Earth and space...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore this topic with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
Child in a classroom cutting out a picture of Earth
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one of this topic guide (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching Earth and space to your class!
To teach a tricky topic like this one, it is important to make use of a range of clear and high-quality visual aids and trusted sources of information to help illustrate what are sometimes very hard-to-grasp scientific concepts. These could include diagrams, videos and models, many of which will be available on the internet or in books from the library. This is, therefore, a great opportunity to focus on developing the children’s ability to use secondary sources for research.
1. Become star gazers
Space is full of wonder! Encourage your pupils to experience the vastness of the sky above them at night and try to imagine what is out there. If possible, ask your children to go outside with a responsible adult to look at the night sky and observe what they can see. They could keep a lunar diary over a month, drawing the shape of the Moon each night and describing the number of stars they can see. See if they can identify any patterns in what they observe. This activity is, of course, going to be especially effective if your children live in rural areas with less light pollution, but something that can still be effective wherever they are.
The Royal Observatory at Greenwich and the National Geographic have calendars of celestial events that are worth keeping an eye on so that you can alert children when to look out for extra special planetary phenomena.
How many stars can we see? is a Big Question to get your children wondering, Awesome observatories will give their own observations some interesting context and Who should own space? should lead to a few different opinions!
Sandcastle is a nice video for illustrating the effect of our tides.
Learning about space is naturally going to lead to discussions of space travel. Inspire your children by using a Mystery Bag activity Out of this world and the Odd One Out Space objects. Consider the Big Question What would you investigate on the ISS?, problem solve with the design activity Suits you and challenge your children to think about What if you worked at NASA but weren’t an astronaut?
We also have a brilliant collection of activities all linked to the ExoMars launch in 2022.
2. Become sun spotters
As with observing the night sky and the Moon, children should be given the opportunity to safely observe the Sun and describe how it changes across a day and through the seasons (see our Light topic guide for more ideas to try). You can let the children decide the best way to record the changes and focus on developing their skills of accurately recording their observations and drawing conclusions. Earth is a great What’s Going On? video to spark the conversation about what causes day and night. When doing any science related to the Sun, please refer to CLEAPSS or SSERC for advice on health and safety, and ensure children never look directly at the Sun.
We have a range of What if… Explorify activities that are a great way to get the discussion flowing: What if there was no night?, What if the Earth wasn’t on an axis?, What if the Sun rotated and the Earth didn’t?, What if there were two suns? and What if there was no Moon? These discussion starters can be used at the beginning of a topic to identify gaps in knowledge and misconceptions, or they are also useful as a way of assessing understanding once you have covered the knowledge.
A fun cross-curricular DT project to try is designing and making a sundial. Light and time is a good video to introduce your pupils to the idea.
3. Do some research
Some of the knowledge about Earth and space will need to be researched. This is a great opportunity for your pupils to learn how to identify what makes a good source and what is the best way to record the information they find.
Whether it is information about the Sun, the Moon, any of the 8 planets, or theories about the solar system there is a huge variety of websites available. Here are a few to get you started: NASA, BBC Bitesize, European Space Agency, Royal Observatory.
Before the information has been gathered, it is important that the children know what they are going to do with it to give them a clear purpose. They might be creating a fact file, poster or classroom display. Their research might even be used as a prompt for some creative writing.
The great red spot is a fun Zoom In, Zoom Out for exploring Jupiter. Maps of the solar system is an Odd One Out that will allow children to discuss how different scientists have modelled the solar system.
4. Model making
Visualising what is happening up in space is very valuable and this can be effectively achieved using models. A scale model of the solar system is a great way for helping children to understand the relative sizes, positions and motion of the objects in the solar system.
You can buy a model, but why not try to create your own? Take the opportunity for some more cross-curricular learning, combining science, maths and art/DT to build and decorate papier mache spheres to scale. You can actually use any objects to represent the planets (even fruit and vegetables!), just make sure you get the relative scale right! Once made, you can go outside (you’ll need a big space!) and get your model planets into orbit!
5. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about the movement of the Earth in relation to the Sun, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Child in a classroom cutting out a picture of Earth by Vanessa Loring via Pexels