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Earth and Space Science

Understanding the Vastness of Space

Author Post
Michael Wright Michael Wright 2840 Points

While space science has the potential to be an amazingly interesting and captivating subject for students of all ages, there is no avoiding the very abstract concepts associated with the distances between celestial bodies, the incredible speed of light, and the relationship between time, speed, and what we can observe beyond our own planet. Size, distance, time, etc. are all relative terms that have no foundation in anything concrete or permanent, and this poses a real issue for both educators and students. I would argue that most students under the age of eleven have an extremely difficult time trying to get their heads around these very complex topics, and I don't think that anyone - regardless of their age - would consider such topics to be easy. Because I work with younger students (grades 4 through 6) and have many students with special needs in my classes, I often find myself searching for resources that will help students comprehend abstract subjects and increase their chances of developing a sincere appreciation for topics associated with astronomy and physics. As a result of this research, I now know that students often run into issues (and often become discouraged) mostly from introductions to complex topics that are dry, are not meaningful, and do not provide students with opportunities to explore and [i]develop[/i] and understanding of them - instead, we present them with formulas and texts that are even more abstract and somehow expect them to come to some profound realization about the structure of the universe. Rather than [i]imposing[/i] such knowledge upon them, how about we actually let them explore the beauty of the universe on their own? While there is definitely no "silver bullet" that can teach students all about the complexities of the universe, one powerful tool that we have at our disposal is multimedia. While teaching an after-school group of sixth-grade students, I pulled up an interactive video called "Scale of Universe" ([url=][/url]) which really helped to put things into perspective and even scared a few students. Internet resources such as the new version of Google Earth also allow students to navigate the sky themselves and even explore the Moon and Mars. Another one of my very favorites is HubbleSite ([url=][/url]). This site allows students to explore the more exotic areas of the universe, including black holes. Try this out to really get in the [url=]driver's seat[/url]. Never underestimate the power of interactive technology. This priceless tool allows us to make these seemingly impossible topics to teach truly come alive for all students. Don't be surprised if you have to drag your students out of the classroom after showing these.


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Cheri Alonzo Cheri Alonzo 1995 Points

Hi Michael. I am teaching 8th Grade Earth Science for the first time, so I know exactly what you mean about many of the topics being difficult. I have to spend alot of time teaching myself!. My students all have special needs - either learning or behavioral, so it is important to create lessons that will keep their attention and modified so they have a chance to be successful with their assignments. I have been an avid power point user, but have come to realize that they are not as effective as they once were. I don't think I can do anything all the time. I have recently added in using interactive videos, so I appreciate the ones that you shared. A site called is a good site for all content areas - with interactive videos. Thank you for sharing. cheri

 Harvey Llantero 210 Points

Thank you for sharing all the links that you gave. I've been teaching 8th Grade Earth Science for over 5 years now and love to have novel interactive ways to share the information to my students. Specially now that the students find things that interactive and web based material to be more agreeable to their taste. I also try to scour though science site from universities since they usually use interactives for labs. There is one from University of Colorado that could be used for teachers and illustrate to the students concepts that are difficult for them to visualize in their minds.

Duncan Sutherland Duncan Sutherland 1750 Points

Michael - Wow! that Scale of the Universe is fantastic - reminds me of the classic 'Powers of 10' short film. I'm currently working on a small science grant for a unit on the 'hidden' world around us. For one portion they will be using USB microscopes to help them examine all the unseen small things around them. On the other end of the scale, I was thinking of having them build their own Galileoscope. I think I can use the Scale of the Universe as a go to reference for the students. It's so easy for the students to just drop (conceptually) all the things they can't see into a black box and think of it as magic. I think that the correct use of a variety tools helps them to pull back the curtain and see whats go on in this unseen world. Thanks for the excellent post!

Gisela Dumm Gisela Dumm 3745 Points

I love that scale of the universe! I immediately posted it to my class website (after I played with it). Thanks for sharing!

Juliet Kim Juliet Kim 2340 Points

Those links are great! Thank you for posting them. This link will take you to the second version of The Scale of the Universe. It is similar to the first version but in this version you can click on objects and learn more about it. My students loved this and many asked me for the URL so that they could play with it at home. I used these video clips to teach my students about the vastness of our solar system. My students enjoyed watching these video clips. It also demonstrated an important concept in a way that the students could comprehend. Also, you can't go wrong with Bill Nye!

Beth Eisentraut Beth Eisentraut 925 Points

Juliet, Thanks for sharing the wonderful website on the Scale of the Universe. It gives great perspective for how much is out there in the vastness of the universe. What a great find!

Cheri Alonzo Cheri Alonzo 1995 Points

Thank you Harvey - awesome scale of the universe. Thank you too Juliet for your videos and link to another awesome scale. I loved it. My students will be doing a year end project - creating a class solar system. I want them to have most of the period to work, but wanted to get them going in the beginning with a short something - the activities that you all shared will be perfect. These are really different and I think the students will love them. I have shown alot of Discovery Ed video clips and even though they are great, I think the students may be getting a little tired of the same type of intro. I can't wait to share these new resources. Thank you so much.

Ken Liu Ken Liu 2000 Points

Thank you for sharing the interesting scale of the universe. I will definitely use it in a couple of weeks when we start our unit on the universe. Thanks!

Erin Mendelson Erin Mendelson 2690 Points

Terrific resource! I plan on posting it to my class page on Edmodo. You may want to try this "Facebook" page for your classes. I post homework questions and information to my class on this website. It's free and easy to use. Students enjoy checking in on it at home, help each other solve homework problems and even discuss topics from class. I can easily monitor the posts. I agree anytime a lesson includes a multi-media element, student engagement increases. Thanks again for your ideas,

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