Since we had run out of time in the last class, we started today’s class with The Planet: Check Your Understanding worksheet from the Earth’s Place in the Universe Interactive Organizers that I got from TeachersPayTeachers.com. The students had to use the planet flip organizer that they made last week, and perhaps an app or google, to answer various questions about the planets. Once they had that finished that we talked about how we made planets to scale a few years ago and that today we were going to make a model for the distances between planets that would be to scale. Each student was given a piece of adding machine tape approximately 1 meter long and put a sticker for the sun on one end of the tape (or drew it), and pluto on the other end. We then folded the tap in half and creased it at the half way point, where they put a sticker for Uranus. Fold it again and again, putting stickers for planets at the appropriate locations. I got this activity from The Universe at Your Fingertips DVD and it can also be found here, its called Solar System in Your Pocket. I was a bit skeptical that the distances worked out so well to be at exactly 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, so I checked the actual distances, and it really does work, the distance from the Sun to Uranus really is close to half the distance from the Sun to Pluto. Its a nice activity because you really see how far apart the gas giants are and how close, relatively, the small rocky planets are to the Sun (all in the last 1/32nd of tape). The kids were able to fold up the adding tape and tape one end into their notebooks as seen in the photo.
The last thing we did was another scale model activity from The Universe at Your Fingertips DVD, called Sizing up the Moon, where each group was given a ball of home-made playdoh about 4 inches in diameter and told to break it apart and make an Earth and a moon. Then they placed their Earth and moon on the floor at what they thought was the proper distance. I have to say, I was very impressed, they all had pretty small moons, not too far off from the correct size and they were just a little short on the distance. I think all the scale models we’ve done and talking about how far apart everything is in space has been successfully drilled into their brains.
While the middle school kids were doing these activities I had give the two teens the handout for A Grapefruit Saturn, again from The Universe at Your Fingertips DVD, and told them to make a model of Saturn, using a big apple (I didn’t have a grapefruit). They had to draw the rings to scale on a transparency, cut it out and then place it on the apple. As you can see in the photo, they used toothpicks to hold it up. When they were done they showed it to the younger kids and explained how they made it. This really shows how big the rings are and how far out they go from Saturn. Next week we’l be learning about plate tectonics.