Monday, May 6, 2013

Wondering About the Solar System Part I

During our student-led conferences back in February, one thing that I. mentioned was that she’d like to learn something about the solar system by the end of first grade.  She reported this back to the group during our investigative research/project time, and found that others shared her passion for discovering more about the galaxy that we live within.  
An early solar system model created using paper cutouts
I:  I want to know about the solar system.  We’ve learned about measurement, but I’ve wanted to know how long the Earth is since the start of first grade.  My guess is 7,000,000 meters long.  We’re going to make a model of the solar system.  The sun is going to be the lowest.
What is a solar system?
S: A solar system is like showing you comets. 

I:  It’s a combination of planets orbiting around the sun. It’s something some of the planets do.  
L.M.:  Actually all the planets in this universe. 
S: Scientists don’t know if there is another universe.  No one really knows.
How could we know what a universe is?

L.M.:  They (scientists) just call it a universe. 
R: They know because astronauts went up there.  
L.M.: Books and computers have told us about the universe. 
R: And they have visited space, like the astronauts.  Maybe they used telescopes.  Maybe you could see some of the universe.  
L.M.:  It’s not possible to see all of the universe. 
I:  We can study more and visit the  library.  We could read and find out more about it. 
How did people know there were planets – that there was a universe – without a telescope?

L.M.:  Powerful binoculars? 
I:  The world is round.  If you go past the lava in the Earth, you’ll hit space.  Space is above us and below us.  
R:  And beside us..
I:  Because Earth is round.  
L.M.:  Maybe space is imaginary!
S:  I wonder what happens when you get to infinity…  
L.M.:  Infinity can’t end..
R: Space can’t end.  It keeps getting bigger and bigger because of the Big Bang.  
L.M.: Scientists think that there must have been multiple Big Bangs before the Big Bang.   
I:  It doesn’t keep going. When space ends, it keeps going around the Earth.  If you go too far, you’ll end back on Earth.  
L.M.:  [disagrees]:  Space cannot end.  Big Bangs could be happening right now in space, making other universes.
L.M.: The whole reason we’re making this is that the girls were talking about the meteor hitting Russia.  We wanted to show this with the planets we made.  We should be thinking about the solar system.  [Holds the Earth ball and a comet and demonstrates what could happen].  We’re going to do a play.  

The children drew their plans and then began to make 
the planets, sun, moon, and asteroids using clay.  

Early renditions of the solar system’s layout:

This was one of the first inquiries this year that demanded that the children think about using tools of inquiry that were outside of themselves.  Because we could not see the solar system in its entirety on our own, we had to conduct research and find out what others before us had discovered using telescopes, space probes, and other forms of technology to explore the universe. 

After conducting their initial research, and once their planets were made, it was time to try laying them out in their orbits.  We chose to use the asphalt in front of our classroom to lay out our solar system, and traced the orbits with sidewalk chalk.

Does it matter what order we put the planets in? 
L.M.:  Yes. The sun should be in the middle. 
S: [considers the word “solar”]:  Like solar panels. 
R: They gather sun. 
L.M.:  [Solar system] means sun system! Orbit means to go around.   
I:  [Orbits] are invisible. 
L.M.:  Gravity keeps [planets] in orbit.  It keeps the planets up so that they don’t fall.  You can’t see the orbit, but you can see that the planets are in orbit.  It’s basically a pathway.   
R:  It doesn’t matter what order we put the planets in. 
L.M.:  No, it does! 
B:  Then how come that [the planets] are in the book in the right order?  I’ve actually seen a picture of what order they go in. 
R: But we don’t know if that’s actually true unless we go up there [in space]. 
L.M.:  People can observe it by not even going up into space by using telescopes.
K:  It does matter [that the planets are placed in order] – to know which is first, which is closest to the sun and which is farther.

Does the sun move? Is it always in the center of the galaxy?
S:  Yes, it moves through the sky.
K:  It helps to make the seasons.  It goes up in the morning and down in the night.  When it’s up, it’s above all the other planets.  When it’s down, it’s equal to other planets, making it night.
I:  Only the moon can move.

What are the orbits? What do orbits mean if the sun and moon can move around?
I:  The planets move and the sun moves.
F:  We can see the other planets, but they are way smaller because they’re farther away.  The moon is closer to us. 
I:  When the moon is closer to us, it's night, and during the day, it's morning, and it moves slowly in a circle - it's way on the outside.

Interestingly enough, the children corrected themselves when they placed a planet onto another planet’s orbit.  They seemed to know that each planet had its own individual orbit around the sun. Once all the planets were laid out (Mercury to Neptune), it was then time to figure out where to place the moon.  Another chalk orbit was created, a half-circle orbit that was tacked onto the outermost orbit of Neptune.  

How did astronauts travel to the moon if it's so far away from us - at the edge of our galaxy?
I:  [considers this]:  Well, maybe the moon is below the sun.   
S:  Maybe the moon moves wherever it wants.   

The temptation to tell them exactly where our moon is located within the solar system was so great, and yet, there was exceptional value in letting them figure it out on their own.  The exact position of the moon was a topic of deep discussion over the next few days.  

I:  thinks the moon is farther from the other planets, but states that you can see it because it has light in it.  It’s powered by light – maybe helium.
L.M.:  You can see Jupiter from Earth.  
How come the moon looks so much bigger?
S:  Because it’s lit up.
N:  It’s the Earth’s biggest natural satellite.
B:  I think it’s close to the sun.
K:  Isn’t it cold and hot on the moon?
S: It’s very hot on the moon.
T:  No. It’s very cold in space.  That’s why astronauts wear space suits. 
B:  Astronauts’ space suits have tubes with cold water in them to keep the astronauts cool when it’s hot.
R:  I think the moon is closer, but it is on the far [side of the] galaxy.
K:  Maybe it’s in the middle. There is a cold and a dark side of the moon, which we can’t see.  The light side is warm.
I.:  Looks at a book:  [The moon] has half reflected light from the sun, but it is in the farthest reach of the galaxy.  The other half [of the moon] is dark.

The children’s new line of questioning then becomes:

  • Where exactly is the moon in the galaxy?
  • Is it under the sun or does it have its own orbit on the outside of the galaxy
  • How do we get day and night?

Everyone seems to agree that the planets stay in their orbits, but aren’t sure about the sun and the moon - they seem to move around a lot.  They are also unsure about where the moon gets its light.  There are some that believe that the reason we can see the moon - even though is thought to be in the far reaches of the galaxy - is because it's so bright.  Some even think that the moon is lit from within, while others think that it reflects the sun's light.  

S:  It's not like the moon has a light inside of it.  One side faces the sun and one doesn't.

1 comment:

  1. I love watching the children theorize with confidence and without the expectation that the teacher will tell them the "right" answer. Thanks for sharing this incredible example.