The first year I taught science, I must admit we did way too many illustrations…not that there is anything wrong with doing them AT ALL! However, my fear of messing up lab day was holding me back. I was new to the subject, overwhelmed, and terrified of activities. I am now able to put on my big girl teacher pants and get my hands dirty on occasion. Also, I find I am finding ways to incorporate the arts more than ever!
New science teachers probably have one of the biggest learning curves of any subject due to the wide variety of topics and creativity required to teach science well. Here are a few fun and engaging space science activities that your students will enjoy, and hopefully won’t make you have a panic attack.
Dancing on the Sun
Topic: Rotation vs. Revolution, The Solar System | Grade Level: 3rd-8th | Materials: Students
Sometimes, you get inspired and decide to do something completely different than your lesson plans say. This activity sprang from one of those days. There is no worksheet for this. No project rubric. All I gave were simple, verbal instructions.
I split my class up into four large groups (of friends!) and took them outside. They had no idea what to expect…and neither did I
Their mission was simple. Choreograph a dance in any style to accurately represent the movement of the sun, Earth and moon in relation to each other.
Oh. My. Goodness. The excitement was palpable and they wasted NO time. They had 30 minutes to prepare their “routine” and a 10 minute final run through to make any necessary changes. Then, the students got to perform for each other. Everyone had a blast. And they learned.
I had one group create a poem and narrate their interpretive dance. Another group went completely Fortnite on me, but somehow it worked.
However, I believe the most impressive thing to happen was the group who created a Bohemian Rhapsody parody to accompany their choreography. Probably the defining moment of my career.
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in an orbit
No escape from the gravity
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor Earth, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
A little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me
Topic: Gravity, The Solar System | Grade Level: 3rd-8th Materials: Bed sheet, golf ball, tennis ball, and a basketball.
I have a hard time finding engaging hands on activities for teaching space science. Sure, we do models and make craters, but I wanted to find something different this year for teaching 6th graders. This activity demonstrates the relationship mass and gravitational attraction using a sheet and three balls to represent the sun, Earth, and moon.
Have students examine the three ball types in front of them and rank the ball according to mass from greatest to least. Then ask students which ball represents the sun, Earth, and moon.
Four students hold a respective corner of the bed sheet and pull it taut. Set the basketball in the center of the sheet. Ask students to observe and describe the effect of the basketball on the shape of the sheet. Have them make predictions about what will happen when they set the other two balls on the sheet.
Place the tennis and golf balls on one edge of the sheet and have students record and explain what happens. The tennis and golf balls should roll toward the basketball at the sheets center. This is due to the “gravitational pull” of the basketballs large mass.
Put the basketball in the one corner of the sheet and the tennis ball in the opposite corner so that they stay separated. Place the golf ball near the tennis ball so that it rolls towards the tennis ball instead of the basketball. Have students record their observations and explanations. The golf ball moves towards the tennis ball because the distance is shorter compared to the distance from the basketball to the golf ball. Use this point to facilitate discussion about the role that distance plays in determining the strength of a gravitational pull.
Now, keeping the golf ball and tennis ball paired together in one corner, move the basketball closer to the pair and have students observe what happens. Have students record their observations and explanations. The pair should once again move towards the basketball, because they are closer to the basketball. This models the gravitational effect of the Sun on the Earth-Moon system.
When we were finished, we went crazy and turned the sheet into a giant ball bouncer. The students had a great lab, and a memorable experience.
Sample Reflection Questions:
What object governs the movement of the celestial bodies in our solar system? The Sun, since it is the most massive object.
What happens if the distance between objects with mass increases? Gravitational attraction between the objects decreases.
Gravitational attraction exhibited by an object increases with increasing mass. What does this mean? The larger the object, the more celestial bodies it pulls towards it and the greater its gravitational pull.
A Day on the ISS
Topic: Space Exploration, The Solar System | Grade Level: 6th-10th | Materials: Writing prompt, paper and pencil
Need something simple and low prep? I use this creative writing prompt that my students really enjoy every time we do it. When we are doing our space exploration unit in sixth grade, I ALWAYS show my class the Youtube videos of life on the International Space Station. Here is my favorite.
After we have watched a video (or two, or three…) I give students this prompt:
Imagine you are going to live on the International Space Station for the next six months. Why are you there? What are you researching? What is life like, and how is it different from life on earth?
All I require is a brainstorming session formatted in any way they feel comfortable organizing their ideas, and a minimum of one full page, single spaced. Surprisingly, most students write much more than a page
Did you try out some of these in your classroom? Tell me about it in the comments below!
NEXT: Fancy some art with your science? Check this out!