Rollin' Through the Solar System: Creating a Scaled Model
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Build a Solar System (additional celestial bodies) Website for extension activity
Background/Preparation:
Students should have a basic understanding of the objects included in our solar system. In addition, students should understand that the solar system is so vast, we have to scale it down in order to understand the relationships between objects in our solar system. Students should be able to develop a scale model with teacher assistance, be able to round numbers to a specific place value, and complete metric system conversions (millimeters to meters).
Before Strategy/Engage: (20 minutes)
Students will view the video clip "Pluto in a Minute: How Did New Horizons Phone Home?". As students view the video, ask them to write the answers to these questions: How did New Horizons send messages to Earth? How long did it take these messages to reach Earth? Answers: Pluto sent messages to Earth using radio waves, which travel at the speed of light. It took 4 hours and 25 minutes for messages from New Horizons to reach Earth.
After viewing the video clip, ask students the following question and lead a discussion on the possible answers: Why did it take New Horizons almost four and half hours to send messages to Earth, even though its messages were traveling at the speed of light? Possible Answer: Because Pluto is so far away (32 astronomical units/7.5 billion kilometers/4.67 billion miles), it takes a very long time for radio waves to reach it, even though they are moving at the speed of light.
Ask students to sketch an illustration of the solar system. Students should include the names of the planets, the relative sizes of the planets and the sun, and the distances of the planets from each other. Students should keep this sketch to refer to for the assessment portion of this lesson. Note: Most students will know the outer planets are larger than the inner planets. However, most students will have the misconception that the planets are evenly spaced within the solar system.
After discussing student drawings, explain to students they will be creating a scaled model of our solar system using a roll of toilet paper.
During Strategy/Explore & Explain:(80 minutes)
Students will need the "Rollin' Through the Solar System" Student Sheet handout.
The teacher will lead students through the first scale conversion (sun's diameter). (See "Rollin' Through the Solar System" handout for detailed instructions.) Note: Instead of personally calculating the scale factor for each planet's diameter and orbit, students can use the Build a Solar System (planets only) website. Students will type in 10 for the body diameter of the sun (in mm), and the website will calculate the scaled measurements.
The teacher will demonstrate the second scale conversion (Mercury's diameter and distance from the sun). Students will complete the problem on their handout.
Students will complete the third scale conversion (Venus's diameter and distance from the sun) independently or with a partner. The teacher will informally assess students as they are working to ensure they are understanding the scale conversion. Students will complete the table provided on the "Rollin' Through the Solar System" Student Sheet. Note: If students are personally calculating the scale factor for their model, this step would be a good stopping point. Students can create their scaled model the next class period.
Before students begin to create their model solar system, the teacher should check to ensure all students have the correct measurements for the scaled model. This can be done individually or as a whole class. (See "Rollin' Through the Solar System Answer Key" for correct answers.)
Students will now begin to create their scaled model of the solar system on their roll of toilet paper. Students may work individually on their scale model or work in collaborative learning groups. (See "Rollin' Through the Solar System" Student Sheet for detailed instructions.)
After students draw Mercury on their scaled model, they will refer to the table on their handout. They will see Venus should be 0.36 meters away from Mercury on their scaled model. They will use a ruler or meter stick to measure this distance on their roll of toilet paper. Students will measure a line that is approximately 0.1 mm and label it Venus. Students will continue to measure the scaled diameters and distances in this fashion to complete their scaled model of the solar system. Note: The student sheet instructs students to put only a tiny dot to represent Mercury. They will need to follow this same procedure for Mars and Pluto. Be sure students understand this is due to the scale factor. In order to fit the entire solar system on the roll of toilet paper, the sizes and distances had to be scaled down so much, these relatively small planets can barely be seen from this scale.
After Strategy/Explain & Extend:(20 minutes)
Students will answer reflection questions about this activity. This will include a sketch of the model, as well as questions to check for student understanding of the concept. (See "Rollin' Through the Solar System Reflection" Student Sheet handout.)
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The teacher will informally assess students as they complete the math problems required by the scale factor.
The teacher will informally assess students as they use the scaled diameters and distances of the objects in the solar system to create their scaled model on toilet paper.
The students will be formally assessed by completing the "Rollin' Through the Solar System Reflection Questions" handout. The teacher can count this assessment as a course grade, or use this reflection handout to facilitate a class discussion on the model.
Acceleration:
Students who meet the Primary Learning Objective can add additional objects to their scaled model, such as planetary satellites.
The following website contains information about the diameters and orbits of various planetary satellites: Build a Solar System (all celestial bodies).
Intervention:
Students who struggle with the mathematical portion of this lesson could be partnered with a student who excels in math, in order to provide support during that portion of the lesson. The teacher should also provide support to these students during that portion of the lesson to ensure the students are using the correct measurements for the model. If the mathematical skills required for this lesson would prevent the student from creating the scale model, the student can use the following website to compute the scale factor: Build a Solar System (planets only).
View the Special Education resources for
instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations
for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.