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The Planets -- Investigating Our Planetary Family Tree: A Family Affair
Classrooms


Girls looking at rocks on graph paper.
Girls work on an activity at an event. (Credit: NASA)

Students of all ages can investigate different aspects of the planets, from their scale and distance to their physical properties.

Certain concepts will need to wait until students have an understanding of gravity, density, magnetic fields, various chemical compounds, and more.

Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying this activity to Share Your Stories.

Activities

Grades K-4
For these grades, activities identifying the planets and comparisons of scale and of broad categories (gas giants compared to rocky planets) are appropriate.

Students will have difficulty comparing chemical composition, magnetic fields, atmospheric densities, and other similar topics. Students will also have difficulty following some of the arguments over the current definition of a planet; they will not have sufficient background to understand that objects of a minimum mass will become spherical, or their gravitational influence on nearby objects.

Activity Description
Reading, Writing, and Rings These activities blend the excitement of space exploration with reading and writing. Activities are available for Grades 1-2 and Grades 3-4.
Dunking the Planets In this 30-minute demonstration, children ages 9-13 compare the relative sizes and masses of scale models of the planets as represented by fruits and other foods. The children dunk the "planets" in water to highlight the fact that even a large, massive planet -- such as Saturn -- can have low density. They discuss how a planet's density is related to whether it is mainly made up of rock or gas.
Investigating the Insides In this 30-minute activity, teams of children, ages 9 to13, investigate the composition of unseen materials, using a variety of tools. This open-ended engagement activity mimics how scientists discover clues about the interiors of planets with cameras and other instruments onboard spacecraft.


Grades 5-8
Students in this age group should be able to apply their understanding of gravity, magnetic fields and chemical compounds to a comparison of the planets. (Science Education Standards)

Activities Description
Dwarf Planets as a New Way of Thinking About an Old Solar System This middle school activity utilizes a researched-based instructional strategy called direct vocabulary instruction to help students understand the new definitions of planet and dwarf planet.
Best of the Solar System This activity introduces students to planetary research. Using some of the most famous and interesting images of the solar system, students learn to focus on details by studying uncaptioned images. Next students increase their knowledge of the planets and their features by comparing their observations to those of real researchers. Students organize their findings to infer a key difference between inner and outer planets.
Investigating the Insides In this 30-minute activity, teams of children, ages 9 to13, investigate the composition of unseen materials, using a variety of tools. This open-ended engagement activity mimics how scientists discover clues about the interiors of planets with cameras and other instruments onboard spacecraft.


Grades 9-14
These grades should already have an understanding of both the composition and scale of the solar system, and they should be able to apply content to other questions related to the history of science and the nature of science, in studying the definition of a planet throughout history. (Science Education Standards)

Activities Description
What is a Planet? Students learn about the characteristics of planets, comets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects through a classification activity. Students can then apply what they have learned by participating in a formal debate about a solar system object discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft and by defining the term "planet."
What's the Difference? This is a free multimedia software application that facilitates scientific analysis by allowing virtually any pictures, graphics, animations, and movies to be compared side by side. The solar system dataset contains comparisons of the planets and major moons within our solar system. Users can upload graphical, animated, interactive, textual, and audio-formatted content into the categories and attributes grid and then supplement their data with customized multiple choice and summary assessment tests.
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Last Updated: 16 Apr 2014