Outline of concepts to be presented

Expanded description:

This is a live program in which the audience interacts with the planetarium instructor in order to explore the universe around us from our home perspective--planet Earth. Students will make observations of the position of the sun (and moon if up on that day) in the sky at different times of the day. We also compare today's path for the Sun to other seasons. The goal of these observations is to help them see patterns and make predictions about the apparent motion of objects in the sky. This sequence is designed to support the NGSS Performance Expectations 1-ESS1-1 and Cross Cutting Concept "Patterns". This is accompanied by a sunset sequence; fast-forwarding from day to night.

We then explore the concept of day and night. We leave the Earth's surface and observe changes in our location relative to the Sun as the Earth rotates, observing changes from day to night.

The students are then lead through an exploration of the current night sky; finding planets, constellations, and more. The typical procedure is for the planetarium instructor to give verbal hints or directions on how to find a particular feature, and as the students search, they are assisted with a pointer "in the sky". The idea is to let them practice finding these features and discover them on their own. Hint: teachers, please resist the temptation of pointing to the features while the students are searching. Depending on time, we typically find 3-5 star patterns or constellations.

As part of the exploration of the current sky, we pretend to travel out of the city to see a dark sky. There, we point out the fuzzy stripe of the Milky Way, and point out that the Earth, the Solar System, and all of the stars we see in the sky are part of the Milky Way galaxy.

If the moon is in the sky at a reasonable time for viewing in the daytime or nighttime sky, we'll talk about what the moon looks like, and how that might change over the next couple of days. But we don't go into what causes the change in phases.

And lastly, we fast-forward through the rest of the night, through sunrise, and back to daytime again.

General Concepts

  • Motion of objects in the sky:  the Sun and Moon appear to move across the daytime sky; the Moon, planets and stars seem to move across the nighttime sky.
  • There is a pattern to the motion of the objects in our sky, and those patterns help us to make predictions of the motions of those objects.
  • Path of the Sun:  the height of the Sun's path across the sky changes throughout the year -- higher in summer, lower in winter. This also affects the amount of daylight we get in each season.
  • Day/night: Earth rotating (spinning)
  • We can see planets with the unaided eye: Earth below our feet, and the planets look like stars in the sky (students learn how to find them).
  • Observing the moon: sometimes we see the moon at night, sometimes in the day, and sometimes we can't see the moon at all; the moon doesn't always look like the same shape.

Connecting to the Classroom

Students will be able to process and recall more of the discoveries they make in the planetarium if they are introduced to some of the concepts before they come to the planetarium. Activities and discussions which raise awareness of the sky would be helpful.

After the planetarium visit, it would be helpful to discuss and review the observations the students made in the planetarium. Have your students apply their new knowledge to activities which build on those observations made in the planetarium and/or verify them in with observations in the real sky.

Activities you might consider doing in the classroom:

  • Daytime observations of the sun and moon as a class. Draw pictures or record observations as a class. Compare at different times of the day. You can use our Daytime Moon Calendar to help you plan for times when the Moon would be in the sky. (see also "Follow the Sun" below)
  • Modeling with light source and ball: set up a single light source in a dark room and give each student a ball with an X mark on it. Have the students make it "daytime" for the X, and then have the students make it "nighttime" for the X.
  • Use webcams around the world to see where it is daytime and where it is nighttime:  Weather Underground Webcam Directory
  • Use a day/night map to show where it would be daytime and where it would be nighttime (good way to check the accuracy of the webcams above):  Day and Night Map
  • Ask the students to go out with a parent and make observations at night.
  • Jack and Jill on the Moon (Kindergarten)
  • Amazing Shadows (grade 1)
  • Follow the Sun (grade 1)
  • Planetary Waistlines (grade 2)

Vocabulary: some of the words the students will likely encounter

Ursa Major diagram

  • City name where the school is located
  • Earth
  • Moon
  • Sun
  • rotate (or spin)
  • explore
  • observe (observation)
  • predict
  • pattern
  • space (beyond the Earth's atmosphere)
  • constellation (patch of sky with boundaries, recognized by the star pattern: see Big Dipper and Big Bear star patterns in the Ursa Major constellation, right)
  • planet names
  • Solar System
  • galaxy (Milky Way is ours)
  • constellation names of the current sky (see SkyMaps.com for a current star chart)
  • phases of the moon (new moon, crescent, first quarter, full moon, last quarter)
  • names of the seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall/autumn)
  • compass directions (north, south, east, west)