Idea for 3rd Grade solar system lesson – help!?!

Posted on Jan 1, 2009 by kjarrett 31 Comments

Ok, so our Third Grade team is willing to give my “Four-in-a-Row Pilot” idea a try. Basically, instead of meeting once a week for 42 minutes, four times a month, we’ve agreed to meet four days in a row for 42 minutes, once a month. (Here are some visuals explaining the current and new schedules.) Contact hours won’t change, but, our hope is that four sessions in a row will make it easier for us to do more substantial, differentiated and globally connected projects.

I’ve got an idea for a third grade lesson on the solar system and would love your input. Trying to decide if this is asking too much, or, if it will be a fun, effective lesson kids will remember for a long time.

Mrs. Notaro’s students will just be starting a unit on the solar system when we return from winter recess. Kids have been making dioramas like this since forever. Solar System PowerPoint presentations are nearly just as common. I’m thinking, why not try something a little more adventurous? Why not have them recreate a scale model of the universe, with themselves as planets, and then produce a short movie about the process?

The first problem I see with this idea is that if we’re going to make it to scale, we need, according to the this National Optical Astrononmy Observatory lesson plan, a workspace 1,000 yards long! Ooops, that’s not happening. Certainly not in the middle of winter in the northeast United States. Perhaps there is a way to get this approximately right within the space we have available? (I wonder if the school gym is free…)

We have 24 kids, and so I’m thinking three teams of eight … give them the responsibility to research and create a five minute video illustrating facts about themselves (one of the planets), their relationship to the other planets (approximate distance, in terms they can relate to) and most of all, a movie of the entire solar system “in action,” that is, all of the kids orbiting the sun while rotating on their own axes. We could even have them create simple costumes if they wanted, but I’m more interested in seeing them research their planets and preparing a short oral summary (maybe with a visual aid or two) they would use in the video.

The cool part about this is that the team of 8 students could divide the work up any way they wanted, based on interest, ability, skill … maybe have a team of kids work on the research (using sites like, others on storyboarding the movie, still others on the actual script, others on the actual movie production, or even props. Those that finished early could assist in other areas or use the time to work on keyboarding skills. Those who needed extra time could take it.  In the end we’d judge the movie (we’ll need a rubric, yikes!).

What do you think? Could we pull this off in four 42-minute class periods?

What should I add? Remove? Reconsider?

Comments would be sincerely appreciated!


Image credits – diorama: Mike Monteiro; planets: National Optical Astrononmy Observatory; Flip video camera: Michael Conick.