Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

The solar system and beyond - Teaching approaches

Classroom Activity for 11-14

A Teaching Approach is both a source of advice and an activity that respects both the physics narrative and the teaching and learning issues for a topic.

The following set of resources is not an exhaustive selection, rather it seeks to exemplify. In general there are already many activities available online; you'll want to select from these wisely, and to assemble and evolve your own repertoire that is matched to the needs of your class and the equipment/resources to hand. We hope that the collection here will enable you to think about your own selection process, considering both the physics narrative and the topic-specific teaching and learning issues.

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A concept map for Earth and space

Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

A concept map for Earth and space

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

You might use a concept map for both formative and summative assessment purposes. At the start of the lessons on Earth and space it can be used to gather information about pupils' existing ideas. At the end it can be used as a means for the pupils to recall and pull together all the ideas that they have learned.

Concept mapping is best carried out as a collaborative activity in small groups of 3 or 4, thereby giving the pupils an opportunity to talk through the ideas and engage in scientific reasoning. As the activity is well-structured with a definite outcome (the concept map itself), it contains the essential ingredients for small group discussion.

What to Prepare

  • copies of the support sheet: A concept map for Earth and space (see below)
  • scissors
  • A3 paper
  • glue sticks

What Happens During this Activity

If you are using it at the beginning of a topic, tell the pupils that this activity offers an opportunity to recall what they already know and how their ideas are related. If you are doing it at the end of the topic, tell them that they have covered a lot of ideas and now it is important to see how those ideas are related.

Organise the pupils into groups of three or four. Distribute the starter sheet with concepts to be linked on it. Give out one sheet of poster paper, glue stick and scissors per group. Tell each group to cut up or produce the concept cards.

Show the class that the idea is to put together those concepts which are linked in some way. Illustrate this by showing that you might put Sun and Star close together on the map with the link words is a.

Tell the class to lay out the cards first of all and to talk through how they might be organised. When they are happy with their layout, then they can stick them down. The concepts should then be joined with a thick line on which the link should be written.

When they have finished, the class should be given a few minutes to look at another group's map. What are the differences? Are there any points of disagreement? Any points that seem incorrect?

While they are constructing the concept map, you should move around to see what is causing difficulties and assist groups as appropriate.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Building a model of the solar system with fruit

Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

Building a model of the solar system with fruit

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Using fruit to make a memorable model.

Here you construct a model of the solar system to show the relative size of the planets, the distance of each planet from the Sun and the spacing between the planets.

You can remind pupils that scientists frequently build models if the objects they are studying are either unimaginably large or too small to see.

What to Prepare

  • an out-of-doors space at least 11 m long
  • a 15 metre tape measure

The following pieces of fruit:

  • 2 cherries or 2 small Brussels sprouts
  • (1 slightly larger than the other – Mars is the larger one)
  • 2 plums or 2 apricots
  • 1 water melon or pumpkin
  • 1 coconut or swede
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange
  • 1 pea
  • A copy of the support sheet (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

Nine pupils should make cards showing which planet they represent with lettering that will be visible from 10 m away when a photograph is taken.

Take the class outside.

Draw out a line and place the nine pupils to show where each planet is on the line. The pupils hold the fruit and the planet name so that everyone can see them.

Teacher Tip: In these modelling activities it is important to be aware that the scale for the size of the planets is not the same scale as that used for the distance between them (although both the relative sizes and relative distances are to scale). If the scales were the same, the object representing Pluto would be about 1.2 kilometre from the Sun.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Building a model of the solar system with paper discs

Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

Building a model of the solar system with paper discs

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Here you construct a model of the solar system to show the relative size of the planets, the distance of each planet from the Sun and the spacing between the planets.

You can remind pupils that scientists frequently build models if the objects they are studying are either unimaginably large or too small to see.

What to Prepare

  • A clean laboratory or corridor wall, 6 metre long
  • 6 metre of string
  • A copy of these support sheets

Support sheet


What Happens During this Activity

Ask the pupils to make up circular discs drawn to scale to represent each planet, one group per planet.

The planets can then either be pinned or hung from the correct position on the string.

Teacher Tip: In these modelling activities it is important to be aware that the scale for the size of the planets is not the same scale as that used for the distance between them (although both the relative sizes and relative distances are to scale). If the scales were the same, the object representing Pluto would be about 1.2 kilometre from the Sun.

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Tours of the solar system

Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

Tours of the solar system

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

To give a visual tour of the solar system and to make the point that a lot of science can be done by making deductions from photographs.

What to Prepare

  • The interactive object (see below) for:
    • The Earth and the Moon
    • Other things found in the universe
    • Solar System tour
    • Visiting the Moon
  • A matching sheet of notes for you, giving some questions to pose for each slide (see below)
  • The means to project it in front of the class, in a darkened room (one of the slides shows a Moon landing and has a soundtrack, so you will also need speakers connected to your computer)

What Happens During this Activity

This is essentially a lecture demonstration where you take the pupils on a tour. Try to pose a question or puzzle about each slide. Suggestions or points to make are offered in the notes under each slide.

So for instance:

  • What does the fact that the pictures of men on the Moon show them wearing large sealed suits tell us about the Moon? (No atmosphere).
  • Why are the legs of the Lunar Lander covered in gold foil? (To reflect the Sun's radiation as there is no atmosphere to absorb it.)
  • Why is the Lunar Lander so much smaller than the rocket that took off from Earth and why does it take off much faster? (Because the gravity on the Moon is only one-sixth of that on the Earth.)

Try not to answer your own questions. You are after intelligent suggestions, and seeking to stimulate curiosity.

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From the very small to the very big

Heliocentric Model of the Solar System
Earth and Space

From the very small to the very big

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Experiencing different scales.

  • To allow pupils the opportunity to visualise the really big and small.
  • To see if pupils can correctly sequence the relative sizes.
  • To introduce, or further the pupils' understanding of, powers of ten.

What to Prepare

Support sheets (see below):

  • Object sizes, copied on to card and cut out prior to the lesson
  • Object pictures, containing picture cards for pupils with lower literacy levels, again copied on to card and cut out prior to the lesson

What Happens During this Activity

This activity is designed to further pupils' understanding of the size of the universe. The written and picture cards cover the biggest and smallest objects imaginable. The idea is to use the cards according to the level and need of your class. Pupils can match and/or sequence all or some of the cards as you see fit.

Start with the whole class and discuss things which are bigger and smaller than them. Most suggestions offered by the class are likely to be of an observable size (e.g. a house, a mouse). Encourage pupils to think wider and to increase the range.

Note these suggestions on large post-it notes to allow pupils to sequence them on the board.

Next, ask the class to offer estimates of sizes for the examples that they have given. There is likely to be some confusion and discussion as to exact figures. Allow this to take place, do not shut down the discussion.

This whole class debating should be no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Now divide the pupils into groups of 3 or 4. Each group should be given a pack of cards to sort. As mentioned above there is a variety of levels of cards to best meet the needs of each group of pupils. You may decide there are too many, if so just leave some out. You also need to know about the maths level of the pupils before deciding whether to include the assigning of powers of ten.

Your time frame will depend on what you decided to include, but no more than 20 minutes should be spent on this part of the activity.

Finally draw the class back together and agree a correct sequence. You may wish them to record some key sizes.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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