A former president once said that it was time for humans to get into the solar system, and we agree (we’re laughing, but we still agree). Our state standards include the solar system from 1st grade (learn the planets in order) to 8th grade (illustrate the solar system within the Milky Way Galaxy), and you can’t do Styrofoam models every year, can you?
Here are some fresh new ideas for you!
Start with a book or a video to get the class into a space-happy mood. We like to use Dogs in Space to introduce the solar system to younger students. It’s a fun book by Nancy Coffelt with a lot of real information that you can bring in on a second or third reading. For older students, Don’t Know Much About the Solar System is a fun choice. The Universe: Our Solar System is a DVD option.
Get the basic picture of the solar system clear in students’ minds by creating models or visual/spatial renderings:
- The Exploratorium has a calculator that will let you make a scale model of the solar system. Do this with kids as planets on the playground (let the number of kids at each planet’s spot represent the size of the planet) or in the classroom using a much smaller scale. NASA also has an activity like this.
- Make a mobile from cardboard.
- The classic Styrofoam model using dowels. We also like this in a cardboard box, spray painting the inside of the box black and hanging the planets from the top with black thread.
- Try it online to work on computer skills at the same time.
Try out some additional activities:
- Hopping Across the Solar System is a fun, full body experience.
- Planets in Balance is an art project involving research on a particular planet.
- Soar the Solar System is a simulation using The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System (hard to find right now, but they’ll probably bring out a new one without Pluto).
- Speaking of Pluto, why not hold a class debate on the subject? Pluto was reclassified in 2006 and is no longer a planet, except in Illinois and New Mexico, where Pluto had legally been declared a planet. If you’re in one of those two states, this is a great opportunity to study your state legislature. If not, examine the controversy and debate the decision. Maybe your class will decide that Pluto is still a planet in your classroom.
- You could also go with the 11 planet system, which includes all the dwarf planets. Check it out and listen to Lisa Loeb’s song on the subject at National Geographic. Read more about this idea in 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System by David Aguilar. Another option for a class debate!