Including Students in a Model of the Earth, Moon, and Sun System

By Corin, Elysa; Boyette, Todd | Science Scope, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Including Students in a Model of the Earth, Moon, and Sun System


Corin, Elysa, Boyette, Todd, Science Scope


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Incorporating models into classroom activities is especially useful in the study of astronomy, as the cosmic actors under investigation are remote and not easily observed from multiple perspectives. Focusing student attention on a model of a space system makes the abstract and unfamiliar more tangible and accessible for exploration. The activity described below asks students to become a component of a kinesthetic model and adopt the perspective of an object within the system under investigation.

This activity was influenced by the Sky Time lesson (Morrow and Zawaski 2004) and initially adapted to assist teachers with little to no astronomy content knowledge teach Earth, Moon, and Sun (EMS) system concepts in their classrooms (Corin et al. 2010). The version presented here is further streamlined, influenced by our experience teaching this lesson to students and educators in a variety of contexts, and adjusted to help middle school students reach performance expectation MS-ESS1-1 of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (MS-ESS1-1: Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons; NGSS Lead States 2013). The activity is divided into several smaller parts that may each be taught in single class periods on consecutive days or spread throughout an astronomy unit. In each section students manipulate the kinesthetic model to explore key concepts of the EMS system, including rotation, revolution, Moon phases, and seasons. The activity was intentionally organized into these subsections to provide teachers with several exercises to add to their repertoire that cover components of performance expectation MS-ESS1-1.

In addition to being structured to highlight the astronomy content presented in NGSS disciplinary core idea ESS1: Earth's Place in the Universe (NGSS Lead States 2013), this activity is designed to guide middle school educators in the integration of relevant crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices into their instruction. Throughout this activity, students are asked to reason with, consider, and critique their model, which are recommended practices of the NGSS discussed in the crosscutting concept Systems and System Models and science and engineering practice Developing and Using Models (NGSS Lead States 2013). Student observations of the model's behavior will uncover patterns in motion and time of the Earth, Moon, and Sun system (crosscutting concept Patterns), and students will use those patterns to predict cause-and-effect relationships of EMS system phenomena (crosscutting concept Cause and Effect) (NGSS Lead States 2013). Students will also have the opportunity to engage in several science and engineering practices as they ask clarifying questions that arise from their use of the model (science and engineering practice Asking Questions) and as they construct explanations of EMS system phenomena using evidence from the model (science and engineering practice Constructing Explanations) (NGSS Lead States 2013).

Once students are fluent in the model, and armed with their new understanding of the EMS system, they may continue to use the model to make predictions and develop explanations about more complex EMS system phenomena including, but not limited to, seasonal constellations, eclipses, and setting/ rising times of Moon phases. Students may also adjust the model to respond to its limitations, allowing them to study additional space systems. Specifically, students may add additional planets to the model to learn about opposition and inferior/superior conjunction, to learn how the positions of planets in the solar system determine when and where planets will be visible in the Earth's sky, and to explore the role of gravity in influencing planetary motions, etc. The strength of this model is its versatility and flexibility, as it may be adjusted to teach a variety of astronomy concepts. …

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