It’s maybe not the most relevant for everyone but I’d wager its the most interesting for many students and the topic they look forward to most when I introduce the year ahead. Why, well Space is amazing! It’s huge and full of mysteries like Black Holes and potentially, aliens. In fact what I tell my students when we start our unit is this. My goal for this unit is to get you all to believe that aliens must exist. I write it on a huge piece of paper and stick it right beside my smart board in clear view for the entire unit. I always get snickering when I do this but that’s my goal, seriously. I then take a survey of who believes, usually this is around 10-20% of the class.
As I said, Space is amazing and I love it because it’s just so huge. I try to show my students how huge it is by exposing them to videos comparing sizes and distances right at the start of the unit – click here for an example. As we move through the curriculum the students really start to get interested. I tell them about our solar system and try to use hands-on activities like my Model Solar System Activity and my Space Newsletter Assignment to incorporate some inquiry based learning as well as spark their interest. We talk about stars and they love learning about Black Holes but the things that interest them the most I think is learning about the Seasons (a misconception shared by most of the class regarding why they occur) and Life in outer space – how humans meet their needs. It’s amazing to see what humans do differently in space just to meet their needs. The lesson you can link to contains many examples from sleeping to fitness, all with videos created by astronauts on the ISS.
How to engage them
1) Keep it simple. Kids love learning about space so just guide them and let them explore.
2) Provide some perspective. Space is so big it’s impossible to imagine especially for a young, inexperienced person. Let them create a model but make sure it’s to some scale. Use local landmarks like if earth was the size of a grain of rice, the sun would be over 6 feet wide and would be located at (some known landmark the correct distance away). This scale doesn’t need to be perfect, just give them some perspective. This is why I use my Model Solar System Activity as it really provides that perspective both of the size of the planets relative to each other and the sun as well as the distances they are from each other. Most students are simply in awe of how far everything is.
3) Throw some simple numbers and calculations out there. Tell them how far a light year is then throw out the fact that the closest planets outside our system are 5, 10, 1000 times further, it will blow their minds.
4) Use videos as others have done a fantastic job showcasing various aspects of space, why reinvent the wheel. I have some terrific space videos on my videos page, click here to have a look. All are totally free, plus there are many other topics to browse.
At the end of the last lesson I ask again who believes in aliens and If I’ve done my job properly, I see most of the hands fly up. Why? I’ve shown them how vast space is, we’ve done the Drake equation to calculate the number of possible civilizations out there and we talked about the billions of galaxies each with billions of stars and they can’t help but become believers. It’s the best feeling knowing that I’ve gotten through to them and awakened their interest and curiosity.
Let your kids love space. Take the time and emerge them in it and they too will believe in ET!
If you are interested in exploring and learning more, please check out my Space Unit located on TpT. It contains nine lessons for a full four week course as well as links to the individual lessons and activities. Click here to have a look.