View Full Version : middle school neat ideas NEEDED!!!

2007-Sep-06, 04:24 PM
Hey guys/gals,
Well, I'm starting to need some ideas for a more "personal" touch in relation to the subject of Space and solar system... Ofcourse we know the textbooks are out of date because of the classification of dwarf planets...
But also, I was thinking of something to get them personally involved. I have Starrynight software and Stellarium....But when school is in session we can't observe during daylight hours.
Has anybody got updated (NASA <'official'>) posters, videos or pics that might be a 10 on the "neat factor"? Its hard enough to capture the imagination of teens nowadays, but my class (the Behaviorally and Emotionally Disabled) needs a constant thrill in conjunction with normal classroom lectures and readings...Anything hands-on? Any idea is welcome and NOT farfetched...
This will help me as well continue on the path to receive my teachers certificate as I'll be doing the class.

Thanks in advance...
Please send ideas to:

Todd Reece
North Davie Middle School
Mocksville NC 27028
336-998-5555 ext 113

2007-Sep-06, 05:18 PM
A "standard" activity is the "Solar System Walk"--

Here is one of 100s of ways of actually doing it:

My astro club did this with children (and adults too actually) last Summer--

One kid got to be the "Sun". All the kids lined up shoulder to shoulder facing down a park road. The group took one step together and the leader announced "This is how far Mercury is at this scale" and a kid was left standing there to be "Mercury". The line took a second step to reach the Venus position and a kids was left. This continued, with the number of steps chosen carefully to make a living scale model of the solar system. Pluto could barely see the face of Sun in the distance when it was all over.


2007-Sep-06, 08:16 PM
For daylight hours observing there are the internet enabled observatories which school classes can apply for time on. I don't have a link handy but I'm sure someone here will.

2007-Sep-06, 08:27 PM
Try "Celestia", available for both Windows and Linux. It's a 3d program that lets users wander the universe. It comes with guided tours, and can take you on fact finding, 3d tours to any stellar coordinate input :D

2007-Sep-06, 08:34 PM
Participate in the Einstein-at-home, Seti-at-home, or other on-line programs that take advantage of either your recognition skills or cpu MIPs.

2007-Sep-06, 08:55 PM
Though your class is during the day, can you have either nighttime activities, either as a class trip or as individual homework assignments? There is a lot of observing one can do either naked eye or with binoculars.

There's a shuttle launch coming up in October, can you watch it live in class?

2007-Sep-07, 04:41 PM
Try "Celestia", available for both Windows and Linux. It's a 3d program that lets users wander the universe. It comes with guided tours, and can take you on fact finding, 3d tours to any stellar coordinate input :D
And there are lots of add-ons for it such as international space station, orbital elevator, SF spacecraft, etc.

2007-Sep-07, 04:48 PM
Show them the sun through a telescope, expecially if there are sun spots visible, using the projection method--and emphatically stress that they should not look at the sun, especially through the scope, by placing a piece of paper in front of the eyepiece. It'll smoke, and turn to flames. That'll grab 'em.

John Mendenhall
2007-Sep-07, 05:42 PM
If your classroom has a window that is sunlit for most of the day, a wonderful clock can be made with only a small round mirror anchored to the sill and set to reflect a spot on the ceiling, or walls, or whatever. As a project, each day mark where the spot is every hour or less (and record the date and time with the mark). At the end of the year, you will have a record of the position of the spot for the next year, which you can then use to tell the time. And a record of the change of the position of the sun in the sky across the change of seasons. The next year, you can improve the accuracy of the clock. This is a highly accurate type of sundial, you might be able over the course of years to get it to the minute. So many cameras are available, you can probably keep photos of the noontime position of the spot each day, taken by your students.

It opens up many other possibilities. It's indoors, no weather hassle. You'll have weather records if you keep noontime photos. On field trips, look for other sundials. Learn how to tell compass directions from shadows. Sunrise times. Sunset times. And on, and on.

2007-Sep-07, 07:05 PM
...But when school is in session we can't observe during daylight hours...
You can observe the Moon. And if you have your students bring round balls outside, and tell them to cover the Moon with the ball, they will see that the ball displays the same phase as the Moon. This is a much more intuitive method of demonstrating Moon phases than the flashlight trick.
Check out the activites link on the Project Astro website:

You might also want to see of Project Astro or something similar is available in your area. Project Astro is where astronomers, both professional and amateur, are paired up with teachers. I volunteer as an amateur in the SF Bay Area. 4 times a semester we visit the classroom to do astronomy-related activities.

Larry Jacks
2007-Sep-07, 09:56 PM
If you cover satellites and orbits in your class, you might want to get a copy of Satellite Toolkit (http://www.agi.com/products/whatsnew/) (STK) from AGI.com. There are free basic versions of STK available but the full up package is very expensive (and very good). I was given a copy of v8.1 at an AGI conference recently but have not had time to load it yet. The free version lets you play with some of the more advanced features for a week or so ("Sure kid, the first one's free!") to get you hooked. The program does have a learning curve but it can do some amazing stuff.

It might be beyond the needs or knowledge level of your class. I've heard of some good high school students who've made good use of the program. One local girl is so good that I heard AGI is giving her an internship and perhaps a job.

2007-Sep-08, 11:02 PM
If you take a black & white photographic negative, and tape it firmly down on a whiter area of skin....and drag the little hugger outdoors to the sunshine....and keep im still for 15 minutes....you can print the image in their suntan.....just before the police arrive:shifty::lol:pete

2007-Sep-12, 02:52 PM
I have Galaxy Zoo, Stellarium, Heavens above, and others...Perhaps, with Galaxy Zoo I can teach the kids about different types of galaxies and how to recognize them.

John Mendenhall
2007-Sep-12, 05:03 PM
No muss, no fuss way to have your class impress others by telling time within +/- 10 minutes without a watch, for a few hours after sunrise and before sunset.

Your fist, held out at full sideways arm length, thumb side up, heel on horizon, subtends about one hour of time. You can estimate for two fists, two hours. All you have to know is the sunrise and sunset time for the day, and you're in business. Sun halfway down your fist, sunset minus 1/2 hour, and so forth. It really blows people away, since after a while you can make good estimates at 3 to 4 hours away from sunrise and sunset. It works because although fists are different sizes, arm lengths are made to match.

In the north (Canadian border) you'd need to adjust for the path of the Sun, especially at the equinoxes. For North Carolina, close enough.