Engage (10 minutes):
Model how stars that are closer appear brighter with the following activity. For this part of the lesson, you need a globe, the sun and star signs from the Attachments section, two flashlights, and a dark classroom or hallway.
- Divide students into three groups. Give one group a globe to represent the view from Earth. Give the second group a flashlight and the sun sign (included in Attachments section). Give the third group a flashlight and the Proxima Centauri sign.
- Have the group representing Earth stand at one end of the hallway or classroom. Have the sun group stand about three feet away from the Earth group and shine the flashlight on that group. Have the Proxima Centauri group stand as far from the Earth group as possible and shine their flashlight on the Earth group as well.
- Have members of the Earth group describe the differences in the appearance of the light from the flashlights.
- Rotate groups so all students have the chance to observe the light from different distances.
Explore (30 – 45 minutes, depending on students’ research skills):
- Watch the 4-minute video explaining NASA’s research on the sun.
- Tell students that the information scientists have collected using telescopes and satellites supports the idea that the sun is not actually the brightest star, it just appears that way to us on Earth because it is relatively close to us. Students will use these facts to create a poster, picture book, or digital presentation to explain this to younger students who may think that the sun is bigger and brighter than all other stars.
- Have students use http://sunandstarfacts.weebly.com/ to gather information about the sun, stars, and their relative distances. This is a great time to introduce research skills, citation of information, and use of quotation marks when quoting a text.
- Give each student a copy of the note-taking cards from the attachments section. Review the difference between summarizing information and using a direct quotation from the text. Have students work in pairs at computers to conduct their research. If access to computers is limited, have half the class work on research while the other half of the class does the extension art activity, and then rotate groups.
- Tell students that they should find out as much as they can about the sun and other stars to be able to make a compelling argument. After they conduct their research, they will sort their notecards into categories. Have students brainstorm categories for evidence types. Examples are the distance from Earth, kinds of stars, the temperature of stars, the life of a star, and the brightness of stars.
Explain (30 – 40 minutes):
- Display charts labeled with the following categories and/or the student-selected categories:
- Distance from Earth
- Kinds of Stars
- Temperature of Stars
- Life of a Star
- Brightness of Stars
- Have students sort their notecards into categories and tape them to the corresponding charts.
- Discuss how each type of information could be used to explain that the sun appears to be the brightest star, but only because of its proximity to Earth. While information about the relative distances of stars is important, students must also give evidence that the sun is not the brightest star, so evidence from multiple categories is required for a convincing argument.
- Have students choose three pieces of evidence from different categories to support their claim that one factor in determining the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is the relative distance from Earth. They will use these pieces of evidence to write an essay that will be used as the text for a poster, picture book, or digital presentation.
Elaborate (45 minutes – 1.5 hours, depending on your students):
Students will use their written essays to create a poster, picture book, or digital presentation for younger students to explain why the sun looks brighter than other stars. You may assign these products based on students’ strengths and abilities, or you may allow students to choose which type of product they want to make. Share the evaluation rubric with students before they begin their posters, books, or presentations.
Resources for posters:
Resources for picture books:
Free tools for digital presentations:
Have students share their posters, books, or presentations with a kindergarten–second-grade class along with sunspot cookies!