a presentable document. Students should write about the approach they undertook for the project and the comparisons that they made. I ask students to explain how they used their understanding of scientific notation and the laws of exponents to make comparisons.

Here is the rubric that I give to them and use to assess their work: Universcale Rubric.pdf 

If students are absent or unclear about the project goals, they review this video:


10 minutes

Here the goal is to share the objects that people chose and the comparisons that they plan to make. This helps other students reflect on their choice and make any needed adjustments. We also go over some of the problems from the project worksheet and answer any questions they have around the mathematics. I ask students to complete the work with a partner over the week. They should share each component of the report equally. I ask the students to make a plan to meet after school or online. They exchange contact information and plan out their timeline before they leave. I want to know they have a plan for getting this together. If there are any disagreement or anyone that needs help, the students know that they can reach me anytime.