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6-8 > Astronomy/Space
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Astronomy/Space Duration: Two class periods
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Heavens Above

Students will understand the following:
1. The positions of the stars change over time.
2. Scientists can predict the positions of the stars at future dates.
3. Scientists can re-create the positions of the stars as they would have appeared to people in different places at different times in past history.
4. Scientists can predict eclipses of the sun and moon.

For this lesson, you will need:
Computer shareware program such asSkyglobe (available at )
Computer with Internet access

1. Ask your students to describe what they see when they look up at the sky on a clear night.
2. Ask them if the positions of the stars they see early in the evening are the same later that night. Do the positions of the stars change from night to night? Month to month? Season to season? Explain that the reason for the stars’ changes in position is that everything in space is moving. Just as the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, the sun itself revolves around the center of the galaxy, and so do the other stars in our galaxy. Even the galaxy itself is moving.
3. Divide the class into four groups, allowing each group time to use a computer shareware program such as Skyglobe (see Materials) to simulate the movement of the stars and planets over time. Assign each group one of the following projects:
4. Group 1: Have students draw star charts for the present and 20 years from now. The charts should illustrate the location of three prominent stars, the planets of our solar system, and the constellation of the zodiac under which each group member was born.
5. Group 2: Have students use Skyglobe to chart the same celestial objects showing how they would have appeared to the ancient Egyptians, the Druids in England, or the Anasazi people of the southwest United States.
6. Group 3: Have students use Skyglobe to determine when eclipses of the sun and alignments of the planets will take place. They can use this program and the Internet to make a schedule of the next three solar eclipses visible in your area.
7. Group 4: Have students make a list of the constellations that would not have been visible to the ancient Egyptians, the Anasazi, or the Inuit Indians.
8. When the groups have completed their assignments, invite them to share their charts and findings with the class.
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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students discuss to what purposes scientists may put their ability to predict astronomical events.
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Discussion Questions

1. Describe how you think the science of astronomy was executed during the Old Stone Age period. What was the technology like? What tools were available? How is the science of astronomy different today?
2. What did ancient farmers and sailors have in common? In what ways have astronomical observations had an effect on the lifestyle or culture of human beings in various periods of human history? Detail some examples.
3. Explain why the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten’s religious decree was such a revolutionary step in the development of religion, and how this decree incorporated the heavens.
4. Compare the universe as outlined by the Greek scholar Ptolemy and that of Polish astronomer Copernicus. Which theory is supported more by the information supplied by the human senses? Speculate on the theories astronomers would now have if the Ptolemaic system had never been replaced.
5. Ancient astronomers claimed that the stars were unmoving and fixed on a sphere with the Earth at the center. How does the science of astronomy guard against making false claims? Explain the difference between scientific theory and fact and compare the concepts of scientific law and social law.
6. What aspects of modern astronomy do you think may be proven wrong in the near or distant future? Offer your own alternative scientific explanation for such topics as the formation of the sun and planets, the formation of galaxies and the universe, or the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. How would you test your new hypothesis?
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You can evaluate your students on their assignments using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:charts accurately and carefully drawn; information accurate and clearly presented
Two points:charts accurate; information mostly accurate and acceptably presented
One point:charts accurate but carelessly drawn; information inaccurate and poorly presented
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Want to Get Away?
Present the following situation to the class:
You’re the new director of Interplanetary-Tours-R-Us. Create a travel brochure for a tour of the solar system. Use encyclopedias, CD-ROMs, or the Internet to obtain data on each of the planets and to print photographs of each. Provide travelers with suggestions on how to enjoy a stay at each planet, depending on the conditions they may encounter there. Be sure to use photographs and color to enhance your clients’ experience. Consider how the design, layout, and copy work to attract the most tourists. Be sure to include recommendations for what to wear, what to bring, and where to eat.

Calendar Comparisons
Ask students to compare the Julian, Mayan, Gregorian, and Chinese calendars. Have them create charts illustrating the similarities and differences between the calendars of those cultures. They should include a study of the religious holidays that appear within the course of the year and relate the nature of the culture’s religion to astronomical events and observations.  

Extraterrestrial Calendars
Have students choose a planet with one or more natural satellites and ask them to develop a calendar for that planet. Mars would be ideal with its two moons, but even a calendar for Jupiter could be developed if one or two of its moons were chosen as the basis for its calendar. Students will want to research the planet’s daily, monthly, and yearly periods to develop the calendar. Have students present their calendars and compare them with Earth’s calendar. (Science teacher Connie Lenhart of North Hagerstown High School in Maryland contributed the idea for this activity.)

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Suggested Readings

Exploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners
Terence Dickinson. Camden House, 1991.
Interested in learning more than how to locate the Big Dipper when you look at the night sky? This book is a guide for stargazers wanting to learn more about the heavens.

A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets
Jay Pasachoff and Donald Menzel. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992.
The authors of this indispensable, basic field guide of astronomy suggest that this book can be read from a comfortable chair or taken outside on a clear night to be used to interpret the show that the heavens provide for us.

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Comets and Shooting Stars [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Eyes on the Sky, Feet on the Ground: Hands on Astronomy Activities for Kids
A collection of fully illustrated and explained children’s online astronomy activities which provide opportunities for learning how to theorize, experiment, and analyze data.

The Golden Age of the Celestial Atlas
An online exhibition of ancient constellation art and the myths that inspired their creation. From this website create your own transparencies for comparing the difference in constellations invented by the various cultures in history.

A Planisphere
Every student in your class can construct and use their very own star and constellation locator (plainisphere), adjustable to various seasons and times during night and day.

It's About Time - Mainly Calendars
What celestial events relate to the measure of a year and the period of a month? Why seven days in a week? Compare a variety calendars throughout history and across cultures.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    zodiac
Definition:An imaginary band in the heavens centered on the ecliptic (the path of the sun in the sky) that encompasses the apparent paths of all the planets except Pluto. It is divided into 12 constellations or signs.
Context:The constellations of the zodiac form a band completely encircling the sky, through which the sun, moon, and planets pass in their travels across the heavens.

speaker    pantheon
Definition:The officially recognized gods of a people or a temple dedicated to them.
Context:In different forms, the namesakes for the days of the week are found in the pantheons of many early cultures.

speaker    pulsar
Definition:A celestial source of pulsating electromagnetic radiation, thought to be a rotating neutron star, characterized by a short, relatively constant interval (such as .033 second) between pulses.
Context:The most accurate modern clocks are regulated by the rhythms of pulsars.

speaker    celestial
Definition:Of or relating to the sky or objects in the heavens.
Context:Ancient Nordics named their days after seven celestial gods.

speaker    solstice
Definition:Either of the two points on the ecliptic (the path of the sun in the sky) at which its distance from the celestial equator is greatest and which is reached by the sun each year about June 22 (summer) and December 22 (winter).
Context:In Ireland, a series of burial mounds were constructed to mark the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.

speaker    eclipse
Definition:The total or partial obscuring of one celestial body by another.
Context:The heavenly event that has caused the most profound terror through the centuries is the eclipse.

speaker    pilgrimage
Definition:A journey, especially to a shrine or a sacred place.
Context:Known aseclipse chasers, these enthusiasts go to great lengths to make pilgrimages to get a brief glimpse of the unique view a total eclipse provides.

speaker    ziggurat
Definition:An ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top.
Context:Here in a land without stone, the ancients built the first towns and once-great monuments known as ziggurats from the first mud bricks, much like those still used today.

speaker    cosmology
Definition:A branch of astronomy that deals with the origin, structure, and space-time relationships of the universe.
Context:The Greeks inherited the cosmology of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:space science
Understands essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth’s place in it.
Knows characteristics and movement patterns of the nine planets in our solar system (e.g., planets differ in size, composition, and surface features; planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits; some planets have moons, rings of particles, and other satellites orbiting them).

Knows that the planet Earth and our solar system appear to be somewhat unique, although similar systems might yet be discovered in the universe.

Knows how the regular and predictable motions of the sun and moon explain phenomena on Earth (e.g., the day, the year, phases of the moon, eclipses, tides, shadows).

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:historical understanding
Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns.
Knows how to calculate calendar time B.C. (before Christ) or B.C.E. (before the Common Era), and A.D. (Anno Domini) or C.E. (in the Common Era), determining the onset, duration, and ending dates of historical events or developments.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:space sciences
Understands essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth’s place in it.
Knows that although the origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science, current scientific evidence supports the big bang theory, which states that between 10 billion and 20 billion years ago, the entire contents of the universe expanded explosively into existence from a single, hot, dense chaotic mass; our solar system formed from a nebular cloud of dust and gas about 4.6 billion years ago.

Knows ways in which technology has increased our understanding of the universe (e.g., visual, radio, and x-ray telescopes collect information about the universe from electromagnetic waves; computers interpret vast amounts of data from space; space probes gather information from distant parts of the solar system; accelerators allow us to simulate conditions in the stars and in the early history of the universe).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:historical understanding
Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns.
Understands alternative systems of recording time (e.g., Egyptian, Indian, Mayan, Muslim, Jewish), astronomical systems on which they are based (e.g., solar, lunar, semilunar), their fixed points for measuring time, and their strengths and weaknesses.

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George Cassutto, social studies teacher, North Hagerstown High School, Hagerstown, Maryland.
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