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Earth and Space Science


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LeRoy Attles LeRoy Attles 56530 Points

Hello Everyone Do you have some great Astronomy Lab Activities? If so, please share with us. Thanks

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 63625 Points

Hi Leroy,
The best place to start is at the Learning Center. NSTA partners with NASA and has over 400 resources in the Learning Center if you search using the keyword NASA. These resources include some great activities that you can use with your students.

I am attending a web seminar that NSTA and NASA are hosting on January 19, 2011. It is called New NASA Views of Storms in Space. You can register and learn more about it by going to this link NASA Views of Storms in Space

LeRoy Attles LeRoy Attles 56530 Points

Thanks Ruth I did not know you could access the NASA resources through the Learning Center. Thanks so much for the tip.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89678 Points

The resources at the Learning Center are outstanding. One of the
NASA's Kid's Club interactive games can be accessed through the Learning Center when you do an advanced search for: External Resource: Go to the Head of the Solar System.
The NASA website is great, too. For an alphabetical listing of some of NASA's old "tried but true" activities, I went to:
Solar System Exploration. One of my favorites has been the soda straw rockets activity. I use a variation of it where students use a bicycle pump instead of their breath to "launch" their rockets.
To Infinity and Beyond!

Dorian Janney Dorian Janney 10465 Points

Do you have some great Astronomy Lab Activities? If so, please share with us.

It is so exciting to have some Astronomy-related questions popping up! I am so glad you teach this subject, Roy. I am aware of a great many astronomy labs and resources, but would like to get a feeling for some of your specific needs. I know you are teaching middle school students, which is a fabulous age to introduce some of the wonders of astronomy to as well as to branch out when you see they have a special interest in certain subjects, like black holes. What topics in astronomy do you cover?

I have found that my middle school students absolutely love two beginning activities that use toilet paper! We learn about the relative distances of the planets- and Pluto- in the solar system by creating a scale model- for distances only- using toilet paper. I will attach this activity to this post. Then we use the empty toilet paper tubes- and I ask them to bring more in as you need one per student- to do the "Playdough Planet" activity. This activity allows students to begin to understand how we learn about objects in space, and to begin to develop an understanding of mission science- both manned and unmanned. I am also attaching this activity below.

If you would like more hands-on resources, let me know which specific topics you plan to cover in your unit, and I will direct you to more resources!

So glad you are inspiring the next generation to Infinity and Beyond!

Dorian Janney

LeRoy Attles LeRoy Attles 56530 Points

Hello I found a video on a NASA website which has a great activity for modeling a Comet. This seems like an activity for elementary or middle school students.

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

Hello -
Dorian's “Space Exploration” lesson jogged my memory about a similar lesson that was shared during a US Space Foundation summer institute class!

One of the lesson's twists included incorporating student space diaries or space journals. Students sketched, labeled and recorded their thoughts and observations after completing each exploration step.

When we viewed planets up close, 3 different scenarios were implemented:

Scenario #1 One group member viewed, took notes and come back to brief teammates. This highlighted the importance of good note taking and recording information for all members' needs.

Scenario 2 involved one team member doing a brief fly-by and being allowed time to take 1-2 cell phone images. This highlighted a quick mission that was not completely funded, planned or utilizing current technology.

Scenario 3 allowed for several members to approach the planets and each member took unlimited cell phone images of the models. This represented a planned and organized mission with all group members understanding their role, as well as providing support to fellow members if there was a “malfunction in their technology.”

The third scenario also allows educators the opportunity to extend and enrich their students through deeper levels of group discussions and engaging,inquiry based projects.

Areas of learning that could be explored in more detail:

    NASA’s satellite program, imaging, technology
    Robotics – timeline, engineering a robotic arm inquiry lesson
    NASA’s enrichment of daily lives through space development research
    Importance of blending resources to continue and maintain ISS's mission; uniting countries and their people, strengthening knowledge

The NASA links identified in earlier posts along whith the active "NASA-Favorite Links, Multimedia and Lessons” and “The Solar System” threads would be excellent areas to gain further engaging, inquiry based student activities and links!

Enjoy, Alyce

Sarah Wiltberger Sarah Wiltberger 190 Points

Hello, I will be a student teacher in the fall, and hope to have my own classroom soon. I will be student teaching 5th grade honors students. I didn't know that NSTA partners with NASA - I think that is wonderful and amazing! Also, thank you to those who have posted the fantastic hands-on activities. I will certainly keep them in mind as I move into student teaching. I have been learning more and more about NSTA as a very valuable resource for science teaching. The more I navigate this site though, the more I am thrilled at its depth and variety of quality material.

Daniel Carroll Dan Carroll 18570 Points

Even though they are seniors, my astronomy class enjoyed(and learned from) the oreo cookie moon phases activity. You have to be careful that the one you use is clear about where the sun is and the progressions of the dark portion vs lit portion of the moon.

Daniel Carroll Dan Carroll 18570 Points

NASA's JPL site has many interesting interactives and other resources

LeRoy Attles LeRoy Attles 56530 Points

Hey Dan Thanks so much for suggesting the Oreo cookie moon phase activity. My students love opportunities to eat. I found a copy of a moon phase lab activity so I attached it if anyone is interested. I definetly plan on using this when we discuss move phases this spring.


Elizabeth Dalzell-Wagers Elizabeth Dalzell 9945 Points

Thanks group for all the wonderful ideas! I already taught Astronomy this year, but will be filing away the great labs for next year! Liz

Dorian Janney Dorian Janney 10465 Points

Greetings Folks! As I read over these posts, I thought of another hands-on astronomy activity that I have done both as an adult participant and had learners of all ages participate in. It is a great first activity as it gives the instructor a sense of what the participants already know about astronomy, and it allows the participants to interact with each other and share knowledge in a risk-free setting. The goal is for the participants to make a three-dimensional model of the universe! You give them a large sheet of black butcher paper, and lots of other stuff; yarn, balloons, chalk, colored paper, scissors, gummy stars, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, beads, play dough, and so on. They simply work in small teams- about four per team is a good number- and work together to create a model of the universe. I usually give them about 25 to 30 minutes, and then have everyone do a "Gallery Walk" and have each team present their model. This is a NASA activity that I have used time and time again, and it is so much fun and allows the instructor to anticipate some of the diversity of conceptual understanding and possible misconceptions before embarking on the actual course itself.

Lisa Coughlin Lisa Coughlin 1070 Points

Thanks for all of the great ideas! A very quick but good activity that I do with my students to explain the different types of telescopes is to have the students observe an object across the room using a tube with a piece of blue cellophane wrap attached to one end. The students see that it is pretty hard to see any detail on the object. I then ask how they can improve their view. They immediately say to take off the cellophane. We then look at the object again and notice that it is much clearer. I tell them the cellophane represents the Earth's atmosphere and we talk about the difference between ground-based telescopes and orbiting telescopes. If you have time you can continue and have the students walk closer to the object to simulate a flyby, then they can orbit the object, and eventually "land" on it. It is a quick and easy way to show the different ways that objects in our solar systems can be studied.

Elizabeth Dalzell-Wagers Elizabeth Dalzell 9945 Points

Lisa Thanks for the great, cheap!, activity... This will be awesome to use next year in my class. Thanks Liz

Susan Phillips Susan Phillips 2400 Points

Since so many concepts in astronomy are abstract, it helps to use activities that make abstract ideas more concrete. I have several that I really like: (1) the Round and Round activity from Star Child, in which students model the orbits of planets using string, a paper clip and a straw; (2) a black box activity from a company called Lab-Aids...#100 Ob-scertainer kit, in which students use indirect methods to determine properties of a hidden object; (3) the solar system simulator at, in which students can observe planetary motion and properties. With the last I use the attached worksheet.


Susan Phillips Susan Phillips 2400 Points

This is an activity that use in ninth grade physical science and in earth space science to reinforce the changes that occur as a massive star collapses to form a black hole. It is adapted from NASA's Imagine the Universe webiste.

Nancy Bort Nancy Bort 7025 Points

Just read a great article in our NSTA resources called Dimensions in Space. The author uses Google Earth as a basis for showing spacial dimensions in our solar system by superimposing the solar system on top of a Google earth map starting with local area. I liked the fact that it did not show the planets all lined up as usually occurs when we do things like this: the toilet paper distance model and other forms of using scale distances.

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Hello Everyone, I want to share this information on an astronomy education opportunity for folks who live in the NorthWest. Please feel free to pass it on and share with other educators. You may also post it on other forums that may be appropriate. If you attend, how about sharing a small 'science story' of the astronomy/NASA/ JPL event with us. Thanks a bunch. ~ patty As a member of the Astronomical Community, I would like to personally invite you to attend our CAE Northeast Regional Teaching Exchange given by CAE Regional Teaching Exchange Coordinator Julie Lutz at the University of Washington on April 16. Following is a description of the workshop, which you can also find on our website: You can learn more about CAE at If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at Register here: Also, please forward this invitation to any of your colleagues, postdocs, graduate students or undergraduate students that you think might like to attend. Lastly, I also apologize if you receive this invitation more than once. Hope to see you there, and happy teaching! Gina Brissenden Associate Director Center for Astronomy Education (CAE) University of Arizona Department of Astronomy Steward Observatory, Rm. 203 933 N. Cherry Ave. Tucson, AZ 85721 520.626.9480 (phone) 520.621.1532 (fax)

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

by Sarah Wiltberger, Sun Jan 23, 2011 9:07 PM
Hello, I will be a student teacher in the fall, and hope to have my own classroom soon. I will be student teaching 5th grade honors students. I didn't know that NSTA partners with NASA - I think that is wonderful and amazing! Also, thank you to those who have posted the fantastic hands-on activities. I will certainly keep them in mind as I move into student teaching. I have been learning more and more about NSTA as a very valuable resource for science teaching. The more I navigate this site though, the more I am thrilled at its depth and variety of quality material.
Hi Sarah!

I'm so glad that you've found the NSTA resources to be helpful during your student teaching. I also discovered the NSTA Learning Center as a student teacher, and I've been using it ever since! Have you tried the NSTA Advanced Search tool? You can search the NSTA archives by subject, grade level, keyword, etc. It's a fantastic resource! You can also search for your specific state standards on the Learning Center homepage. Both of these tool have been invaluable to be in my planning. The NSTA forums and listservs also have loads of great information.

Best of luck in your student teaching!


Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Hey Sarah,
Let me join my voice in welcoming you to the science teaching community. I would have absolutely loved having someting akin to the Learning Center when I first started teaching; it would have been fabulous. However, I did have NSTA and sharing and learning at all of the conferences and from the magazines. And to show my age, I have to say that NASA was just sending a man to the moon! Think of that and how exciting it has been to be a part of science teaching during the past couple of decades. Welcome and enjoy and don't be shy about sharing and yelling out your questions and your little ahas! that make teaching such a joy.

Sarah, may I recommend that you do an Advanced Search and then look at all of the great collections that have been compiled by Online Advisers and other NSTA folks. Take your time and browse some of the collections (you can filter out things, too and focus more on astronomy) I am certain that you will continue to uncover many useful resources to support your classroom teaching. Also, think about writing a review of one of the resoruces and Think (please) about jotting down some of your observations about what goes well in your teaching and perhaps write an article about it or make a presentation at a local conference. We welcome your enthusiasm, your new eyes, and your observations. They will enervate all of us as we continue to trod our paths together.
Join us for a live chat some time by just clicking on Live Support and say hello. One of us may be there and would be delighted to chat with you for a bit.
Thanks so much for joining in this forum, Sarah. Look for some NASA things that you could get involved in, too. There are many opportunities. Bye for now,
Patty Rourke

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

Hi LeRoy and All Astronomy Fans!

I was browsing through the online collections and located one that LeRoy made public! I loved the articles you included in your Family Astronomy Night Collection. I saved each of the free journal articles to "My Library" and will be pulling them up over the summer while I'm planning next fall's family science night.

Do you think you could post your Universe Collection in the thread for others to read?

Thanks for sharing LeRoy,

Donald Boonstra Donald Boonstra 8585 Points

Another great resource for astronomy activities that are free is the Lunar Planetary Institute. Also the Universe at Your Fingertips has great activities (small cost) from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and another good NASA/university collaboration is Windows to the Universe. I can also recommend Solar System Exploration for general planetary information and activities and the Year Of the Solar System (ignore left nav) for more thematic (Water, volcanism, impacts, origin of solar system, etc) approaches and resources.

Donald Boonstra Donald Boonstra 8585 Points

LeRoy, If you could provide more details about your curriculum and goals for astronomy and what topics you want to teach, I think many of us could provide more specific resources. My last response was a sort of shotgun approach - here are great general resources - but I could be more specific with more guidance from you.

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