Worksheets and lesson ideas to challenge students aged 11 to 16 to think hard about Earth and space, phases of the Moon and day and night (GCSE and Key Stage 3)
All students will be amazed by this video of life inside the International Space Station. It serves as an excellent introduction to forces and space, motivating students to want to know more. Students can watch the video and write down any questions they would like to ask the astronauts. Discussing these questions can serve as a platform to identify any misconceptions students may have about gravity, forces and space.
Story of our Solar System
This video from NASA provides a clear account of how our Solar System formed
Building scale models of the Solar System
The Voyager 1 space probe is a fascinating mission to share with students – a quest to reach the edge of our Solar System. Show students the picture it took of Earth in 1990, the pale blue dot, from the edge of our Solar System, presented brilliantly here by Carl Sagan.
Key Stage 3 and GCSE scale model of the solar system. Students create a scale model of the solar system. They devise their own scale to show the different diameters of the planets and their distance from the sun. It is an excellent way to introduce the concept of scale models and why they are useful to scientists. Sean Kohut contributed this resource. (PDF)
Check out this excellent link to help students appreciate the scale of the universe. Many students struggle to appreciate scale. This animation allows students to zoom in and out of the universe. They observe the relationship between atoms, cells, organisms, planets, the solar system and the universe.
Planets, years and orbits
Key Stage 3 worksheet on planets, years and orbits. Students work out how old they would be if they lived on Mars. This is an interesting way to introduce the solar system. (PDF)
Satellites and orbits
Here is a nice 3D interactive satellite-tracking applet from NASA. It is really useful for teaching the different types of orbit.
Use this activity to assess students’ prior knowledge of satellites and orbits.
Day and night
Ask students to describe how temperature changes over a 24-hour period and explain why this happens. You can ask them to sketch a graph of what they think this will look like. The cartoon below offers a simple but powerful simulation to day and night.
Phases of the Moon
The model below is an excellent way to help students understand why the Moon changes appearance in the night sky. The Moon is a fascinating object to teach. For example, we only ever see one side of the Moon (the near side) because the moon rotates around the Earth at the exact same speed as it rotates around its own axis. It wasn’t until the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 that a a human directly observed the far side of the moon. And the the origin of the Moon is worth exploring with your students.
What causes the seasons?
Explore this fantastic multiple choice quiz to explore whether you hold common misconceptions about seasons.
Animation to explore why we have seasons that considers the Sun’s path in the sky and the angle at which light strikes the Earth.
Why is summer hotter than winter?
This activity from NASA provides an excellent way to investigate why summer is hotter than winter. During UK’s summer the Earth’s North pole is tilted (relative to Earth’s orbit around the Sun) towards the Sun in such a way that energy hits the surface of the Earth more directly.
- How, when in summer the North Pole receives 24 hours of sunlight, does it stay so cold
- When you go outside at night, and look at the stars, are you looking up at them or down at them?