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Collection of Reviewed Teaching Resources

Let’s go into Orbit: Pocket Solar System

Subject taught
- Art
- Math
- Physics

Link
https://www.calacademy.org/educators/lesson-plans/pocket-solar-system-0

Type of Product
- Diagrams and graphs
- Exercises
- Lesson Plans
- Web Site/Portal

Language Skills Developed
- Interaction
- Listening
- Reading
- Speaking
- Writing

Transferable/Scientific Skills Developed
Students will develop observing skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills.

Description
General aim:
Students will be able to analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system.

Subject specific aim:
• describe the relative distances between the orbits of the planets.
• recognize that objects in the solar system are very far from each other.

Linguistic aims:
- to understand content of specific theme
- to enable students to understand topic correctly
- to translate words of particular theme from English into the mother tongue using their own words or vice versa.

This task is aimed at students of 10-15 years old.
Level of competence in English (CEFR): B1 +/B2
Time Required: 25 minutes

Needed material:
• pre-cut strips of register tape (one meter per student)
• round stickers (5 large & 5 small per student)
• pencils
• one finished example to show students

Introduction

For any scale model activity, it is useful to start by exploring the notion of models. Playthings, such as dolls or toy cars, can be a useful reference for talking about scale models.

Pull out a folded, completed sample of the model from your pocket. Point out that the planets never appear in a straight line like this in order out from the Sun, but this is just a reminder of the radius of the orbits. The planets would be found somewhere along a circle this far from the Sun. If you have a board with a thumbtack, you can tack it to the board at the Sun and show or draw out the orbits.

Procedure

1. Distribute the register tape and stickers to each student and lead them through the following steps.
2. Sun & Pluto (on the edges): Make a mark on each end of the tape, one large and one small, right at the edge. Label the large one Sun and the small one Pluto. Even though Pluto has been reclassified as a dwarf planet it serves as a useful reference point here. We can use it as the first example of such a dwarf planet ever found, just as we’ll use Ceres to represent the asteroid belt later on.
3. Uranus (1/2): Fold the tape in half, crease it, unfold and lay flat. Place a large sticker at the halfway point. You can ask for guesses as to which of the planets might be at this halfway point. Label the sticker Uranus.
4. Saturn (1/4) and Neptune (3/4): Fold the tape back in half, then in half again. If there are mixed ages, give those with some knowledge of fractions the opportunity to show off by asking “What is half of a half?" Unfold and lay flat. Place large stickers at the quarter mark and 3/4 marks and label as Saturn (closer to the Sun) and Neptune (closer to Pluto).
5. Jupiter (1/8): Fold back into quarters, then in half one more time. This will give you eighths. Unfold and lay flat again. Place a large sticker for Jupiter at the 1/8 mark (between the Sun and Saturn), and label.
6. Asteroid Belt (1/16): No need to fold the whole thing up again. If you take a look, you’ve got the 4 gas giants and Pluto all on there in the outer solar system. For the remaining terrestrial planets, you’ll only need 1/2 of the first 1/8th! That’s the inner 1/16th of your meter. Fold the Sun out to meet Jupiter to mark the 1/16th spot. A planet does not go here, but you should label this Ceres to represent the Asteroid Belt.
7. Earth (inside 1/32), Mars (outside 1/32): At this point, things start getting a little crowded and folding is tough to get precise distances, so fold the remaining 1/16th in half and crease at the 1/32nd spot. Place a small sticker for the Earth just inside this fold (between the Sun and Ceres) and a small sticker for Mars just outside the fold (closer to Ceres and the Asteroid Belt) and label them.
8. Mercury & Venus (between Earth & Sun): Place small stickers for Mercury and then Venus, between the Earth and Sun, pretty much dividing the space into thirds and label them as Mercury closest to the Sun and Venus closest to the Earth.


Wrap-Up

At the end of the discussion, be sure to have everyone put their names on their tapes and fold them up to put it in their pockets. But before you put them away, here are some questions you might ask to get participants thinking about insights they can get from building this model.

1. Are there any surprises? Look how empty the outer solar system is: there is a reason they call it space! And how crowded the inner solar system is (relatively speaking).
2. Do you know anything about the physical properties of the ones that are spread out versus the ones that are crowded in close to the Sun? All the inner ones are small and rocky and the outer ones are gassy giants (except small, icy Pluto).
3. Given this spacing, why do you think little, rocky Venus can outshine giant Jupiter in the night sky? Both are covered with highly reflective clouds, and although it is much smaller, Venus is also much, much closer.
4. Does anyone know where the Eris, the largest dwarf planet would go on this model? At 97 AU, it would more than double the size of the model. Pluto is on average 40 AU.
5. On this scale (1 m = 40 AU) where would the nearest star be? After some guesses you could bring out your pocket calculator to use in getting how far away the star would be. This allows you to talk about how far is a light year and do the calculations to find that the next nearest star is about 7 km (4.2 miles) away. They could then take out a local map to see what is that far away from where the presentation is happening.

This task can be given as the first activity when starting the Solar System thematic in order to show the scale of the space in practice. Or it could be given to deepen the knowledge in this field. Using this activity during English lessons will give multidisciplinary aspects in the lessons and will broaden students’ vocabulary.

Comments
Strengths: students learn in playful, visual way about the scale of the Solar System. Students will have their own pocket Solar System that would work as a learning tool. Weakness: the activity may take longer than it is expected, due to big classes and managing students who are not listening carefully. Therefore, the activity may be implemented working in groups of two. Scientific reliability: The source is scientifically reliable as correspond to Next Generation Science Standards. Middle School: MS-ESS1-2: Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system MS-ESS1-3: Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system Pedagogical values: language development across the curriculum, interdisciplinary, teaching complex thinking, contextualization, creating visual model.

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Let's go in to orbit!