Exploring the Solar System – Past, Present, and Future Missions

Image Source: NASA
Image Source: NASA

After taking an in-depth look at missions to Mars (blog entry) and learning more about the planets in the solar system (blog entry), we learned about past, present, and future unmanned space missions and their mission objectives.


  • Desktops/Laptops and Internet Access
  • JPL Missions Website (link)
  • Mission Assignments using Google Sheets Template (public link)
  • Mission Information using Google Slides Presentation Template (public link)
  • Sample slides from one of my 6th grade groups (pdf)

Each group of students created a shared Google Slides Presentation, and within each group, students were assigned 4-6 numbered slides with specific missions (public link). This was a great way for the students to learn about different missions, practice their research, tech, and collaboration skills, and to get a better understanding of the history of unmanned space missions.

When students were done with their slides, the next class involved a fun game of “Name that Mission” (girls vs boys). Using slides that the students created, I pulled a total of 20 or so slides from different groups and classes and added animations to them. If they could name the mission without clues (just an image of the spacecraft) they earned 2 points, if they named the mission with clues, they earned 1 point.

Below is a video about DAWN – the mission will be arriving at Ceres this week (March 6th) narrated by Leonard Nimoy. LLAP.

Parts of the Cell: Using the Jigsaw Method to learn about Organelles

Updated October 2018 – Instead  of doing this as a jigsaw activity, each group comes up with an analogy for each cell organelle based on their chosen theme. Each group then presents their theme and analogies to the class. Below are some sample slides for one group’s theme which was our school:

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This is an updated version on how to use the ‘Jigsaw Method’ for students to learn about cell organelles that includes a tech component –  each expert group will create Power Point slides for their assigned organelles. When each expert group is done, they will have one complete set of slides that they will use to teach each other in their home groups, use as a resource to review at home, and/or print out flashcards (4-6 slides per page) if needed.


  • Desktop/Laptop/Tablet with Internet Access
  • Google Slides Template (public link)
    • One shared google doc per home group
    • To save this ppt – click on “File” then “Make a Copy” or “Download as” and choose the format you would like. Please do not request editing access to this file – that would change my version of this slide show.
  • Worksheet for 4 expert groups (pdf)
  • Worksheet for 5 expert groups (pdf)
    • this allows for less information per expert group, but larger home groups

Links for research 

  1. BrainPOP Cell Video (free link)
  2. BrainPOP Cell Structures Video (link)
  3. Biology 4 Kids – Cell Structure (link)
  4. Cells Alive (link)
  5. Harcourt School (link)
  6. Khan Academy Video (link)
  7. I Know That (link)
  8. Plant cell Video (link)

Group 1 contains an expert from A, B, C, & D. All of the “A” members will sit together to research their assigned organelles. Each member of group A will research and create their own slides for the Nucleus (slide 2), Nucleolus (slide 3), Chromatin (slide 4), and Centrioles (slide 5). Home group members (B, C, & D) will add their information to the rest of the slides at the same time A is adding information from the A expert group.

On each slide, they will include the following information:

  • Name of organelle
  • Location (Nucleus or Cytoplasm?)
  • Plant, Animal, or Both?
  • Function
  • Images of the organelle
  • Image of an analogy for that organelle

Encourage students to use the animation feature to have the information appear sequentially instead of seeing all the information as soon as they advance to the next slide. This will help with note taking when they are presenting their information to their home group.

After each expert group is done with their research, they will return to their home group. The member from group A will go first, and using presentation mode in Google Slides (via desktop/laptop/tablet) they will teach their home group about the nucleus, nucleolus, chromatin, and centrioles. Members B, C, and D will write their notes on the handout provided. When A is done, the member from expert group B (via desktop/laptop/tablet) will present his/her organelles in the same manner.

If possible, having each student use their own laptop or desktop for the research phase (expert groups) and then only one laptop or tablet for the presentation part (home group) would be the best option so that their focus is on the person who is presenting.

Additional Resources

  • Cells Worksheet (ScienceSpot link)
  • Animal Cell Coloring (link)
  • Plant Cell Coloring (link)
  • For more information on how to use the Jigsaw Method – (link)

Dogs and Turnips (D&T) Activity

Updated for 2016 – click here


D&T Activity - One Group's Hypothesis - Oct. 2015
D&T Activity – One Group’s Hypothesis – Oct. 2015
D&T Example of Student Work
D&T Example of Student Work

This is a great lesson to start off the school year and have students thinking like scientists, learning how to work cooperatively with their lab group, dust off their problem solving skills, be creative, and realize that as scientists get new information, their ideas change.

One of the things that students struggle with is wanting to get the ‘right’ answer and not making a ‘mistake’. They don’t like open-ended results. I stress that they have to look at their data, what does their data tell them? What do we know? What can we find out? As the year goes on, their confidence grows and they learn to really think like scientists.


  • D & T Activity sheet (pdf)
  • 23 words cut up and placed into envelopes (pdf)
    • The order of the words is the ‘correct answer’
    • I labeled each envelope with the name of a different country to simulate how scientists all over the world can work on the same problem and share their results
  • Teacher reference
  • construction paper
  • white paper cut into 1/4ths or small index cards
  • glue sticks
  • colored pencils

Before starting the activity, I set the stage that they are a group of archeologists and have discovered an ancient tablet at an archeological dig site. Unfortunately, the tablet is broken and as they excavate, they only find a few pieces at a time. What does the ancient table say? Scientists all over the world try to decipher the ancient text…

Each group is given the same exact 23 words, each slip of paper has one word on it (such as dog, turnip, white, bone, bowl, etc… ). All the words are in the envelope, and they ‘excavate’ 5 words from the envelope. Using those 5 words, they have to guess what the tablet says and make some kind of sentence out of the words. After they write it down, they ‘excavate’ 5 more words and either try to add on to their original story, or make a new story now that they have more information. Once again, after they write down their new hypothesis, they ‘excavate’ another 5 words and either add to their hypothesis, or make a new one. (During this part of the activity, they should whisper quietly so the other groups do not overhear their ideas)

Once everyone has uncovered 15 words and made their 3rd hypothesis, I have each group share their sentence with the class. Even though each group starts out with the same 23 cards, no two groups have uncovered the exact same 15 words (hypothetically). Each group has their own hypothesis and we compare what is similar, what’s different, if there were any common themes, etc…

Now that we have all shared our stories, we ‘excavate’ the rest of the words. They have to use all 23 words to make the final version of their story. This is not as easy as it may sound. By this point, they may have a story they really like and want it to work out, or they may not agree on a final hypothesis, or they may get stuck because they have grouped words together and don’t want to change it:  Red dog, red bowl, or red house? Big dog, little dog, fat dog, big red fat dog?

We now share our final hypothesis, or story, with the class and we discuss our results. I then ask, “If we all have the same 23 words, why don’t we all have the same story?” The kids come up with some great reasons as to why. We talk about what challenges they encountered when trying to come up with a story, if there was disagreement in the group, if their stories even made sense, etc…

D&T Activity: Sample sentences from different student groups

I then tie it into how scientists may have the same exact information, or data, but come up with different hypotheses and disagree just like they did in this activity. I then bring up the topic of who has the “correct” hypothesis? How do I know what is “correct”? I can’t ask the ancient people what the tablet originally said, so how do I know if my idea is the correct one?

Scientists are always getting new information (just like they got more words to work with) all the time and have to either see if it fits their current data, tweak their ideas using the new data, or come up with a totally new hypothesis and scrap the old one. You can then tie in real examples of how in the past, people thought the world was flat, the sun went around the Earth, that man could never walk on the moon, etc..

After all my classes have done this activity, I then reveal what the “correct” story was and we compare what was the same and what was different.

Note – this lesson plan is a modification of the original lesson plan from The University of California Museum of Paleontology (link)