Since we’l be able to see a lunar eclipse on Sunday, I had the students make a lunar eclipse model for their notebooks that I got from Earth’s Place in the Universe. You shine a flashlight through the hole in the ‘sun’, the earth casts a shadow and you can move the moon around in its ‘orbit’ and watch it pass into the earth’s shadow. Its not even close to being to scale, which would be very hard to do since the moon would have to be 30 earth diameters away… wouldn’t fit in a notebook! There’s another model for solar eclipses in the same organizer that’l we’l put together another day. We also watched a video on youtube by Physics Girl.
The other activity we did was a constellation box. This is one of my favorite astronomy activities because it really gets the point across that stars in the same constellation are not necessarily near to each other. When its finished and you put your eye at the end of the box, you see the pin heads in the position of the stars, just like we see them in the sky. But when you lift your head up you can see the stars are spread out over a thousand light years. We had done this a few years ago with the Big Dipper constellation. I got the original activity from TOPS Learning Systems: The Planet and Stars, published in 1994. While preparing for this class, I found another activity that used thread and pony beads to make a 3D constellation that sounded cool, but as you can see in the photo below, difficult to realize (pinterest fail). The thread was impossible to deal with and the beads kept sliding down. The activity did say to use button thread which might have worked better, but I lost my patience after 30 minutes and dug up the old dipper box activity. Pins don’t get tangled. But one thing I noticed in the thread activity was that it said the Big Dipper constellation wasn’t very good to use for this because all the stars ARE close to one another. Apparently we have gotten better at determining the distances to stars since 1994, because the latest data for the Big Dipper stars was different than the activity in the TOPS book. Since quite a few kids in my current class had done the dipper box, I decided to convert that activity to the Orion constellation. It came out pretty well, though we had to get some 2 inch pins (the one with the silver head) because one star was just a bit too high for regular sewing pins.
We had some time left over at the end of class so I showed a few more videos.