By Emilie Lubis, September 1, 2009
- Middle School
- City of Neighborhoods
315 to 360 minutes for classroom activities
Students will design a new object (i.e. planet, comet, asteroid) for the solar system. By using the design process, students will show evidence of their knowledge about existing solar system objects, the objects’ compositions and surface features, predictable motion, and their effects on each other. This series of activities would ideally serve as an assessment of a teacher’s existing solar system unit but may stand alone as brief exploration into the solar system.
ScienceStandard 3. Level III. Understands the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth's place in it 1. Knows characteristics and movement patterns of the nine planets in our Solar System (e.g., planets differ in size, composition, and surface features; planets move around the Sun in elliptical orbits; some planets have moons, rings of particles, and other satellites orbiting them) 5. Knows characteristics and movement patterns of asteroids, comets, and meteors
Students will be able to:
- use characteristics of existing solar system objects to develop a new solar system object (i.e. shape, size, composition).
- predict the relative orbit of their solar system object around the sun (i.e. elliptical, highly-elliptical, irregular, etc.).
- notes sheets
- brainstorm sheets
- planning sheets
- computers with internet access for web resources
- books about the solar system
- composition: general makeup of an object
- orbit: the path of one object around another
Engage: (5 minutes) 1. The teacher will introduce this mini-unit by telling the students they are going to design a new object for the solar system. The new solar system object will have the combination of features that they choose, but they will have to consider the natural composition of the solar system (orbital paths, composition of neighboring planets, likely size, location, etc.). They will then create a presentation of their new object which will include a new view of the solar system. Explore: (one to two 45-minute class periods) 1. Say to students: “Before you begin designing, you must explore features of existing solar system objects. You are looking for features that are common between objects of the solar system.” 2. Give each student a notes sheet to direct their research and organize their findings. (NOTE: if you have already covered this information in previous lessons, this may be used as a review or a chance to combine notes. If this is new information, students should be directed to online or hard copy resources that provide level-appropriate access to general solar system information. Because the amount of information can be overwhelming you may want to advise students to only look for broad similarities between objects such as that the inner planets are all rocky in composition or that comets travel in highly-elliptical orbits around the sun.) Brainstorm: (20 minutes) 1. Say to students: “Now that you have gathered information on objects of the solar system you need to come up with possibilities for your solar system object. On the brainstorm sheet, sketch and label as many new solar system objects as you can. Be sure to describe details about their orbits, composition, etc. Every idea is a good one. Try to show as many ideas as possible.” 2. Pass out the brainstorming sheets. 3. Allow students to brainstorm for twenty minutes while encouraging many possibilities. If students run out of space on their brainstorming sheets, allow them to use another. The object is to have as many options as possible. Share: (20 minutes) 1. After brainstorming, allow students the opportunity to share their ideas with their group members. Each student should share their solar system objects and a final idea should be selected to be developed further by the group as a whole. 2. Each group should complete a rough draft/prototype of their chosen solar system object using the planning worksheet. On this worksheet they should list the features that they have to explore further. Explore and Re-evaluate: (one 45-minute class period) 1. Now that each group has an idea of the solar system object it would like to introduce, they must evaluate how this object will affect other solar-system objects, where it would most likely orbit, and what characteristics it would most likely have based on the natural composition, orbit, etc., of existing solar system objects. Tell the student groups that they should evaluate the best placement of their new solar system object to model similar existing objects (i.e. a small icy-rocky object would most likely be placed among other icy-rocky objects such as those of the Kuiper Belt). If their object does not fit within existing categories, they must offer an explanation as to its origin. Tell students that as they change their ideas of what their solar system object should be, they should record and explain why they made these changes on a new planning sheet. Encourage students to make many drafts of their planet design. (Optional: allow groups to share with other groups to get feedback to better inform their design.) Design: (one 45-minute class period) 1. Groups refine their drafts and work on their designs. Finalize Design: (one 45-minute class period) 1. Once groups have their designs, tell them they will have time to finalize their presentations. In their group presentations they must describe their planet’s composition, position, orbit and any interesting characteristics. They must also show a representation of their object within the solar system. Share: (one 45-minute class period) 1. Groups should take turns presenting their planets to the class. Evaluative audience members should have a chance to ask questions of each group and offer suggestions for improvement. If time allows, groups may return to the re-evaluate step and repeat the process to improve or change their design.
Through the design and re-design process students will demonstrate their knowledge of solar-system objects and their characteristics by reasonably placing their solar system object within an acceptable range of locale, composition, and/or orbit.
Enrichment Extension Activities
Students can investigate how solar system objects’ different gravities affect each other. They can apply this to the location/orbit of their own solar system object and describe how the existing solar system would be impacted by the insertion of this new object.