People have a lot of misconceptions about distance. When we say people have
walked on the moon and sent robots to Venus, Mars, even Titan, a moon of
Saturn, students don’t get excited as they should, because they have no idea
how hard it is.
Teacher, you’re the most important part of making this model. Your
responsibilities are to get admins and students excited, and guide students
through the practical parts of putting down the model, and help this and future
students gain the astronomic perspective of large distances.
For design, it is probably best to make it a homework assignment. Showing
understanding is gradable. In addition, let some august person judge the
winning design, for clarity, beauty, and accuracy.
What students will learn in thinking about this solar model and helping construct it hit Florida Science-Standard items.
Recognize that the Sun appears large and bright because it is the closest star to Earth.
Recognize that Earth revolves around the Sun in a year and rotates on its axis in a 24-hour day.
Distinguish among the following objects of the Solar System—Sun, planets, moons, asteroids, comets—and identify Earth’s position in it.
Recognize that there are enormous distances between objects in space and apply our knowledge of light and space travel to understand this distance.
Distinguish the hierarchical relationships between planets and other astronomical bodies relative to solar system, galaxy, and universe, including distance, size, and composition.
Explore the Law of Universal Gravitation by explaining the role that gravity plays in the formation of planets, stars, and solar systems and in determining their motions.
Compare and contrast the properties of objects in the Solar System including the Sun, planets, and moons to those of Earth, such as gravitational force, distance from the Sun, speed, movement, temperature, and atmospheric conditions.
Compare various historical models of the Solar System, including geocentric and heliocentric.
Each planet will have a standard introduction and logo of the project, which
you’ll be given. The design of the rest of the tile is up to you, and
depending on support and funds, we’ll learn what kinds of displays we can make.
After the intro tile, how the rest looks is up to you and your students. Your only
constraints are that the planet must be in its orbital path, must last at least
10 years, and must be to scale with the 18m-diameter Sun. You should consider
presenting your planet’s moons, at the right size and distance of course.
You won’t have to fit a whole lesson’s-worth of data in a display. The goal is
to pique interest in astronomic scales and provide perspectives beyond the
mundane. Aim for clarity and beauty over density of information.
Encourage students to add their own flourish, but to be subtle. A curl of dust
in the atmosphere of Jupiter might hold the initials of the kids involved or
the mascot of the school.
Welcome that, but discourage blatant personalization.
In designing your display, have real concern over confusing model numbers
versus actual numbers. If you wish to talk about how fast the planet is
orbiting, it is probably better to write down actual numbers but use similes
about model-space. “Mars travels in this ← direction at 24km/sec, around
the model at half the speed of a crawling snail with a year almost twice as
long as ours”, instead of “at 2m/h”.