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.

Materials

  • 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.

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Planet Sorting Activity – Comparing, Contrasting, and Categorizing the Planets

Image Source - NASA
Image Source – NASA

I used this activity last week with my 6th graders and I was happy with how the activity went. Students were engaged, challenged, and made great observations about the planets. They came up with a variety of ways to organize the planets into categories based on data from the fact cards.

It was challenging to come up with categories that neither student had used yet once they met with their 3rd partner. This lead to longer discussions and deeper thinking between each pair, which lead to categorizing the planets in categories that were less obvious at first.

Students worked at their own pace and let me know when they needed a new partner. This staggered the pairings and allowed both the students who needed more time and the students who worked quickly to work at a pace that was comfortable for them. Students also enjoyed trading partners and changing seats.

Materials

  • Teacher or student created Planet Fact or Planet Trading Cards (public link) or (blog entry)
  • Planet Sorting Activity Handout (pdf)

Part 1

  1. On your desk, you will have a set of planet fact cards.
  2. You and your partner will sort the planets according to each category.
  3. Write down one fact for each planet within the category.

Part 2

  1. For the next 5 categories, you and your partners will create new ways to sort the planets.
  2. Create the first new category with your partner and have it approved before starting.
  3. Write the title of your category on the line.
  4. Label the headings for each column, how will you sort the planets?
  5. Give one fact for each planet used.
  6. You must use at least 5 planets to complete the category.
  7. When you and your partner are done, have your work checked and then you will be paired up with a new partner.
  8. Follow steps 2-7 above.
  9. You will create 5 different categories with 5 different partners.
  10. When you are done, you can work on the challenges in small groups.

Possible Categories that students will use:

  1. Period of revolution shorter or longer than Earth?
  2. Period of rotation shorter or longer than Earth?
  3. Number of rings – more or less than ______?
  4. Atmosphere has Hydrogen or doesn’t have Hydrogen?
    1. Helium, Carbon Dioxide, and other gases can be used, too
  5. Planet was discovered before or after ____________
  6. Planet known since Ancient Times or discovered after _________
  7. Temperature is either below or above ________ ºC
  8. Planet has one average temperature (- or +) or a range of temperatures (- to +)
  9. Average temperature of planet is colder or hotter than Earth
  10. One day is shorter or longer than a year
  11. Planet is tilted sideways or planet is not tilted sideways
  12. Planet has life or doesn’t have life
  13. Planet has liquid water or doesn’t have liquid water
  14. Planets you can see or can’t see easily without a telescope
  15. Planets that have or don’t have phases we can see from Earth

Planet Fact or Trading Cards

Planet_fact_cards Google Slide Template (public Link)

  • Option 1 – share one google slide presentation with 16 students
    • work in pairs to complete 1 of the 8 planet fact cards
  • Option 2 – share one google slide presentation with 3-4 students
    • students will work in small groups to complete 1 set of 8 planet fact cards, creating multiple sets per class

Fact Cards:

  • Using the NASA website – Solar System Exploration (link) – students will gather facts and images for each planet.
  • Print 2 or 4 slides per page
  • Laminate Cards (optional) for in class activities/lessons, as task cards, students can trade cards, or use as study guides