3. Representing the solar system

People have always been fascinated by space. Most pupils are interested in space, and the night sky is their first realisation that there is more beyond our world.

Exploring the solar system cannot be done through school visits. But by using books, telescopes, computers, the Internet and models, you can show the vastness and detail of the solar system to your pupils. The size is something pupils find hard to grasp, but making a scale model of the solar system will help.

In Case Study 3, a teacher uses a simulation on the computer, one kind of model, to help develop pupils’ understanding. If you have access to a computer to do this, try the web link listed at the end of Resource 4. The case study shows how the teacher allowed each group of pupils a turn on the computer and the rest of the class worked on a different but related activity.

In the Key Activity, your pupils use models to show the arrangement of the planets. You could extend the model of the solar system by asking pupils to find out how long it takes for each planet to orbit the sun and to turn on its axis (day and night).

Afterwards, reflect on the activity. How did your pupils react to building models? Do you think the models helped them to understand more about the solar system? Could you use models in another topic –what about building models to show particles?

Case Study 3: Using a simulation of the solar system

Mrs Mucaba was working with her Standard 5 class of 46 pupils in Usangi Primary School exploring the solar system. She had downloaded from the Internet onto the school computer a simulation model of the orbits of the sun, Earth and moon (see Resource 4 for an example). She wanted her pupils to find answers for some of the questions that they had asked about the sun, Earth, moon and other planets. The questions were listed on a sheet by the side of the computer and the groups of four/five pupils had to try and answer these as they looked at the simulation.

The rest of the class were writing poems about their feelings about being part of the solar system, which they had discussed as a whole class at the beginning of the lesson.

Key Activity: Modelling the solar system

Start with a class brainstorm on the solar system. (See Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ). Record all their ideas and questions about the planets, sun, moons and so on.

Share with your pupils the detailed information on the planets in Resource 5: Solar system –facts and figures. Ask the pupils to work in pairs to draw a diagram showing each planet in order, giving some indication of the size of each planet. Each pair then shares their diagram with another pair to check their answers.

Ask each group of four pupils to make a model, using clay and mud, of one planet. If you have access to books and/or the Internet use these to give more information. Try to make sure the models are all to the same scale.

Then, use these model planets to build a model of the solar system. You will need to go outside to place their models in order. (See Resource 6: A scale model of the solar system for hints on the sizes and positions of the planets in the model).

Finally, plan an assembly with your class. They should show their model and tell the rest of the school what they have found out about the solar system.

2 : Using stories and observation to think about the moon

Resource 1: Modelling night and day