Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science
Order out of Chaos: Our Solar System Featured Classroom: Carol Berlin; Framingham, Massachusetts
Carol Berlin; Framingham, Massachusetts
“There’s so much I want a child to leave my class with. The first thing I want them to leave with is this feeling of confidence, that if they don’t understand something they can go out and work with what they have and try and understand and try to answer their questions. I want them to feel good enough about themselves that they realize it’s okay to have questions, that questions are good things.”
School at a Glance:
Charlotte Dunning School
- Grades: K-5
- Enrollment: 509
4% African American
- Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch:
15% versus a state average of 29%
When she was in high school, Carol Berlin thought science was incredibly boring. “I remember… being totally disconnected to anything going on in science. We read a chapter, and we answered the questions at the end of the chapter. If you could read, you could do it, but that didn’t mean you understood it.” She says that changed when she had children of her own, particularly her son, whose first word, she jokes, must have been “why” — “he was very curious about science and I started exploring with him, and that’s really when I started teaching science.”
Carol decided to become a teacher, and when she returned to college to earn her certification, she focused on science education. “I took a science methods course at Wheelock College, with two fabulous teachers who inspired me. They taught me that you don’t have to have the answers, that you want the children to ask questions. Very powerful ideas… and when I started teaching, I felt very empowered to teach science.” For the past seven years, Carol has been teaching third grade at the Charlotte Dunning School, in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Lesson and Curriculum
Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Activity designed by Carol Berlin
(download the lesson plan as an Adobe PDF document)
Topic: Scale model of the Solar System
Carol is currently working on a solar system unit. Her class just finished making scale models of the size of the planets, including a scale model between the Sun and the Earth. For the video, Carol planned to turn the class’s attention to the distances between the planets. “I have a model of the solar system worked out that is scaled to a model of the Sun that is smaller than a marble,” explains Carol. The model is so large, she adds, that Pluto isn’t able to fit on the playground.
At the beginning of the lesson, Carol distributed paper to her students and asked them to draw a scale model of the solar system with as much detail as they could include. After discussing their drawings in groups, she took the class out to the playground.
Once she established the Sun’s position, Carol asked her students to predict the relative location of the planets by standing where they thought they would be. “That provides them with a place to confront their own misconceptions, a chance to have an ‘ah-ha!’ moment in the lesson,” explains Carol. She adds, “The kids are always surprised… by the closeness of the inner planets and how spread out the outer planets are. They’re amazed by that.”
Carol also discussed the imperfections of the model with her students, who noted that the planets don’t ever line up and that the Solar System is not two-dimensional. Nevertheless, like so many teachers who teach Earth and space science, Carol notes that models are important because they give children the most direct interactions with the subject matter that they are likely to have.
Carol was pleased with the results of the lesson, noting that the children had developed a better sense of how vast the solar system is. She told the children that relative to the marble she used to represent the Sun, Jupiter would be the size of a grain of sand. “That allowed them to see how much space is in space,” Carol observed. “And hopefully they ’ll take away this sense of huge distances.”
Session 1 Earth’s Solid Membrane: Soil
How does soil appear on a newly born, barren volcanic island? In this session, participants explore how soil is formed, its role in certain Earth processes, its composition and structure, and its place in the structure of the Earth.
Session 2 Every Rock Tells A Story
How can we use rocks to understand events in the Earth's past? In this session, participants explore the processes that form sedimentary rocks, learn how fossils are preserved, and are introduced to the theory of plate tectonics.
Session 3 Journey to the Earth’s Interior
How do we know what the interior of the Earth is like if we've never been there? In this session, participants examine the internal structure of the Earth and learn how it is possible for entire continents to move across its surface.
Session 4 The Engine That Drives the Earth
What drives the movement of tectonic plates? In this session, participants learn how plates interact at plate margins, how volcanoes work, and the story of Hawaii's formation.
Session 5 When Continents Collide
How is it possible that marine fossils are found on Mount Everest, the world's highest continental mountain? In this session, participants learn what happens when continents collide and how this process shapes the surface of the Earth.
Session 6 Restless Landscapes
If almost all mountains are formed the same way, why do they look so different? In this session, participants learn about the forces continually at work on the surface of the Earth that sculpt the ever-changing landscape.
Session 7 Our Nearest Neighbor: The Moon
Why is the Moon, our nearest neighbor in the solar system, so different from the Earth? In this session, participants explore the complex connections between the Earth and Moon, the origin of the Moon, and the roles played by gravity and collisions in the Earth-Moon system.
Session 8 Order out of Chaos: Our Solar System
Why do all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction and why are the planets closest to the Sun so different from the gas giants farther out? In this session, participants gain a better understanding of the nature of the solar system by examining its formation.