Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas
Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas
Teaching Astronomy by MJ Krech
The Teaching Astronomy - Part 1 Packet is available for purchase here. Click here for Table of Contents. Over 100 pages of ready-to-run materials covering: Teaching Constellations and using Azimuth and Altitude to lcoate celestial objects in the sky. The CD or Email-Delivered Packet contains: Detailed lesson plans, bellwork and journal suggestions, labs and worksheets, test & quizzes, active learning suggestions including a Star Wheel, and many Team Game suggestions. Also includes 2 Powerpoints!  Several items from this Packet are also available below at NO CHARGE!
Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas The Teaching Astronomy - Part 2 Packet is available for purchase here. Click here for Table of Contents. Over 100 pages of ready-to-run materials covering: Moon Phases, Moon Features, Eclipses and Tides, Evidence for Rotation and Revolution, and Seasons on Earth. The CD or Email-delivered Packet contains: detailed lesson plans, bellwork and journal suggestions, labs and worksheets with answers, tests & quizzes with answers, active learning manipulatives including three Foldables/Booklets, and Team Game suggestions. Also includes 8 PowerPoints! Several items from this Packet are also available below at NO CHARGE!
Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas
Check out this brand-new eBook from Marcia!

A Great Way to Introduce Astronomy to Middle Schoolers
Click here to download a printable Pdf! (Can also be opened in Kindle or iBook.)

Looking back on my 30 year teaching career, this one lesson is most representative of my teaching philosophy: Hands-on, active, meaningful, engaging learning.

For many years, my Earth Science classes measured the Sun's movement across the sky for three seasons and plotted and studied what that meant. It was one of the most meaningful and exciting things I've ever done.
You are welcome to use these ideas in your classroom, within your science department, within your school district, or to distribute to any teacher who may find these lessons useful. I only ask that:
1. You cannot sell these lessons or make a profit on them in any way.
2. You cite the lessons original source, and do not white-out the copyright footer on the pdf files
3. Do not copy and paste lessons onto your website. A link to the original is to be used.
4. Do not claim these lessons as your own work.
NOTE: This disclaimer is modeled after a couple of my favorite websites: The Science Spot and Middle School Science. Thanks, teachers!

Some TYPICAL ASTRONOMY OBJECTIVES with related Lesson Ideas (if available):

I. The Earth and Moon System:
    A. Identify typical Earth features.
    B. Relate Earth’s night and day to Earth’s rotation.
    C. Relate Earth’s seasons to Earth’s revolution.
    D. Describe the Earth as a magnet.
    E. Describe the features and movements of the Moon. (Moon Features Lab and PowerPoint.)
    F. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to the Moon’s phases. (Moon Phases Activities.)
    G. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to both Eclipses. (Solar Eclipse Game and PPT.)
    H. Relate the motions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun to Tides.

II. The Solar System:
    A. Apply the Nebular Theory of the formation of the solar system. (Nebular Theory Worksheet) NEW!
    B. Compare and contrast the four main layers of the Sun.
    C. Compare and contrast planetary revolution and rotation.
    D. Identify special characteristics of the planets in the solar system.
    E. Classify minor objects in the solar system such as meteorites, meteors, asteroids, and planetoids

III. The Universe:
    A. Identify, locate and describe the motions of several constellations. (Star Wheel) (Astrolabe and Compass Rose)
    B. Define and use several units of distance in space.
    C. Compare and contrast the properties of the sun with other stars. (Spectroscope & Telescope)
    D. Discuss the different ways star brightness is measured.   
    E.  Relate the original mass of a star to its life cycle.
    F.  Discuss the evidence that supports the Big Bang Theory.      
1. GREAT WAY TO START: Build a Star Wheel and learn the Constellations! Click here for my related Blog entry.
Star Wheel
A great way to kick off an astronomy unit is to have your students construct a star wheel. This creates instant interest in the night sky and also touches on the most basic of concepts: the periodic movements of the Earth and the sun and how these relate to time. Click here for a great basic Star Wheel. Once they are constructed, teach them how to use the wheel. Then teach the counterclockwise rotation of the night sky; how stars rise in the east and set in the west; and circumpolar constellations. You can also touch on rotation and revolution of the Earth and how these two basic motions cause changes in the stars at night. (Rotation of the Earth causes stars to move across the night sky. Revolution of the Earth causes constellations to change by season.)

Click here for a fun "Cootie-Catcher" version. 

Star Wheel Worksheet Teaches the concepts of counterclockwise motion, backwards east & west and why (You have to hold it over your head, which makes it "right."), rising and setting of constellations, and circumpolar constellations. As soon as students have built their Star Wheel, teach a quick lesson on how to use, then let them work on the worksheet in  pairs. Or work with them together, using an overhead to write in the answers. The Star Wheel can be frustrating if they can't get past the backwardness of its design. I often did this as a Guided Activity so they wouldn't get too frustrated. It's all about building on their fascination with the night sky! Click here for a copy.
Star Wheel Team Game Fun game! Divide students into teams. Each team separates into halves and goes to opposite corners of the room with their game cards and star wheels. Give each team half a stack of cards. The cards are either quick sketches of about a dozen basic constellations or the constellation names. You give them all a puzzle to solve and the teams have to match their answers to get a point. If the answer is Orion, both the name and the sketch have to be chosen. Have team "runners" bring the answer card, hidden from view, to you on a signal, then show you the cards all at once. I color code them so matching teams are easy to see. Blue constellation sketch-blue constellation name = 1 point. I use simple questions, such as, "Which constellation is rising (or setting) at 7 p.m. on December 10th?" or "Which circumpolar constellation is directly over overhead (called the "zenith") on June 15th?"
Constellation Lab Teach in connection with Star Wheels. Have them locate and connect the dots of 20 constellations of their choice. Label with ALL CAPS. Bonus points for labeling famous stars within the constellations. Start them off with Ursa Major and the Pointer Stars to Ursa Minor. I sometimes give Orion, too. Use an overhead to get them started. Fourmi Lab has a nice site where you can put in your location and if you fiddle with the many choices, you can come up with a nice blank star map for your students to connect-the-dots and find many constellations. (Suggestions: Click off outlines, names, etc. for constellations. Click off deep sky objects. You might try stars of magnitudes 4 or 5 and brighter. Depends how many "dots" you'd like on the field. Color Scheme: Black on white background.) I have a Constellation Lab which requires certain constellations and stars, which are colored according to their temperature. These same stars are later plotted on the H-R Diagram and their life cycles discussed. Click here for my Constellation Lab.

I hand the Lab out, directions on the front and star field on the back. Direct your students to open their Earth Science books to the back of the book. There are great star charts in the back of every Earth Science book I've ever seen. The lab can be done just with the star charts but I recommend your students use their Star Wheels as well. Actually the Star Wheel is the VERY FIRST THING I have my students do in the Astronomy Unit.

I do the entire circumpolar area with them. I make an overhead of the lab's star field and start by having them look for the Big Dipper. Then we connect the dots together, label it BIG DIPPER in all caps and maybe label a couple of star names if they come up with them. Otherwise, I show them how to use the Pointer Stars to find the Little Dipper. We do the same for that one, labeling it LITTLE DIPPER. Then we do CASSIOPEIA, the Queen, CEPHEUS, the King, and DRACO, the Dragon, all together. We also talk about what circumpolar means--seen every night, never seen in the Southern Hemisphere.

Then I ask them to find ORION and wait till someone does. I sketch ORION and label the stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, adding the red and blue colors like the directions says. (See my answer sheet in the Constellation Lab pdf.)

Now they are on their own. I tell them they are required to do the list of constellations in the directions, including connecting the dots, labeling constellations with ALL CAPS and star names, with Lower Case. They must get the colors right, too.

They can get BONUS POINTS for more star names but only if the CONSTELLATION is properly labeled and dots connected.

BTW, there are no hard and fast rules about connecting the dots. I give kids tons of lee-way. If they have the right dots, that's good enough. I walk around with a good sharp pencil (I  recommend telling your kids to use pencil only) and sketch in some constellations for those who are visually challenged. There are going to be a couple who absolutely can't see a thing. No need to make them feel bad. I do the sketching for them quickly and tell them to do the labeling and coloring. You can carry the answer sheet around with you until you really know them--you get better over time.

It helps to have the kids align the Star Wheel and textbook star chart to the same angle as the Constellation Lab.

The next day, I run the PPT, telling them they can make additions and corrections during the PPT. They will “mostly scramble” to add more star names because there are many on the PPT--some won’t--but many will love the idea of getting up to 60 BONUS POINTS. Which has happened!

I believe this is one of THE BEST LABS for fostering a real love of the night sky for kids who've never looked "up" before.  Happy Teaching!
Constellation PowerPoint Reviews the constellations and stars that are required on the Constellation Lab. I show this BEFORE I collect the lab. That way, students who've had lots of trouble with connecting the dots have one more chance to get it right! Email me for this PowerPoint!
2. Altitude & Azimuth - next teach the basic navigation language of Astronomers! Click here for my related blog entry.
Location Worksheet Do this immediately after the Constellation Lab. Teach a simple way to determine the location of objects in the sky: AZIMUTH and ALTITUDE. This worksheet introduces the terms. Follow by making and using an astrolabe (along with a Compass Rose) to determine the location of objects in the classroom, outside, and at night. Click here. 
OPTIONAL: Skip this worksheet for now. Make the Astrolabe and Compass Rose first, THEN do the Worksheet as a Review!
Building an Astrolabe

Give your students a template of the astrolabe, have one already built for them to refer to, and let them go with little instruction. If you want to instruct them first, here is THE best site on the Web for Making a Simple Astrolabe. Project this site on your big screen T.V. or SMART Board. This site includes THE BEST TEMPLATE I've seen. Here is the same site's instruction page for Using a Simple Astrolabe.
Improve Your Astrolabe Click here for a nice extension idea. Have students discuss in small or large groups what they would like to have on the Astrolabe after they've used one for a few days. What would make an Astrolabe better? I've seen many suggestions: more degrees tic marks, a better handle, a better sighting mechanism, an attached compass, a better plumb bob, etc. Then have each student work on improving their astrolabe.
The Compass Rose
Click here for a nice review of the Compass Rose. Includes the 32 points on the compass.

Click here for a NEW Compass Rose template. Have each student glue on
8 1/2 by 11 inch cardboard. Cut out and punch holes on left side. If you've also made a pocket for each Astrolabe, they can have both in their notebooks ready for Altitude/Azimuth assignments!
Click here for my related Blog entry.
Virtual Human Compass Turn your students into a giant compass by forming a large circle along the outer wall of the classroom. Ask them to point to North. Assign North to the student standing at the North point. Talk about how North is designated both 0o and 3600. Repeat for all the main compass points and NW, SW, SE, SW. Pick different compass points, such as 90o and ask the students to point to the point. Also give odd numbers such as 95o and ask them to point to that spot. Thanks to my dear friend, Amanda George, for this great idea!
Virtual Human Night Sky While in your "Human Compass" formation, review altitude, also. Have the students point to the zenith  of the sky, which is 90o azimuth. Point to the nadir  of the sky, which is under your feet, directly opposite to the zenith. Point to the horizon, which is 0o azimuth. Point to 45o azimuth. Now combine azimuth and altitude. Ask such questions as, "Where in the sky is 0o altitude, 90o azimuth?" (on the horizon, due East) "Where in the sky is 45o altitude, 180o azimuth?" (halfway up, due South) Once you feel they have a working idea of altitude and azimuth, give them the Astrolabe Lab.
Astrolabe Lab Click here for my version of an Astrolabe Lab. It first has students measuring the location of objects on the ceiling of the classroom. Then take them outside to measure the location of objects high in the sky. We go for the dish on top of our school building, etc. Lastly, assign them a Constellation Tracking Lab as an At-Home Assignment.
Click here for my related Blog entry.
Click here for my Blog entry How to Teach Altitude.
Measuring the Sun's Movement

Click here for extensive coverage in my related Blog entry.
Click here for Building a Sun Clinometer Blog entry.
Click here for my Using the Clinometer blog entry.
Click here for my The Clinometer Activity Blog Entry.
Constellation Tracking Lab Click here for a nice assignment to be done at home, at night. Parents are often quite impressed with this assignment! Harder to do if they don't have compasses. You can solve this by showing them how to use the compass rose at home. They need to determine North at home by using a map or asking a parent. Even the phone book's street map will work! Set the Compass Rose on the driveway or in the backyard, north toward north, and site the azimuth by using their own self as the "pointer." Example: Stand at the southern side of the Compass Rose and face north if the constellation is north. They will always be on the opposite side of the Compass Rose, facing their constellation.
3. Another tool Astronomers use is the Spectroscope. Students love knowing HOW Astronomers know so much about planets and galaxies so far from Earth!
The Spectroscope Lab

I would urge you to purchase even just a few simple spectroscopes. They teach such a wonderful concept and can be used when teaching the H-R Digram, Red-Shift/Blue Shift, and Expansion fo the Universe. They are show how we know the composition of the atmsopheres of all the planets and of other stars and galaxies. Click here for a simpler version.

MAKE YOUR OWN SPECTROSCOPE! You can make your own or make it a class project. You need to purchase difraction gratings. Click here. for a similar lab.

PURCHASE A CLASS SET: Arbor Scientific has Spectroscopes for $10.00 each. Buy 10 or more for $9.50 each.
H-R Diagram
The stars mentioned in the Constellation Lab are the ones I have my students plot on the H-R Diagram. Mine is produced by our main textbook, Heath Earth Science. I chose to have my students plot only 20 of the 40 provided and those 20 are stars in commonplace constellations. The most important concepts to teach are probably the pattern on the Main Sequence (As temperature increases, brightness increases.) OR (dim AND cool, bright AND hot) and the exceptions to that main rule as evidenced by Red Giants and Supergiants (bright BUT cool) and White Dwarfs (dim BUT hot). You may want to ask your students to relate the position of a star on the H-R Diagram to its age and life cycle stage.
Click here for a good H-R Diagram Lab from the New York Science Teacher Site.
H-R Diagram "March" Having trouble teaching your students how a star "moves" through the different parts of its life cycle and how they change position on the H-R Diagram? Tape a giant H-R Diagram on the floor. Or chalk it out on the parking lot. Include the X-Y axes, the Main Sequence diagonal, the Red Giants and Red Supergiants, and the White Dwarfs. Have students label with cards: dim and bright, hot and cool, and draw arrows to show increasing temperature and brightness along the axes. Use hockey pucks (or anything else that won't roll or blow away) to add stars on the diagram. Have various students walk themselves through the life cycle of the sun and various other stars. Have them "drop off" the Diagram as they become Black Dwarves, or Black Holes, relating a star's fate to its initial mass.
4. The other Tool of Astronomers: the Telescope.

Telescope Lab

New Link!  If you have access to small telescopes, this is a nice Telescope Lab. We have a classroom set of small telescopes that consist of two tubes, with both eyepiece and magnifying lenses. Some years, I've been able to link up with a parent who has a "real" telescope. They create quite a stir when they bring this marvel into the classroom! Here is a link to a Paper Tube Telescope similar to the ones in my school. Only $14.99 each!
5. Fun with Solar Eclipses!
Solar Eclipse Logic
Team Game

Play this right before you show the Solar Eclipse PowerPoint. Loads of fun and a great thinking exercise. Click here for the game pieces and instructions.
Solar Eclipse PowerPoint
& FollowSheet

Show the same day you've played the Eclipse Logic Game above. Teaches really cool terms like string of pearls, diamond ring, etc. Click here for Solar Eclipse PowerPoint FollowSheet.  Email me for this PowerPoint!

6. The Moon Activities: Get to know our nearest neighbor! Click here for my related Blog entry.

Moon Phases Flashcards

An important objective: to recognize and explain all eight moon phases AND be able to relate each moon phase to the relative positions of the sun, moon, and earth. I usually start with these flashcards. Have the students label them. This alone is a challenge for most. I put a transparency up and/or have them refer to their textbooks. Then the FUN starts! We play the "Put Your Finger On" Game; separate into like phases, arrange in order as if they are moving around the earth, etc.

Click here for my newly-made Moon Phases Flashcards. Run off just the first page if you are making Moon Booklets or playing games. Have each page of the booklet be one phase, and have the students add a small white paper square to each page with how they know it's the waning cresecent, for example; less than half lit, light on the left. (NOTE: See my What Moon Phases Is This? PPT for all the "How You Knows.") I usually put this overhead up so they can figure it all out on their own. Talk about the definitions of Waxing and Waning, Crescent and Gibbous, Full and New, and Quarter.
Moon Phases Model ActivityMost 13-15-year olds have trouble with the relative positions of the sun, moon, and earth. They aren't even sure of the cause of the different phases! We use a commercial kit of models that has the students manipulate the earth, sun, and moon. They actually crouch down and look at the moon from the earth's vantage point to see each phase. The moon is half-black/half-white so, depending on their vantage point, your students will actually see the crescent, gibbous, quarter, etc.

Create your own activity using black/white moon models, yellow sun models, and blue/black earth models. This works great because you don't have to have a really dark classroom and a bright light source. The lighted side of the moon is white and manipulating the three models helps the students visualize each phase.
Moon Phases WorksheetWhile teaching moon phases, I usually hand out a different worksheet for several days in a row. Best way to keep them thinking of the names of each phase. There are many out there, several on-line. Click here for one from Enchanted Learning.
Moon Phases Cut & Paste ActivityI love this one! Have them cut out the phases and paste into the correct boxes. Label and then answer the questions. The trick is to come at this concept with several different activities. They can learn this concept! Click here for the worksheet.

New! Moon Phases PowerPoint

I show this PowerPoint that uses simple sketches of the moon phases after they have done the Moon Phases Cut & Paste Activity. I have sometimes had my students make a booklet using the falshcards. Then show the PPT. They have fun racing to see who can recognize the phase first. Recently we have been required to "kick it up a notch" by making our students know the reasons for the name of each phase, a sort of "How Do You Know?" Click here to download.
Moon Features Lab

One of my most favorite Astronomy  labs. I don't get to do this one very often because of time constraints, but sure wish I could! This teaches kids what they are looking at when they observe the face on the Moon. Click here for the Moon Features Lab. Email me for a Moon Features PowerPoint. Click here for my related Blog entry.
7. Some selected Astrophysics Topics:
Kepler/Newton NotesUsed to introduce several concept. Uses several textbooks so best to make an overhead and do as notes. The second page is a neat way to review/introduce Newton's Laws, via Tablecloth Magic Trick, pushing big and small students in chairs, and balloon races. Remove Teacher Notes before running off. Click here. Click here for transparency of Newton's Laws.  (Want to know the secret to the Tablecloth Trick? Use a tablecloth without a hem! I use plastic dishes, of course!)
Newton's Laws WorksheetA challenging worksheet reviewing the concepts of the three laws. They should draw sketches with arrows of equal or unequal size depending on the situation. Click here. Click here for an easier version.
Newton's Challenge This is a great way to hammer the concepts home! The Coin Challenge (1st Law) is a version of the Magic Tablecloth Trick. The Weighted Stick Challenge is a good inertia demo, also. The Push Me-Pull You Challenge (uses skateboards) is complicated but great fun and gets the 2nd Law across nicely. Try to pick up two skateboards at a garage sale so you always have them handy. Huff-Puff-Slide Challenge also illustrates the 2nd Law. Easier than the skateboard challenge so could be done instead. The Jet Car Challenge is great fun. The kids get exposure to designing and building a car powered by the air escaping a balloon (3rd Law) and the interest will be high! Run races at the end of the period or beginning of the next! Give Hot Wheels© for prizes. You could do this one for a fun design/techno project!! Click here for the long version which uses Challenge Cards for written answers. Click here for a simpler version. Click here for acceptable answers.
Newton's Laws Quizzes

Good quizzes that review the Laws at the high school level. Click here.

Newton's Laws GameFun team game. Run off brightly colored game pieces that just say: Newton's First Law, Newton's Second Law, and Newton's Third Law. Read aloud a Newton's Law situation. Give each team a few seconds to decide which Law MOSTLY applies. Then, "Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Show me the Law!" Great to see students interact and argue about which law is the best answer. Click here for suggested situations.
Kepler's Drawing Ellipses LabLots of fun! Get together a collection of 9 x 11 cardboard--thicker than regular push pins, a circle of string, and two push pins per pair of students. Strong message in this lab about how close to a perfect circle the planet orbits are, yet still elliptical! Click here for the lab.
Kepler HomeworkReviews the main concepts. Click here.
Kepler ReviewGood review of the concepts. Click here.
Kepler ExerciseCalculating distance from year - Kepler's Harmonic Law. Also Newton's Gravitational Law. Click here.
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