Curriculum Access System
for Elementary Science
http://cases-soe.web.itd.umich.edu/

Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?
(a 3-5 Astronomy unit)
Author: Lisa Colombo
Modified by: CASES Team

unit overview

It is important to start the unit by introducing the driving question. You may want to post it prominently in the classroom and refer to it throughout the unit to focus students' thinking.

This unit explores the possibility that people could travel to other planets and create a permanent, self-sustaining settlement.

table of contents

unit calendar

Week 1 : Is it alive?

Lessons

Living or Non-Living

Students need to first understand what it means when we call something "living." While students will know the obvious living things like animals, they may not understand that plants are also considered living.
Week 2 : Why can we live on Earth?

Lessons

Gravity

Characteristics of Earth that Support Life

Students conduct research projects to better understand the characteristics of the Earth that support life.

Students also learn about gravity during this week. While most will understand that a force exists that pulls us toward the ground, many will not know that other planets do not have this same force (or it is of a different magnitude).
Week 3 : What's it like elsewhere in our solar system?

Lessons

Solar System Exploration

Students research the characteristics of other parts of our solar system in order to make comparisons to the Earth.
Week 4 : What are scientists doing to make it possible for us to live elsewhere in our solar system?

Lessons

The Machines that Explore our Solar System

Students examine different machines such as landers, probes, and rovers, which help scientists understand what the conditions are like on other planets.

worksheets

Note that these worksheets are not automatically included in this packet. To retreive and print them, click on each of these links.

Week 1 : Is it alive?
(no worksheets for this week)
Week 2 : Why can we live on Earth?
(no worksheets for this week)
Week 3 : What's it like elsewhere in our solar system?
(no worksheets for this week)
Week 4 : What are scientists doing to make it possible for us to live elsewhere in our solar system?
(no worksheets for this week)

summary of materials needed for this unit

Week 1 : Is it alive?
Materials needed for the lesson: Living or Non-Living
  • Worm
  • Rock
  • Plant
  • Magazines (optional)

Week 2 : Why can we live on Earth?
Materials needed for the lesson: Gravity

Materials needed for the lesson: Characteristics of Earth that Support Life
  • Resources such as the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
  • Poster paper
  • Markers

Week 3 : What's it like elsewhere in our solar system?
Materials needed for the lesson: Solar System Exploration
  • Resources such as the Internet, books, magazines
  • Poster paper
  • Markers, pens, etc.

Week 4 : What are scientists doing to make it possible for us to live elsewhere in our solar system?
Materials needed for the lesson: The Machines that Explore our Solar System
  • Resources such as the Internet, books and magazines
  • Paper
  • Markers, pens, etc.

driving question

Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

What is a driving question?

This unit addresses the following subquestions:

Why are these good questions?

Feasibility
Students are able to perform a variety of investigations in order to answer this driving question.
Worth
This unit is aligned with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) benchmarks.
Contextualization
This driving question is contextualized in the real lives of students. Students learn about the characteristics of the Earth that allows it to sustain life. They then apply this understanding to determine whether or not life could exist on other planets.
Meaning
Students at this age are typically very curious about whether or not life can exist on other planets.
Sustainability
This unit takes place over several weeks. Students can carry out sustained investigations in order to answer this driving question.

What is a driving question?
A driving question is a question that is elaborated, explored, and answered by the students and the teacher. The driving question encourages students to link together different topic areas and apply knowledge in real-world settings. To use a driving question, you could:

standards

This unit is aligned with AAAS Benchmarks (http://www.project2061.org/tools/benchol/bolframe.htm) for grades 3-5

AAAS Benchmarks
1B Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments. Investigations can focus on physical, biological, and social questions.
1B Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed and with a logical argument.
4A The earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, and the moon orbits around the earth.
4B The Earth's gravity pulls any object toward it without touching it.
5C Some living things consist of a single cell. Like familiar organisms, they need food, water, and air; a way to dispose of waste; and an environment they can live in.
5D For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
8D Communication technologies make it possible to send and receive information more reliably, quickly, and cheaply over long distances.

science background

This page compiles discussions of the science content covered in this unit. See the content section in each lesson plan for more specific science content. Note that the explanations provided here are typically in more depth than the level of understanding you would expect from your students.

Is it alive?
A living thing has the following characteristics: made of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond to their environment, and adapt to their environment. If an object does not exhibit all of these characteristics, like sugar crystals growing on the bottom of a syrup container, it is not living.

In order for a living thing to survive, certain resources must be available and consumable, like water, air, food, a way to dispose of wastes, and an environment to live in.

There is a difference between what an organism needs and what it wants. A living thing needs air, water, food, etc., a living thing (human) wants material things, shelter, etc.
Why can we live on Earth?
The Earth provides the resources necessary for life: it has fresh water (75% of Earth's surface covered with liquid water), oxygen-rich air, temperature range of 136F to -127F, ability to grow and sustain plants and animals (for food), etc. For more information on the Earth's characteristics, visit The Earth's Characteristics (http://library.thinkquest.org/C002416/ earth/)
What's it like elsewhere in our solar system?
The solar system is comprised of the sun, eight planets, satellites of the planets such as moons, small bodies such as comets, asteroids, dwarf planets and interplanetary medium.



Earth's moon




Mercury




Venus




Mars




Jupiter


Atmosphere none (trace gases from capture of solar wind) none very dense, carbon dioxide, with small amounts of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide thinner than the Earth's, mostly carbon dioxide ammonia and hydrogen
Temperature -330F to 212F -330F to 797F 711F to 909F -197F to 63F -292F at cloud tops
Rotation period 27 days (about one month) 59 days 243 days 24 hours (about the same as the Earth) 10 hours
Orbital period 29 days 88 days 224 days 686 days (1.8 years) 4,334 days (11.8 years)
Water? No water (except frozen at the poles) No water (except possibly at poles) No water that we know of Has water! No liquid at the surface now, but a lot of evidence for liquid water flowing on the surface in the past! No water
Size 1/4 the diameter of the Earth (3476 km) about 40% the diameter of the Earth (4878 km) about the same as the Earth (.95 smaller) about 1/2 the diameter of the Earth at 6787 km 11 times Earth's diameter (142,900 km)
Mass about 1.2 % of the Earth's mass (7.35x10^22 kg) about 6% of the Earth's mass (3.31x10^23 kg) about the same as the Earth ( .8 lower: 4.87x10^24kg) about 11% of the Earth's mass (.64x10^24 kg) 1.89x10^27 kg (317 times Earth)
Surface gravity 16% of the Earth's gravity 37% of the Earth's gravity 88% of the Earth's gravity 38% of the Earth's gravity 2.5 times Earth's gravity
Distance from sun same distance as the Earth (1.5x10^8 km) about 40% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. (5.79x10^7 km) about 72% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. 1.082x10^8 km about 152% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. 2.279x10^8km 7.78x10^8 km
Distance from earth close by (384,400 km) moderately far away (60% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun) 28% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun moderately far away (52% of the distance between the Earth and the sun.)





Saturn




Uranus




Neptune




Pluto


Atmosphere none hydrogen, helium, methane, ammonia, and water vapor methane and hydrogen nitrogen and methane
Temperature -292F at cloud tops -364F at cloud tops -357F at cloud tops -382F at cloud tops
Rotation period 11 hours 17 hours 16 hours 6 days and 9 hours
Orbital period 10,760 days (29.5 years) 30,685 days (84 years) 60,189 days (164.7 years) 90,465 days (247.7 years)
Water? No water No water No water No water
Size 120,660 km (9.5 times Earth's) 51,118 km (4 times Earth's) 49,500 km (3.8 times Earth's) 2,300 km (0.19 times Earth's)
Mass 5.69x10^26 kg (95 times Earth's) 8.7x10^25 kg (14.5 times Earth's) 1.03x10^26 kg (17.23 times Earth's) 1.2x10^22 kg (.002 times Earth's)
Surface gravity 1.16 times Earth's gravity 0.9 Earth gravities 1.19 times the Earth's gravity 0.06 Earth gravities
Distance from sun 14.27x10^8 km 28.7x10^8 km 45x10^8 km 59x10^8 km
A Terrestrial planet is a small rocky planet that may or may not have an atmosphere. A Jovian planet is primarily made of gases and does not have a solid surface. It is very large and very massive. Terrestrial planets include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars (inner solar system.) Jovian planets include Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. and Neptune. Pluto is small like terrestrial planets but has a low density like Jovian planets. Recently, scientists reclassified Pluto (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/ online/index.shtml) as a dwarf planet instead of a true planet. Check out more information about all of the planets. (http://www.nineplanets.org)
What are scientists doing to make it possible for us to live elsewhere in our solar system?
NASA investigates planets using either orbiters, probes, landers, rovers, or space telescopes.

Orbiters circle around a planet

Probes drop into a planet's atmosphere

Landers lands on a planet's surface

Rovers moves over surface of a planet

Space telescopes orbit Earth beyond its atmosphere and take pictures

The United States space program is concentrating on the inner planets to colonize because they are terrestrial and have the most potential for sustaining life. We could not create a colony on a Jovian planet because there is no viable surface and the outer planets have too long of a travel time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to colonizing each planet:

Mercury: closest to sun, no atmosphere, one side extremely hot, the other extremely cold, no water (except for possibly in ice craters at the poles), very long days. smaller than Earth and therefore less gravity, not close to the Earth

Venus: very hot, thick atmosphere that is not similar to the Earth's in composition (tons of carbon dioxide and intense pressure), long days, no water that we know of, about the same size as Earth (similar gravity), not close to Earth.

Moon: no atmosphere, little water (mostly frozen at poles), long days, close to Earth.

Mars: atmosphere thin with carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water, found water, seasons similar to Earth (longer year), same length of day, cool, but not Really cold, surface/climate is most Earth-like of all the planets.
Which part of our solar system would be the best to colonize?
Scientists have decided that out of all the planets we have the best chance at colonizing Mars. Why Mars would make the best choice: Atmosphere (thin) with carbon dioxide, nitrogen; Water; Seasons similar to Earth (longer year); Same length of day; Cool, but not REALLY cold; Surface/climate is most Earth-like of the planets;therefore, Mars is most Earth-like in environment. Visit NASA's Mars Exploration Program (http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/ science/)! Check out video clips (http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/ gallery/video/) about NASA's missions to Mars.

The moon would be a good choice as well, partly because of its close proximity to the Earth, and with the newly discovered ice deposit(s) found by Lunar Prospector.

students' alternative ideas

What are alternative ideas?

Living Things
possible alternative idea
Elementary school students often believe that things such as "death" and "movement" are characteristics of living things. They do not understand that plants are considered living while fire, clouds, and the sun are not. In addition, they do not grasp that trees, vegetables, and grass are plants.
scientific idea
A living thing has the following characteristics: made of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond to their environment, and adapt to their environment. If an object does not exhibit all of these characteristics, like sugar crystals growing on the bottom of a syrup container, it is not living.

In order for a living thing to survive, certain resources must be available and consumable, like water, air, food, warmth, mates, and other resources make life more comfortable like communication, shelter, transportation, etc.
dealing with the alternative idea
The Living or Non-Living Lesson Plan addresses the characteristics of living things.
The Planets
possible alternative idea
It is difficult for many elementary school students to understand that the Earth is spherical. It is important to note that students may say that the Earth is spherical but in actuality they believe that it has a flat top or people live inside of the sphere on a flat surface. Many students are unable to grasp the enormous distance between the planets.
scientific idea
The Earth and other planets are mostly spherical - though they are not perfect spheres.
dealing with the alternative idea
Be careful about your language - saying that the Earth is "round" can cause many students to picture a flat circle, like a pancake. Be sure to have spherical models on hand for students to explore.
The Sun
possible alternative idea
Elementary students may not understand that the sun is a star and that the Earth revolves around the sun. This is especially hard to understand because kids see the sun rise and set - so it seems like the sun moves around while the Earth stays still.
scientific idea
The sun is a fairly average star and its gravity causes Earth and the other planets to revolve around it.
dealing with the alternative idea
Again, having 3-D models avaliable for students to explore is important. Several of the lesson in this unit will help students with this idea. Also, if this is a topic you want to focus on, there are lessons in the 6-8 Astronomy unit that could be adapted for younger students.
Gravity
possible alternative idea
Students cannot accept that gravity is center-directed if they do not know the earth is spherical. Nor can they believe in a spherical earth without some knowledge of gravity to account for why people on the "bottom" do not fall off. Students are likely to say many things that sound right even though their ideas may be very far off base. For example, they may say that the earth is spherical, but believe that people live on a flat place on top or inside of it, or believe that the round earth is "up there" like other planets, while people live down here
scientific idea
The gravity of the Sun causes the planets to rotate around it. The gravity of the Earth is what we feel and what keeps our feet on the ground!
dealing with the alternative idea
Some of these ideas might still be present at the end of the unit, but continually referring to a model of the solar system will help students with this idea. Also, be sure to make the connection between the Earth and sun in the model with where they live and the sun they see.

What are alternative ideas?

Why is it important to know the alternative ideas my students hold?

How do I obtain information on the alternative ideas my students hold?
Asking questions and listening carefully to students' responses is key to learning about their ideas. Some guidelines for doing this include:

inquiry adaptatons

What is inquiry in CASES?
What are the benefits of doing inquiry? In addition to helping students better understand the process of investigating the question, engaging in inquiry-oriented activities helps students better understand the topic they are investigating (content) and develop, carry-out, and evaluate investigations that are best suited to their question (problem-solving).
What is inquiry in CASES?
What are the benefits of doing inquiry? In addition to helping students better understand the process of investigating the question, engaging in inquiry-oriented activities helps students better understand the topic they are investigating (content) and develop, carry-out, and evaluate investigations that are best suited to their question (problem-solving). [?] What is inquiry in CASES?[?] What is a driving question?[?] When should students develop the questions? When should the teacher develop the questions?[?] What makes a good representation?[?] What makes a good representation?[?] What makes a good representation?[?] What makes a good representation?[?] What makes a good representation?[?] What makes a good representation?
What is a driving question?
It is an overarching topic that helps organize activities and investigations in a project-based science classroom. It encourages students to see connections between various learning activities and apply their knowledge to the real world.
When should students develop the questions? When should the teacher develop the questions?
Both teachers and students can pose questions in science class. It might be easier to decide on these questions as you plan. Within the unit however, both teachers and students can create questions to answer, depending on time considerations, available resources, and students´┐Ż comfort level with inquiry.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.
What makes a good representation?
Representations should be (scientifically) accurate and appropriate, understandable, helpful for promoting learning, and reasonable given your instructional context.

The tables below will give you ideas about how to change the lesson plans in this unit to meet your students' needs.

Questioning & predicting

If the lesson focuses on questioning & predicting and if your students have:

more experience with engaging in questions, you might consider... less experience with engaging in questions, you might consider...
Encouraging small groups of students to ask and answer their own questions Having the whole class answer the same questions
Letting student-generated questions drive the investigations within the unit (you might guide them by making a shorter list from their questions) Letting students investigate answers to questions you provide for them
Remember: Giving kids ownership over questions will make their investigations meaningful. Remember: It's important that students are engaged with questions -- even if you're the one asking them

Explanations & evidence

If the lesson focuses on explanations & evidence and if your students have:

more experience with explaining their results, you might consider... less experience with explaining their results, you might consider...
Encouraging students to use the word "evidence" as they explain their findings and making sure they actually do use evidence Spending as much class time as is needed to explain to students what "evidence" means - talk about what would and wouldn't count as evidence
Allowing groups or individuals to come up with their own explanations using evidence
Modeling the process of using evidence to explain a result. Use "I think....because..." templates to help students organize their thoughts. Do these as a class for the first few investigations.
Making sure students focus on showing "why" something happened, not just "how" or "that" it happened Making sure students focus on showing "why" something happened, not just "how" or "that" it happened

Communicating & justifying

If the lesson focuses on communicating & justifying and if your students have:

more experience with communicating and justifying their findings, you might consider... less experience with communicating and justifying their findings, you might consider...
Encouraging students to design their own method of communicating and/or choose their audience Having the entire class present findings using same procedure.
Allowing students to form their own argument Providing guidelines to help students communicate their argument.
Encouraging students to question each other on their findings so students will justify their conclusions to each other Encouraging students to justify their findings by asking them "How do you know?" while guiding them in learning how to rely on evidence.

Lesson plan: Living or Non-Living

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From week 1 of the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Abstract
Students will make observations about the world around them in order to learn about the characteristics and needs of living things.
Standards and Benchmarks
AAAS Benchmarks
  • Some living things consist of a single cell. Like familiar organisms, they need food, water, and air; a way to dispose of waste; and an environment they can live in.
Objectives
  • Students will be able to make accurate observations about the world around them.
  • Students will be able to understand the needs and characteristics of living things.
Class Time Needed
Forty minutes (part one) 15 minutes (part two)
Teacher Preparation
The teacher needs to secure an outside area for students to explore.
Materials
  • Worm
  • Rock
  • Plant
  • Magazines (optional)
Science Background

Is it alive?
A living thing has the following characteristics: made of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond to their environment, and adapt to their environment. If an object does not exhibit all of these characteristics, like sugar crystals growing on the bottom of a syrup container, it is not living.

In order for a living thing to survive, certain resources must be available and consumable, like water, air, food, a way to dispose of wastes, and an environment to live in.

There is a difference between what an organism needs and what it wants. A living thing needs air, water, food, etc., a living thing (human) wants material things, shelter, etc.

Students' Alternative Ideas

Living Things

Alternative idea: Elementary school students often believe that things such as "death" and "movement" are characteristics of living things. They do not understand that plants are considered living while fire, clouds, and the sun are not. In addition, they do not grasp that trees, vegetables, and grass are plants.

Scientific idea: A living thing has the following characteristics: made of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond to their environment, and adapt to their environment. If an object does not exhibit all of these characteristics, like sugar crystals growing on the bottom of a syrup container, it is not living.

In order for a living thing to survive, certain resources must be available and consumable, like water, air, food, warmth, mates, and other resources make life more comfortable like communication, shelter, transportation, etc.

Dealing with the alternative idea: The Living or Non-Living Lesson Plan addresses the characteristics of living things.

Description
Part One: The Characteristics of Living Things

1. Tell students to look around the room. Ask:
  • Which objects are blue? Which are not blue?
  • Which objects do we write on? Which objects do we not write on?
2. Record student responses by making a list on the board that looks like:
Blue Objects Non-Blue Objects
blue item non-blue item
blue item non-blue item
Objects We Write On Objects We Do Not Write On
object we write on object we do not write on
object we write on object we do not write on
3. Explain to students that we can look at the world around them and separate things into different groups. There are many different ways we can group the things around us. One way is by color. Another is by what we write on and what we don't.

4. Ask students: What are some other ways we can group things around us?
  • Some students might say that we group things by whether they are human or not
5. Explain to students that scientists often group things by whether they are living or non-living. Place a rock, a worm, and a plant on a table. Ask:
  • Which objects do you think are living?
  • Which objects do you think are non-living?
Why should my students ask and answer questions in science?
Asking and answering questions
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in a search for answers and explanations
  • Motivates students to learn about a topic
  • Helps students learn to do inquiry
  • Improves problem solving skills

How can I help my students ask and answer questions in science?
  • Have students make observations about what they are studying (cells under a microscope, a simple machine, a mealworm)
  • Encourage students to ask questions about their observations, including a combination of descriptive questions (ex. What kind of food do mealworms eat?), relational questions (ex. Which dissolves faster in water - salt or sugar?), and cause and effect questions (ex. How does fertilizer affect the height and size of plants?)
  • If students need help getting started, provide them with question stems such as, I wonder what would happen if . . .?, What if . . .? or How does . . .?
  • Have students develop and critique questions as a class
  • Provide students with good questions to answer (students do not always have to come up with the questions) or select a question from a list the students generate


6. Make a list of the similarities and differences between the objects. Most students will know that the worm is living and the rock is not. They may not know that plants are living.
Do not correct students' ideas. They should not be expected to know the differences at this point -- that is the purpose of the lesson. Listening to their beliefs about living and non-living things will give you a better idea of their previous ideas and experiences with this concept.

7. Place students into groups of two.

8. Explain to students that they will be going on a scavenger hunt on the playground. They are to work with their partner to gather a total of five things - some living and some not. You may want to have students cut out pictures from magazines to get examples of living things.

9. Once students have gathered their materials, place each pair with another pair. Have them classify each of their objects as living or non-living.

10. Ask each group to explain one object and whether or not they think it is living or non-living and why they think so.
Ask the class the similarities between all of the living things - compile these on the board. Ask the class the similarities between all of the non-living things - compile these on the board.

Part Two: The Needs of Living Things
1. Explain to students that you will now be discussing what living things need in order to live.
  • Make sure students understand the difference between the characteristics of living things (part one) and the needs of living things (part two).
2. Ask students: What do all of the living things that we have observed today need in order to live?

3. After many students have responded, have all students write their predictions in their Science Journal.

4. Have students pair up with a partner to discuss their predictions. Explain to students that they can change their predictions if they wish to do so after this discussion.

5. Have students again share their predictions with the class.
  1. Why should students communicate and justify their findings?
    When students share their findings, they are participating in an important part of the scientific process.
    • Provides students with an opportunity to enhance and expand their ideas, grapple with the findings of their peers, and improve communication skills.
    • Provides other students with an opportunity to ask questions, examine evidence, identify faulty reasoning, and suggest alternative explanations.
    • When communicating and justifying findings, students should use the data they collect to answer a scientific question. You may also want to have students apply their knowledge to a new real world question or situation
  2. How can I help my students communicate and justify their findings?
    • Make sure students know that they will always be expected to share their findings with others: the teacher, classmates, younger students, the community, or other interested parties.
    • Develop guidelines for communicating findings so that students know what is expected of them. (this one is very similar to the next bullet point)
    • Explain to students that they will be expected to explain what they did during their investigations, why they did it that way, what they learned from it, and how their findings helped them to answer a question
    • Encourage students to ask themselves How do I know? about their conclusions to help them justify their findings and show how evidence from their investigations supports their conclusions.
6. Students should eventually come to the understanding that all living things need air, water, food, a way to dispose of wastes, and a place to live.

Some students may not mention food because plants are living - yet some students will not believe that plants eat because they don't ingest food like humans. Explain that plants need food like humans, but plants make their own food by using light from the sun, the air, and nutrients from the soil.


Assessment
Listen carefully to what students say when listing the characteristics of living things on the board.
  • Do they understand the characteristics of living things?
  • Do they understand that plants are living?
  • Do they understand why plants are considered living?
  • Do they understand the needs of living things?

Author(s): CASES Team

Lesson plan: Gravity

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From week 2 of the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Abstract
Students learn about the concept of gravity by engaging in several thinking exercises focused on forces. Students then apply their understanding of gravity to explain why the Earth is a suitable place for people to live.
Standards and Benchmarks
AAAS Benchmarks
  • The Earth's gravity pulls any object toward it without touching it.
  • For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Objectives
Students will understand that gravity is a force that acts on objects from a distance.
Class Time Needed
Forty minutes
Teacher Preparation
Optional: Short Movies of Astronauts in Space (http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/ Weight/movies1.html)
Student Background
Students should have an understanding of what is meant by the term "force."
Materials
Student Background
Students should have an understanding of what is meant by the term "force."
Science Background

Why can we live on Earth?
The Earth provides the resources necessary for life: it has fresh water (75% of Earth's surface covered with liquid water), oxygen-rich air, temperature range of 136F to -127F, ability to grow and sustain plants and animals (for food), etc. For more information on the Earth's characteristics, visit The Earth's Characteristics (http://library.thinkquest.org/C002416/ earth/)

Students' Alternative Ideas

Gravity

Alternative idea: Students cannot accept that gravity is center-directed if they do not know the earth is spherical. Nor can they believe in a spherical earth without some knowledge of gravity to account for why people on the "bottom" do not fall off. Students are likely to say many things that sound right even though their ideas may be very far off base. For example, they may say that the earth is spherical, but believe that people live on a flat place on top or inside of it, or believe that the round earth is "up there" like other planets, while people live down here

Scientific idea: The gravity of the Sun causes the planets to rotate around it. The gravity of the Earth is what we feel and what keeps our feet on the ground!

Dealing with the alternative idea: Some of these ideas might still be present at the end of the unit, but continually referring to a model of the solar system will help students with this idea. Also, be sure to make the connection between the Earth and sun in the model with where they live and the sun they see.

Description
  1. Ask students: What keeps us on the Earth?
  2. Why should my students ask and answer questions in science?
    Asking and answering questions
    • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
    • Engages students in a search for answers and explanations
    • Motivates students to learn about a topic
    • Helps students learn to do inquiry
    • Improves problem solving skills
  3. How can I help my students ask and answer questions in science?
    • Have students make observations about what they are studying (cells under a microscope, a simple machine, a mealworm)
    • Encourage students to ask questions about their observations, including a combination of descriptive questions (ex. What kind of food do mealworms eat?), relational questions (ex. Which dissolves faster in water - salt or sugar?), and cause and effect questions (ex. How does fertilizer affect the height and size of plants?)
    • If students need help getting started, provide them with question stems such as, I wonder what would happen if . . .?, What if . . .? or How does . . .?
    • Have students develop and critique questions as a class
    • Provide students with good questions to answer (students do not always have to come up with the questions) or select a question from a list the students generate
  4. Facilitate a discussion around their answers. Do not correct any alternative ideas at this point. Try to get an idea of what your students know. Many of them will use the term gravity but may not know what this term means. If they mention this word, ask probing questions such as What do you mean by that? Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
  5. Explain to students that they will be exploring answers to this question today in class.
  6. Ask students: What will happen when I push this book across the table? What will happen when I pull the chair across the room? Push the book across the table and pull the chair across the room. Explain that students were right, the book and chair moved when pushed or pulled!
  7. Ask students: Why did the book/chair move? Students should mention something about a force being applied to the chair/book. Get students to describe what they mean by a force - try to guide them to understand that a force is a push or a pull.
  8. Ask students to describe what happens when:
    • a ball is dropped
    • a pencil rolls off a desk
    • a notebook is knocked off a desk
  9. Facilitate a discussion around their answers. Students will probably describe this behavior by saying that the objects will all fall to the ground or the objects will move. Ask students: Will the basketball fall to the ground if I don't push it toward the ground? Why will the basketball fall to the ground if I am not applying a force to it?
    • It would be helpful to have a basketball handy to demonstrate that you are dropping the ball and not giving it a strong push toward the ground.
  10. Ask students to describe how falling is involved when they use the following:
    • playground slides
    • seesaws
    • swings
    • sleds
  11. Why should students collect evidence to answer questions?
    Collecting evidence
    • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
    • Engages students in gathering the evidence needed to draw conclusions
    • Facilitates problem solving skills
    • Facilitates understanding of content
    • Facilitates inquiry abilities
  12. How can I help my students collect evidence?
    • Encourage students to actively participate in planning and designing investigations whenever possible
    • Have students develop a way to record the data they collect (data table, journal, etc.)
    • When possible, have students double-check their measurements and repeat experiments to verify the accuracy of their data.
    • Provide students access to as many resources as possible, including the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
    • Model how you expect students to gather and record their data
  13. Facilitate a discussion around their answers. Students should recognize a similarity between the ball, pencil, and notebook falling to the ground and what happens when they play on slides, seesaws, etc.
  14. Ask students to explain why they think objects fall to the ground. Students should understand that there is a force called gravity that acts at a distance from objects. This force pulls objects toward the ground.
  15. Why should students communicate and justify their findings?
    When students share their findings, they are participating in an important part of the scientific process.
    • Provides students with an opportunity to enhance and expand their ideas, grapple with the findings of their peers, and improve communication skills.
    • Provides other students with an opportunity to ask questions, examine evidence, identify faulty reasoning, and suggest alternative explanations.
    • When communicating and justifying findings, students should use the data they collect to answer a scientific question. You may also want to have students apply their knowledge to a new real world question or situation
  16. How can I help my students communicate and justify their findings?
    • Make sure students know that they will always be expected to share their findings with others: the teacher, classmates, younger students, the community, or other interested parties.
    • Develop guidelines for communicating findings so that students know what is expected of them. (this one is very similar to the next bullet point)
    • Explain to students that they will be expected to explain what they did during their investigations, why they did it that way, what they learned from it, and how their findings helped them to answer a question
    • Encourage students to ask themselves How do I know? about their conclusions to help them justify their findings and show how evidence from their investigations supports their conclusions.
You may want to show students short on-line movies of astronauts in space to demonstrate how weak the force of gravity is in space. These movies include astronauts walking on the moon, Alan Shepard hitting a golf ball in space, etc. One word of caution: they may take a long time to download. These can be found at: Short Movies of Astronauts in Space (http://btc.montana.edu/CERES/html/ Weight/movies1.html)

Assessment
Have students write a short story about what their morning would be like if there were no gravity on Earth. Encourage creativity. How would they brush their teeth if the toothpaste couldn't stay on the brush? How would they eat their cereal if the milk couldn't stay in the bowl? Have students explain why these types of things are important to think about when trying to decide whether or not we could live elsewhere in our solar system.
Images of Inquiry

This lesson focuses on Questioning & Predicting, Explanations & Evidence, and Communicating & Justifying.

For ideas about how to change this lesson plan to meet your students' needs, see the tables on in the inquiry adaptations section of this packet.

Author(s): CASES Team

Lesson plan: Characteristics of Earth that Support Life

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From week 2 of the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Abstract
Students research questions about the characteristics of the Earth (such as temperature, atmosphere, etc.) that support living things.
Standards and Benchmarks
AAAS Benchmarks
  • Some living things consist of a single cell. Like familiar organisms, they need food, water, and air; a way to dispose of waste; and an environment they can live in.
  • For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Objectives
Students will understand the characteristics of the Earth that support living organisms.

Students will develop questions about the Earth's characteristics.

Students will conduct research to answer their questions.

Class Time Needed
Four days (first day for question development, second day for research, third day for creating posters, fourth day for presentations)
Materials
  • Resources such as the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
  • Poster paper
  • Markers
Science Background

Why can we live on Earth?
The Earth provides the resources necessary for life: it has fresh water (75% of Earth's surface covered with liquid water), oxygen-rich air, temperature range of 136F to -127F, ability to grow and sustain plants and animals (for food), etc. For more information on the Earth's characteristics, visit The Earth's Characteristics (http://library.thinkquest.org/C002416/ earth/)

Description
1. Ask students: What are the needs of living things? This should be a review for students if they did the "Living or Non-Living" Lesson Plan. Students should mention: air, food, water, way to dispose of wastes, a place to live

2. Ask students:
  • How does the Earth give living things what they need in order to live?
  • Why can we live on the Earth?
The Earth, of course, provides provides living things with what they need in order to live. The goal of asking these questions is to get students thinking about the characteristics of the Earth that support living things. Often, students personify organisms - listen for things like "the Earth wants..." and make sure you're not reinforcing them in your own languange.

3. Explain to students that they will be looking more closely at the needs of living things - and how the Earth provides these things to living organisms. The eventual goal is to compare the features of the Earth with features of other things in our solar system to draw conclusions about whether or not we could live elsewhere in the solar system (they do this the following week).
This would be a good time to refer students to the driving question guiding this unit (Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?)

4. Place students in pairs.

5. Put the following on the board:
  • food
  • air
  • water
  • disposing of wastes
  • place to live
6. Explain that students will be working in pairs to ask specific questions about the needs of living things listed on the board. They will research the answers to these questions by looking on the Internet and in books or magazines. The goal is for each pair to gather information about the Earth and how it sustains life. The class will then pull all of this information together to get a better idea of how Earth supports life. The answers to the questions should take about a day to find.

7. You may want to give students examples of questions if they are having difficulties:
  • What features does the Earth have that allows it to grow food?
  • Why is water so important to life? How much of the Earth is water? How much water do people need in order to live?
  • What's in the air that makes it so important for people?
  • What is the temperature range on Earth? What are the highest and lowest temperatures at which people can live?
Why should my students ask and answer questions in science?
Asking and answering questions
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in a search for answers and explanations
  • Motivates students to learn about a topic
  • Helps students learn to do inquiry
  • Improves problem solving skills

How can I help my students ask and answer questions in science?
  • Have students make observations about what they are studying (cells under a microscope, a simple machine, a mealworm)
  • Encourage students to ask questions about their observations, including a combination of descriptive questions (ex. What kind of food do mealworms eat?), relational questions (ex. Which dissolves faster in water - salt or sugar?), and cause and effect questions (ex. How does fertilizer affect the height and size of plants?)
  • If students need help getting started, provide them with question stems such as, I wonder what would happen if . . .?, What if . . .? or How does . . .?
  • Have students develop and critique questions as a class
  • Provide students with good questions to answer (students do not always have to come up with the questions) or select a question from a list the students generate


8. Have students check their questions with you before proceeding. Make sure their questions are answerable given the available resources and time.

9. Once students have gathered their information, have each pair create a poster representing what they found. Have each pair present their posters to the class - attach to the wall when done.
Why should students collect evidence to answer questions?
Collecting evidence
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in gathering the evidence needed to draw conclusions
  • Facilitates problem solving skills
  • Facilitates understanding of content
  • Facilitates inquiry abilities

How can I help my students collect evidence?
  • Encourage students to actively participate in planning and designing investigations whenever possible
  • Have students develop a way to record the data they collect (data table, journal, etc.)
  • When possible, have students double-check their measurements and repeat experiments to verify the accuracy of their data.
  • Provide students access to as many resources as possible, including the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
  • Model how you expect students to gather and record their data

Why should students communicate and justify their findings?
When students share their findings, they are participating in an important part of the scientific process.
  • Provides students with an opportunity to enhance and expand their ideas, grapple with the findings of their peers, and improve communication skills.
  • Provides other students with an opportunity to ask questions, examine evidence, identify faulty reasoning, and suggest alternative explanations.
  • When communicating and justifying findings, students should use the data they collect to answer a scientific question. You may also want to have students apply their knowledge to a new real world question or situation

How can I help my students communicate and justify their findings?
  • Make sure students know that they will always be expected to share their findings with others: the teacher, classmates, younger students, the community, or other interested parties.
  • Develop guidelines for communicating findings so that students know what is expected of them. (this one is very similar to the next bullet point)
  • Explain to students that they will be expected to explain what they did during their investigations, why they did it that way, what they learned from it, and how their findings helped them to answer a question
  • Encourage students to ask themselves How do I know? about their conclusions to help them justify their findings and show how evidence from their investigations supports their conclusions.

Assessment
Collect students' posters. The posters should demonstrate students' understanding of the needs of living things and how the Earth supports these needs.

Author(s): CASES Team

Lesson plan: Solar System Exploration

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From week 3 of the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Abstract
Students perform research on the nine planets and the moon to assess whether or not humans could live elsewhere in the solar system.
Standards and Benchmarks
AAAS Benchmarks
  • Scientists do not pay much attention to claims about how something they know about works unless the claims are backed up with evidence that can be confirmed and with a logical argument.
  • The earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, and the moon orbits around the earth.
  • For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Objectives
  • Students will conduct research on an assigned planet or moon.
  • Students will draw conclusions about how this body is similar to or different from the Earth.
Class Time Needed
Three days (one for research, one for poster creation, one for presentations)
Materials
  • Resources such as the Internet, books, magazines
  • Poster paper
  • Markers, pens, etc.
Science Background

What's it like elsewhere in our solar system?
The solar system is comprised of the sun, eight planets, satellites of the planets such as moons, small bodies such as comets, asteroids, dwarf planets and interplanetary medium.



Earth's moon




Mercury




Venus




Mars




Jupiter


Atmosphere none (trace gases from capture of solar wind) none very dense, carbon dioxide, with small amounts of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide thinner than the Earth's, mostly carbon dioxide ammonia and hydrogen
Temperature -330F to 212F -330F to 797F 711F to 909F -197F to 63F -292F at cloud tops
Rotation period 27 days (about one month) 59 days 243 days 24 hours (about the same as the Earth) 10 hours
Orbital period 29 days 88 days 224 days 686 days (1.8 years) 4,334 days (11.8 years)
Water? No water (except frozen at the poles) No water (except possibly at poles) No water that we know of Has water! No liquid at the surface now, but a lot of evidence for liquid water flowing on the surface in the past! No water
Size 1/4 the diameter of the Earth (3476 km) about 40% the diameter of the Earth (4878 km) about the same as the Earth (.95 smaller) about 1/2 the diameter of the Earth at 6787 km 11 times Earth's diameter (142,900 km)
Mass about 1.2 % of the Earth's mass (7.35x10^22 kg) about 6% of the Earth's mass (3.31x10^23 kg) about the same as the Earth ( .8 lower: 4.87x10^24kg) about 11% of the Earth's mass (.64x10^24 kg) 1.89x10^27 kg (317 times Earth)
Surface gravity 16% of the Earth's gravity 37% of the Earth's gravity 88% of the Earth's gravity 38% of the Earth's gravity 2.5 times Earth's gravity
Distance from sun same distance as the Earth (1.5x10^8 km) about 40% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. (5.79x10^7 km) about 72% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. 1.082x10^8 km about 152% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. 2.279x10^8km 7.78x10^8 km
Distance from earth close by (384,400 km) moderately far away (60% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun) 28% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun moderately far away (52% of the distance between the Earth and the sun.)





Saturn




Uranus




Neptune




Pluto


Atmosphere none hydrogen, helium, methane, ammonia, and water vapor methane and hydrogen nitrogen and methane
Temperature -292F at cloud tops -364F at cloud tops -357F at cloud tops -382F at cloud tops
Rotation period 11 hours 17 hours 16 hours 6 days and 9 hours
Orbital period 10,760 days (29.5 years) 30,685 days (84 years) 60,189 days (164.7 years) 90,465 days (247.7 years)
Water? No water No water No water No water
Size 120,660 km (9.5 times Earth's) 51,118 km (4 times Earth's) 49,500 km (3.8 times Earth's) 2,300 km (0.19 times Earth's)
Mass 5.69x10^26 kg (95 times Earth's) 8.7x10^25 kg (14.5 times Earth's) 1.03x10^26 kg (17.23 times Earth's) 1.2x10^22 kg (.002 times Earth's)
Surface gravity 1.16 times Earth's gravity 0.9 Earth gravities 1.19 times the Earth's gravity 0.06 Earth gravities
Distance from sun 14.27x10^8 km 28.7x10^8 km 45x10^8 km 59x10^8 km
A Terrestrial planet is a small rocky planet that may or may not have an atmosphere. A Jovian planet is primarily made of gases and does not have a solid surface. It is very large and very massive. Terrestrial planets include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars (inner solar system.) Jovian planets include Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. and Neptune. Pluto is small like terrestrial planets but has a low density like Jovian planets. Recently, scientists reclassified Pluto (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/ online/index.shtml) as a dwarf planet instead of a true planet. Check out more information about all of the planets. (http://www.nineplanets.org)

Students' Alternative Ideas

The Planets

Alternative idea: It is difficult for many elementary school students to understand that the Earth is spherical. It is important to note that students may say that the Earth is spherical but in actuality they believe that it has a flat top or people live inside of the sphere on a flat surface. Many students are unable to grasp the enormous distance between the planets.

Scientific idea: The Earth and other planets are mostly spherical - though they are not perfect spheres.

Dealing with the alternative idea: Be careful about your language - saying that the Earth is "round" can cause many students to picture a flat circle, like a pancake. Be sure to have spherical models on hand for students to explore.

Description
1. Ask students: What do living things need in order to live?
This should be a review for students. They should mention something about air, food, water, a way to dispose of wastes, and a place to live.

2. Ask students: Does Earth provide us with the things we need to live?
Students should say that the Earth does provide us with all of those things. Probe them to think about where and how the earth provides us with our needs.

3. Place the components of our solar system on the board: Sun, Nine Planets, Satellites (like moons), Small Bodies (like comets and asteroids). Explain to students that these are the other parts of our solar system.

4. Ask students to write in their journals:
  • What do you think it is like in other parts of the solar system?
  • Do you think the other parts of our solar system provide us with the things we need in order to live? Why or why not?
Why should my students ask and answer questions in science?
Asking and answering questions
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in a search for answers and explanations
  • Motivates students to learn about a topic
  • Helps students learn to do inquiry
  • Improves problem solving skills

How can I help my students ask and answer questions in science?
  • Have students make observations about what they are studying (cells under a microscope, a simple machine, a mealworm)
  • Encourage students to ask questions about their observations, including a combination of descriptive questions (ex. What kind of food do mealworms eat?), relational questions (ex. Which dissolves faster in water - salt or sugar?), and cause and effect questions (ex. How does fertilizer affect the height and size of plants?)
  • If students need help getting started, provide them with question stems such as, I wonder what would happen if . . .?, What if . . .? or How does . . .?
  • Have students develop and critique questions as a class
  • Provide students with good questions to answer (students do not always have to come up with the questions) or select a question from a list the students generate


5. Explain to students that they will be exploring answers to these questions.

6. Place students into groups of two. Assign each group something to research (one of the nine planets or our moon). You could also have students choose what they want to explore. Explain that the class is going to focus on looking at these parts of the solar system to answer the driving question (Can we live elsewhere in our solar system?). Scientists are looking at whether we can live on the moon or other planets. If you have time, this would be a good place to discuss natural resources and why we might need to find other planets to colonize (but emphasize that this will not happen for a long time!).

7. As a class, brainstorm the kinds of information students need to collect. Ask: What types of things do we need to know in order to figure out whether it would be a suitable place to live?
  • Students should mention things like: whether it has gravity, the weather conditions, the atmosphere, its ability to grow food, distance from sun, distance from Earth, etc.
  • Depending on how much experience your students have, you might construct a chart of topics they should cover in their research and guide them in finding and using appropriate resources.
8. Have students work on gathering the information. Students should look on the Internet (a starting point may be: Planet Characteristics (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/ cyberspace/)or The Characteristics of our Solar System (http://library.thinkquest.org/C002416/ earth/)), books, and/or magazines.
Why should students collect evidence to answer questions?
Collecting evidence
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in gathering the evidence needed to draw conclusions
  • Facilitates problem solving skills
  • Facilitates understanding of content
  • Facilitates inquiry abilities

How can I help my students collect evidence?
  • Encourage students to actively participate in planning and designing investigations whenever possible
  • Have students develop a way to record the data they collect (data table, journal, etc.)
  • When possible, have students double-check their measurements and repeat experiments to verify the accuracy of their data.
  • Provide students access to as many resources as possible, including the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
  • Model how you expect students to gather and record their data


9. Have each pair create a poster with their planet's (or moon's) characteristics. Have students present their posters - paste these to the wall.
If students are working in the same pairs as before, you may want to have them place their Earth's Characteristics poster next to the poster they created for today's lesson. This will help students make comparisons between the two.
Why should students communicate and justify their findings?
When students share their findings, they are participating in an important part of the scientific process.
  • Provides students with an opportunity to enhance and expand their ideas, grapple with the findings of their peers, and improve communication skills.
  • Provides other students with an opportunity to ask questions, examine evidence, identify faulty reasoning, and suggest alternative explanations.
  • When communicating and justifying findings, students should use the data they collect to answer a scientific question. You may also want to have students apply their knowledge to a new real world question or situation

How can I help my students communicate and justify their findings?
  • Make sure students know that they will always be expected to share their findings with others: the teacher, classmates, younger students, the community, or other interested parties.
  • Develop guidelines for communicating findings so that students know what is expected of them. (this one is very similar to the next bullet point)
  • Explain to students that they will be expected to explain what they did during their investigations, why they did it that way, what they learned from it, and how their findings helped them to answer a question
  • Encourage students to ask themselves How do I know? about their conclusions to help them justify their findings and show how evidence from their investigations supports their conclusions.

Assessment
Have students write a paragraph comparing the characteristics of the Earth with the characteristics of their assigned planet or moon. Have the students write the similarities and differences between the two bodies.

Author(s): CASES Team

Lesson plan: The Machines that Explore our Solar System

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From week 4 of the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Abstract
Students research the different devices that gather information about our solar system.
Standards and Benchmarks
AAAS Benchmarks
  • Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments. Investigations can focus on physical, biological, and social questions.
  • Communication technologies make it possible to send and receive information more reliably, quickly, and cheaply over long distances.
Objectives
Students will conduct research on the different devices scientists use to gather information about the solar system.
Class Time Needed
Two days (one for research, one for brochure creation)
Materials
  • Resources such as the Internet, books and magazines
  • Paper
  • Markers, pens, etc.
Science Background

What are scientists doing to make it possible for us to live elsewhere in our solar system?
NASA investigates planets using either orbiters, probes, landers, rovers, or space telescopes.

Orbiters circle around a planet

Probes drop into a planet's atmosphere

Landers lands on a planet's surface

Rovers moves over surface of a planet

Space telescopes orbit Earth beyond its atmosphere and take pictures

The United States space program is concentrating on the inner planets to colonize because they are terrestrial and have the most potential for sustaining life. We could not create a colony on a Jovian planet because there is no viable surface and the outer planets have too long of a travel time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to colonizing each planet:

Mercury: closest to sun, no atmosphere, one side extremely hot, the other extremely cold, no water (except for possibly in ice craters at the poles), very long days. smaller than Earth and therefore less gravity, not close to the Earth

Venus: very hot, thick atmosphere that is not similar to the Earth's in composition (tons of carbon dioxide and intense pressure), long days, no water that we know of, about the same size as Earth (similar gravity), not close to Earth.

Moon: no atmosphere, little water (mostly frozen at poles), long days, close to Earth.

Mars: atmosphere thin with carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water, found water, seasons similar to Earth (longer year), same length of day, cool, but not Really cold, surface/climate is most Earth-like of all the planets.

Description
1. Ask students: Have you ever wondered how we know so much information about all the planets and the moon? How do scientists gather this information?
Why should my students ask and answer questions in science?
Asking and answering questions
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in a search for answers and explanations
  • Motivates students to learn about a topic
  • Helps students learn to do inquiry
  • Improves problem solving skills

How can I help my students ask and answer questions in science?
  • Have students make observations about what they are studying (cells under a microscope, a simple machine, a mealworm)
  • Encourage students to ask questions about their observations, including a combination of descriptive questions (ex. What kind of food do mealworms eat?), relational questions (ex. Which dissolves faster in water - salt or sugar?), and cause and effect questions (ex. How does fertilizer affect the height and size of plants?)
  • If students need help getting started, provide them with question stems such as, I wonder what would happen if . . .?, What if . . .? or How does . . .?
  • Have students develop and critique questions as a class
  • Provide students with good questions to answer (students do not always have to come up with the questions) or select a question from a list the students generate


2. Explain to students that scientists gather information using many different devices. Write these devices on the board: orbiters, probes, landers, rovers, space telescopes.

3. Next to each device, provide a brief explanation of what it does.
  • Orbiter: circles around a planet
  • Probe: drops into a planet's atmosphere
  • Lander: lands on a planet's surface
  • Rover: moves over a planet's surface
  • Space Telescope: orbits Earth beyond its atmosphere and takes pictures
4. Explain the task to students: Each pair of students will be assigned one device. They will research that device in order to learn more about it.

5. In order to focus students' research, brainstorm questions they want to answer about their device. Examples of questions include:
  • What does it look like?
  • What types of things does it tell us?
  • Where does it go?
  • How many are there? How often are they used? Are they expensive?
  • How does it work? How do we get it to where it's supposed to be?
  • Do people ride it?
  • How do they get information back to Earth?
6. Allow students to research their device over several days using the Internet, books, and magazines. Have students create a brochure that explains their device. The purpose of the brochure is to publicize the device to the public - spread information about what it does, how it helps us know about the solar system, etc.
Why should students collect evidence to answer questions?
Collecting evidence
  • Engages students in working and thinking like scientists
  • Engages students in gathering the evidence needed to draw conclusions
  • Facilitates problem solving skills
  • Facilitates understanding of content
  • Facilitates inquiry abilities

How can I help my students collect evidence?
  • Encourage students to actively participate in planning and designing investigations whenever possible
  • Have students develop a way to record the data they collect (data table, journal, etc.)
  • When possible, have students double-check their measurements and repeat experiments to verify the accuracy of their data.
  • Provide students access to as many resources as possible, including the Internet, books, magazines, etc.
  • Model how you expect students to gather and record their data

Why should students communicate and justify their findings?
When students share their findings, they are participating in an important part of the scientific process.
  • Provides students with an opportunity to enhance and expand their ideas, grapple with the findings of their peers, and improve communication skills.
  • Provides other students with an opportunity to ask questions, examine evidence, identify faulty reasoning, and suggest alternative explanations.
  • When communicating and justifying findings, students should use the data they collect to answer a scientific question. You may also want to have students apply their knowledge to a new real world question or situation

How can I help my students communicate and justify their findings?
  • Make sure students know that they will always be expected to share their findings with others: the teacher, classmates, younger students, the community, or other interested parties.
  • Develop guidelines for communicating findings so that students know what is expected of them. (this one is very similar to the next bullet point)
  • Explain to students that they will be expected to explain what they did during their investigations, why they did it that way, what they learned from it, and how their findings helped them to answer a question
  • Encourage students to ask themselves How do I know? about their conclusions to help them justify their findings and show how evidence from their investigations supports their conclusions.

Author(s): CASES Team

Assessment coming soon!

(a 3-5 Astronomy lesson plan)

From the unit: Could we live elsewhere in our solar system?

Author(s): CASES Team

ideas and resources

The following resources might be helpful to you as you teach this unit:

Technology (for teachers and kids)
Hubble Space Telescope Pictures (http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/ )
This site provides teachers with pictures taken from the Hubble space telescope. Each pictures comes with an explanation!
Astronomy Project - Sharing Data With Other Classrooms (http://www.nsta.org/publications/ interactive/aws-din/aws.aspx)
Teachers can sign up here to register for a project where students answer the question, Why do daylight hours vary in length where we live? classes so they can share information about astronomy with classrooms around the world!
NASA Site for Educators (K-4) (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/ k-4/features/index.html)
NASA Site for Educators (5-8) (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/ 5-8/features/)

NASA site for educators. Contains lots of factual information about everything students wanted to know about astronomy!
Ask A Space Scientist (http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/ ask/askmag.html)
Students can ask scientists about space or search the archives for answers to commonly asked questions.
Astronomy Site for Children (http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/ docs/StarChild/)
Intended primarily for ages 4-14, this site presents material on the Solar System, the Universe, and other Space Stuff. Produced by a collaboration of professional scientists and educators it is one of the very few astronomy WWW sites for elementary school readers.
Astronomy Resource Library (http://www.nineplanets.org/)
A library of information for the student on all aspects of space and space travel. Be sure to take the "Nine Planets" tour.
Building a Base in Space (http://school.discoveryeducation.com/ schooladventures/spacestation/)
See how 16 countries are building one base in space.
Exploratour - Life in the Solar System (http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/ link=/cool_stuff/tour_life_ss_1.html)
Are you interested in conditions for life in the solar system? If so, this website set to the the "beginner" setting is suitable for elementary kids in understanding these ideas.