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In the sixth grade, students begin to study the key elements of the Solar System.  Specifically, they'll look at the components of the solar system, compare the Earth to the other planets in the solar system, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of space exploration.  By the end of this unit, students should be able to explain the role that galaxies, planets, stars, asteroids, meteors and comets play in the universe.  Students should also be able to identify similarities and differences between the Earth and other planets, detail some of the major efforts to explore space in the past 60 years, and identify innovations that had their start in the space program. 


Below, you will find unit overview sheets, a common assessment that is given by all teachers, samples of student work, and materials for possible lessons to support this unit of instruction. 



County Unit Overview

County Overview - Space


This document was created by the county as an overview of the content to be covered in the Space unit that can be shared with parents.  It presents essential content in parent friendly language, it includes a list of required vocabulary, and it highlights where the content that our kids are expected to master stands in the sequence of learning for students.  It can be useful as a guide for teachers -- both of sixth grade science and those who wish to integrate sixth grade science content into their curricula.  




I Can Statements

Handout - Solar System I Can Statements


This document includes a list of the objectives that students will be expected to master in their study of the solar system.  It can be used as a checklist by teachers to guide their instruction and as a tracking sheet for parents and students to monitor progress towards mastery.




Optional Assessment

Assessment - Space Pretest

Socrative Share Code: 16524557  


While the common assessment for this unit is posted in Mastery Connect, this document contains a 15 question assessment that covers content on our I Can Statements.  It can be used as a pretest or as a retest for any student that needs one.  It is not required for teachers to give this assessment and we will not collect any shared data around this assessment.   It covers primarily the earth/moon/sun system.  There are questions about tides, phases of the moon and seasons.  There are also questions about orbits, rotations and revolutions.


Bill Ferriter has also put the assessment into Socrative as a quiz.  If you want to use that to give the quiz to your students, copy the share code above and enter it into Socrative.  You will be given a new copy of the assessment that you can modify or deliver as is.  




Potential Lessons



Earth Sun Moon System Lessons


Seasons Interactive Graphic



This interactive graphic provides students with the opportunity to see how the tilt of the earth impacts temperature and seasons.  What's fun about the interactive graphic is it allows users to change the tilt of the earth -- which can be used to make additional observations about the impact that tilt has on weather on other planets. 



The Reasons for the Seasons Viewing Guide

Handout - The Reasons for the Seasons


In the Discovery Education video collection, there is a 20 minute video titled The Reasons for the Seasons that does a nice job introducing the basics of Earth's rotation and revolution.  It also explains the impact that the tilt of the earth has on the seasons here on Earth.  What's nice about the video is that it explains how the seasons have an impact on photosynthesis here on Earth -- which makes for natural connections to the key objectives in our Ecosystems unit.  This viewing guide can be used by students when watching the video. 



The Reasons for Tides

Video - http://bit.ly/11oYN6O 

Video 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ohDG7RqQ9I 

Interactive Graphic - http://to.pbs.org/13CuIPP


During the course of this unit, students are expected to understand how the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon combined with the rotation of the earth cause the tides to occur.  The interactive graphic and YouTube video above can be used to teach these concepts.  To teach this, ask students to review the reasons for tides on page D66 of the textbook and to see if they can explain how tides happen. Then, show the YouTube video to see if their predictions were correct.



Phases of the Moon

Video - http://bit.ly/10zyrz2

Interactive Graphic - http://bit.ly/12O5ZHD 


Another bit of content that students are supposed to master during this unit is the reason that the moon appears differently over the course of a month.  Both of the resources above can introduce these key ideas to students.  The first is a History Channel tutorial that introduces the different vocabulary words connected to the phases of the moon.  The second is an interactive graphic that allows students to control the time of month and day on earth to see what happens to the position and appearance of the moon in the sky. 




Lunar Eclipse and Solar Eclipse Video






These four videos can be used to teach students about the position of the moon, earth and sun during both lunar and solar eclipses.  This content is on our list of essential content.  



Habitable Planets Lessons



How Many Habitable Planets are in the Universe?



In January of 2013, astronomers made an almost amazing prediction:  They believe that there are 17 BILLION planets in the Milky Way galaxy that are the same size as Earth.  While that DOESN'T mean that those planets are habitable and capable of sustaining life, it DOES mean that there are a TON of potential homes for other life forms in the universe.  This article from Gizmodo runs the math to figure out just how many potential homes are in our universe.  This makes a logical follow-up to the Hubble Telescope video because the Hubble is being used to study exoplanets in the universe.



What Makes a Planet Habitable Graphic and Table

Graphic - http://bit.ly/12MefrP

Table - http://bit.ly/ZxFYNU 

Table PDF - Handout - Habitable Planet Table


One of the required objectives in our curriculum is for students to understand the characteristics that make a planet habitable.  This graphic from the Hubble Telescope site introduces those characteristics to students -- and then describes the ways that the Hubble Telescope is being used to try to identify planets in different solar systems that have the conditions necessary to support life.  It makes a nice connection and follow-up to the Hubble Telescope video.  The table includes a description of the characteristics of habitable planets and some of the reasons that the planets in our solar system are not.




NASA's Plans to Study Europa




One of the most interesting developments in space exploration is NASA's plans to send a sattelite to study Europa -- one of Jupiter's moons -- in the 2020s.  Scientists have long predicted that Europa has an ocean of liquid water deeper than any ocean on earth underneath its frozen surface -- and given that liquid water is a key factor for life, that makes Europa a place in our solar system where we believe that life may exist.  What makes this project an interesting study is that Europa is so far from the sun that warmth from light is impossible.  It is essentially outside of "the goldilocks zone" that scientists have always used as a criteria for objects that might be able to support life.  


The reason that Europa has a liquid ocean, scientists believe, is because of the influence of Jupiter's gravity on the moon.  The push and pull of gravity is creating "tides" in the material that makes up the moon.  That tidal energy is converted into mechanical energy -- which in turn creates the friction and heat that keeps water in liquid form.  If all of these theories are confirmed, it could change what we think about the factors necessary for supporting life.  No longer would being in the habitable zone of a planet be the only way that a solvent could remain in liquid form.  



Dawn Spacecraft Studies Ceres




In the spring of 2015, NASA's Dawn Spacecraft made a visit to Ceres -- a Dwarf Planet in the main asteroid belt beyond Mars.  The purpose of the Dawn mission is to try to determine where the water on earth came from.  That's a question that scientistists have been trying to answer simply because water is a key factor in making a planet habitable.  Not only does water provide something for us to drink, it acts as a solvent -- allowing molecules to break apart and then reform.  The origin of the water on earth is a mystery -- although many scientists predict that it could have been carried here in collisions with other objects in space.  That's where our study of Ceres comes in:  Ceres is made up of one quarter water and three quarters rock.  In fact, it has more fresh water on it than all of the water on Earth.  Scientists predict that collisions with just a few objects the size of Ceres could explain all of the water on earth.  



What Makes a Planet Habitable Video

Handout - Habitable Planet Viewing Guide


Bill Ferriter has purchased a series of National Geographic videos that introduce students to the planets.  He plans to ask the students to use the viewing guide above to (1). learn about the characteristics of habitable planets and (2). determine why other planets in our solar system are not able to support life.  If you are interested in doing this activity with your students, see Bill -- he can give you access to the videos. 



What Would it Be Like to Live on Another Planet?



In the Winter of 2015, Space.com started a series designed to consider the question, "What Would it be Like to Live on Other Planets?"  Each entry in the series details life on a different planet/solar body.  The authors detail both the potential challenges of living on the body and the potential successes of living on the body.  It's a perfect series to use if you plan to have students work with the What Makes a Planet Habitable content listed above.  Students could read through the descriptions on this site looking for characteristics that either do or don't make the individual planets habitable.  



Finding the Next Earth Video



This National Geographic video describes the space missions that are currently in place to discover habitable planets in the universe.  Covered are projects designed by the United States and other countries.  It details the steps that countries take with digital tools to identify planets that could potentially support life. 




Could Comets be the Source of Life on Earth?



One of the primary reasons that we study the solar system is to find out whether or not life exists in other places of the universe.  What we believe is that if we can find life in OUR solar system, it's likely that there would be life in OTHER solar systems too.  A related question, however, is where did life come from to begin with?  Recent efforts by NASA and the ESA to study comets MIGHT hold that answer.  In two recent missions, we have captured and studied the bits and pieces of comets that break up as they get closer to the sun.  These bits and pieces are called the comet's "coma."  What we've found in the comas of the two comets that we have studied is relatively startling:  Both have had amino acids in them.  Amino acids are the building blocks of DNA -- which is, in turn, the building block of life.  As a result, scientists predict that it is possible that the the amino acids from comets that found their way to earth may have "seeded" our planet with life -- and if that's the case, they could have seeded other planets with life, too.  





Space Exploration Lessons



Hubble Telescope Viewing Guide

Viewing Guide - Hubble Telescope


Another key learning objective in this unit is for students to describe some of the most important space explorations that have happened in the past 60 years.  Specifically, students are supposed to be able to explain what we've learned from some of the explorations that we've conducted.  To meet this objective, Bill Ferriter will be showing the Hubble Telescope IMAX video.  While watching the video, students will complete this viewing guide.  If you want to show this video to your students, see Bill -- he can give you access to it.




The Future of Space Exploration



One of the challenges of looking for life in the universe is developing space ships that are fuel efficient.  Large vehicles like the Space Shuttle have to carry huge amounts of fuel as well as huge amounts of supplies for onboard crew.  This Ted Ed lesson introduces viewers to attempts at NASA to think differently about "space exploration."  Plans are to develop thousands of micro-spacecraft that are outfitted with electronic sensors, can be launched and powered with ease, and are relatively expendable simply because the cost of developing and launching one are small.  Consider sharing this video with students and asking them what the advantages and disadvantages of using micro spaceships to study the universe would be.  What advantages do we get out of exploration on the micro scale versus the more traditional space exploration that we have traditionally invested in?




Curiosity Rover - Seven Minutes of Terror Video



The most recent effort to explore the solar system is the Curiosity Rover project -- a new rover that landed on the surface of Mars in November of 2012.  The project's goal is to try to spot signs that Mars was able to support life at one point in the past.  This link connects to a video produced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that details the landing mechanism used to get the Rover to the surface of the Red Planet. 



Mars One Colonization Project

Story - http://bit.ly/13i6uu5

Video - http://bit.ly/13YoGLD 


Probably the most INTERESTING effort to explore the solar system is the Mars One project -- a plan to send settlers to live on Mars for the rest of their lives.  What makes this plan worth studying is that it is being completely funded through private dollars raised through advertising sold on a Mars One reality television show.  Every step of the Mars One project -- from the selection of settlers to life and death on the planet -- will be filmed and broadcast back here on Earth.  This raises interesting questions about who should bear the cost of space exploration -- and does space exploration change when it is conducted for a reality television show versus conducted by governments for scientific purposes?




Bill Nye's Lightsail Kickstarter Project




Similar to the Mars One project spotlighted above, Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Planetary Society developed a Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2015 to raise money for the development of a solar sail.  Solar sails are designed to be pushed through space by the momentum generated by light photons.  While photons have no mass, they do have momentum -- and solar sails are lightweight sattelites with sails designed to use that momentum to move through space.  The advantage of solar sails is that they need no fuel, which means they can travel through space forever.  Again, the question to ask when studying this event is are private efforts to fund space exploration -- an increasingly common trend -- a good idea?  What are the consequences of private exploration of space?  What are the benefits?  




International Space Station Interactive Tour

Tour - http://1.usa.gov/135cWpA

Video of Earth shot from ISS - http://bit.ly/15l5YwK

Handout - Space Station Viewing Guide


Another bit of recent space exploration history that is worth introducing to students is the International Space Station.  What makes this project worth studying is that it is a joint effort between sixteen countries including Russia, the US, Canada and the European Space Agency.  This means no single country had to pay for the entire project itself and that every country has a shared interest in seeing the Space Station succeed.  This is a valuable shift in the way that space exploration has been done throughout history.  This NASA site gives users an inside look at what life is like on the ISS.  Also, Bill Ferriter owns a 47 minute IMAX movie that introduces students to the International Space Station.  See him if you want to show it to your students. 



Space Junk Lessons

Introductory Article - http://bit.ly/15l9G9D

More Recent Article - http://bbc.in/19oTnfc

Video Overview - http://bit.ly/15l9QOg

Video on Swiss Effort to Remove Space Junk - http://bit.ly/ZvnLmv

Video on Sling Sat Effort to Remove Space Junk - http://bit.ly/13leKJX 

Article on Laser Proposal to Vaporize Space Junk - http://wrd.cm/1bMvwLv 


One of the unintended consequences of space exploration has been the dramatic rise in space junk -- thousands of abandoned satellites and rocket parts ranging in size from marbles to automobiles -- that are orbiting around the earth at alarming rates of speed.  The problem of space junk has gotten so bad that scientists believe there may come a time that space is no longer accessible to humans.  There are many current efforts underway to try to find ways to (1). limit the amount of new junk that we put into space and (2). remove some of the junk that is already in orbit around our planet.  These resources are designed to get students thinking about the consequences of space exploration. 



NASA Plans to Lasso Asteroid



In his 2013 budget, Barack Obama set aside $100 million dollars to start plans to lasso an asteroid and drag it into orbit around the Earth's moon.  Then, plans are to land astronauts on the asteroid to assess the potential for mining for resources.  Lawmakers believe that this project will (1). give us potential access to valuable minerals and natural resources, (2). give us experience in developing and landing vehicles that could come in handy if we ever send men to Mars and (3). give us experience that we can use if and when a large asteroid ever threatens Earth.  Given the scare that a meteor crashing into Russia in February 2013 caused, this plan seems less ridiculous and more important than ever before. 



Spinoff Benefits of Space Exploration

Trace Space Back to You Website - http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/nasacity/index2.htm 

NASA Spinoff YouTube Channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/NASASpinoff 


One of the key points to make in our study of space exploration is that advances in space exploration often lead to advances here on Earth as well.  That means the money that we invest in space exploration has other direct benefits for us.  To teach that concept, consider using NASA's Trace Space Back to You website, which shows places where technology developed for space exploration is being used in our homes and cities.  NASA's Spinoff YouTube channel is also a useful teaching tool.  It contains a series of short videos describing ways that technology developed for space exploration is making an impact here on earth.  Both sources could become interesting starting points for student research projects. 



Spinoff Benefits Lesson Sequence - 100 Year Starship Project

Main 100 Year Starship Website - http://100yss.org/

How NASA is Recycling Urine - http://bit.ly/150R8JT

World Population Clock - http://www.census.gov/popclock/

How Much Fresh Water is on Earth? - http://bit.ly/196Hsld


The way that Bill teaches students about spinoff benefits of space travel is by talking about the 100 Year Starship project -- an effort to develop a vehicle that can travel beyond our solar system within the next 100 years.  Currently, that trip would take 75,000 years.  With a vehicle that can travel faster than the speed of light -- which is being dreamed of and designed by NASA -- that journey could take as little as two weeks. 


Bill has students brainstorm what kinds of challenges interstellar travelers would face.  Inevitably, finding food and water are mentioned by students.  At that point, Bill shows students the video on NASAs efforts to design better systems for recycling ALL water on space vehicles -- including urine and water used for hygiene purposes. 


Finally, he asks students to brainstorm potential uses for that technology here on Earth.  To prompt their thinking, he shows them the world population clock (to make the point that the demand for fresh drinking water is always on the rise) and the How Stuff Works page on the amount of water on Earth (to make the point that while there is a lot of water on earth, only a very small percentage of it is fit for drinking).  NASA's water recycling work could very much pay off here on Earth if we can come up with technologies that help secure the world's water supply for the future. 




Meet NASA's Planetary Protection Officer



One of the little known facts about space exploration is that NASA is worried about the potential for space vehicles and probes from Earth to carry living creatures in the form of bacteria to the planets and moons that we are studying.  They are also worried about space vehicles bringing living creatures in the form of bacteria BACK to the Earth.  The concern is two-fold:  First, if we inadvertently introduce life to another body, that life could ruin the other body and contaminate the scientific results that we get from investigations of those bodies.  Second, if we inadvertently introduce life from another body to the Earth, our own biosphere could suffer negative consequences.  This link connects to an interview with NASA's "Planetary Protection Officer" -- an official responsible for developing processes and protocols for ensuring that this kind of cross contamination doesn't happen.  


This article can serve as a connection between our Ecosystems study and Space.  Essentially, anything we carry to other planets or anything that is carried back to Earth from other planets could end up being an invasive species.  As long as you talk about invasive species in your ecosystems unit, students should be able to find this connection on their own.







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