Planets Sky Paths: Studying the Movement of Celestial Objects

By using these activities, K-4 students will have the concrete experiences of observing, organizing, comparing, and describing the movement of objects that they observe in the sky.  Students will also learn how early cultures viewed objects in the sky and created stories to explain the objects they observed.  Then, students will create their own stories to explain their own observations. 

Learner Outcomes
Learners will: 

  • observe the position of an object in the sky by describing its location relative to another object or the background. 
  • describe an object's motion by tracing and measuring its position over time. 
  • describe locations and movements that can be observed.
  • describe patterns of movement.
  • listen to myths based on early peoples' observations of the sky.
  • create their own myths based on their own observations of the sky.
National Science Education Standards

National Mathematics Education Standards

Materials and Technology

Scientific Background

Teacher Lesson Plan:

Grades K-2: Observing, Communicating, Comparing and Organizing 

    Activity 1:

    Observe, record, and share their observations of the daytime sky.

    Activity 2:

    Observe, record, and share their observations of the nighttime sky.

Activity 3:

Compare and contrast their observations of the daytime and nighttime skies.

Activity 4:

Become acquainted with myths about the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Grades 3-4: Relating and Communicating 
Activity 1:

Become acquainted with "wandering stars": the planets and the myths about them.

Activity 2:

Compare their observations with the myths from early cultures.

Activity 3:

Write their own planet myths based on their observations.

K-2: Observing and Communicating

1. Begin the lesson by asking what students have seen in the sky and what they know about objects in the sky.  Use the KWL chart provided for this purpose.

2. Take the students outside and instruct them to use the Sky Paths Daytime Observation Chart to draw pictures or write down what they see in the sky.  Ask them to watch to see if these things move.  Have students share their observations. 

3. Next, discuss with students what they see in the night sky and if those things move.  Have them take the Sky Paths Nighttime Observation Chart home to create the same type of night sky observation.

K-2: Comparing and Organizing 

4. Discuss the day sky observations and the night sky observations.  Use the students' observations to fill in a compare and contrast chart for what is seen in the daylight and at night.  Use the Venn diagram for students to look for patterns of movement.

5. Acquaint students with myths and legends of the sun, the moon, and the stars. 

6. Students may want to create their own myths.

3-4 Process Skills: Relating

1. Begin the lesson by discussing with the students that people everywhere, and in all cultures, have been observing the night sky for all of human history. 

2. Explain that most of the stars move across the sky at a constant pace, without changing their positions relative to one another.  However, planets change their position relative to the background stars.  Many cultures have developed stories about these "wandering stars" that move in an unusual fashion against the constellations.  Ancient people used their eyes to study these wandering stars; we have the Hubble Space Telescope. 

3. At this point choose one of these stories to read to your students. Read selected myths and legends to the students about these "wandering" stars. 

4. By questioning and discussing, help students understand that these legends helped us to relate our early perspectives and the tools we have developed in order to "see" the sky. Ask questions such as: 

  • In the legends, what objects moved in the sky?  Why?
  • Was there a specific direction?
  • Was there a specific pattern to their movement?  Seasons, months, day and night, etc.
5. Use the Compare and Contrast Chart to find out what remained the same from one culture to the next and what changed as we learned more through our observations about the sky. By questioning and discussing, help students to understand that these comparisons relate to our early perspectives and the tools we have developed to "see" the sky. 

3-4: Communicating

6. Have the students write and illustrate their own legends about these "wandering" stars based on what they have learned about the planets' movements in the night sky. Encourage students to share their stories aloud with the class.

7. Next have students draw a simple picture of an orbit on paper . Using these illustrations of their understanding of orbits, begin a unit long KWL chart to start a guided discussion. Some sample questions are:

What do we KNOW/ WANT TO KNOW about: 

  • the movement of objects in the nighttime sky?
  • the direction those objects move?
  • the stories early people wrote to explain objects that move in the sky?
  • how the stories changed as time went on?  Why did they change?
  • how scientists see objects in the sky?
  • how tools have helped them learn more about how objects move in the sky?
 Activity Debriefing

1. Have students complete the KWL chart from the beginning of the lesson by filling in the "What We Learned" section (sample below). 

  • WHAT DID WE LEARN? (Sample) 
  • What objects move in the daytime?  In the nighttime?  Both day and night? 
  • What direction do they move?
  • What kind of stories did early people write to explain objects that move in the sky?
  • Did the stories change as time went on?  If so, how did they change, and why do you think they changed?
  • Today how do scientists see objects in the sky?
  • How has advancements in technology helped scientists learn more about how objects move in the sky?
  • What is the difference between a circle and an ellipse? 
  • What were the understandings that students had when they completed the "What We Know" section of the KWL chart? 
  • How did their perspectives change?  Do they think they will change again?  Why or why not? 
Assessment Procedures