Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Astronomy Websites for Classroom Use

In Frederick County Public Schools, students are introduced to the Solar System in second grade. Since many kids can’t understand the concept of city and state versus planet and solar system, how does a teacher explain the enormity of the content they have to teach? There are many space-related websites that can help the kids see what they can’t with the naked eye. For example, check out the “Earth and Moon Viewer”. This site shows pictures of the earth from space from the point of view of the moon or the sun. There are also selections for “day and night” view so you can compare how the earth looks during both periods. A sister site of the “Earth and Moon Viewer” is the “Pick a Satellite” website. Just as the name suggests, you click on one of the many satellites in space to see a current view of the earth. If you don’t find what you want with the first one, try another.

The pictures you find on both of these sites work great with Smart Boards. By projecting an image of the earth from space, have the students come to the Smart Board and label the different oceans, continents, countries, major cities, regions, and weather patterns. I have tried this numerous times in my classroom and have covered all of these topics easily with just one picture, and the kids are actively engaged to come to the board and label the picture. I make it similar to an “I Spy” book, and the kids have fun as they learn from real world pictures of the earth. The Smart Board can also be used with the site called Sky Map, which allows you to see which stars and constellations that are above you. By projecting the night sky, students can use the marker on the Smart Board to label constellations and identify major stars.

The website “All Known Bodies in the Solar System are Larger Than 200 Miles in Diameter” is a simple site with a major impact. All the bodies in our solar system are shown lined up from biggest to smallest so that you can compare sizes. This is a wonderful visual aid for teaching relative size.

The “Cassini Imaging” website shows flybys of various planets from different space probes. The mini movies can be played directly in the brower or downloaded to be played later. The 5-10 second clips show amazing views of Jupiter, Saturn, the moon and the earth. It’s a wonderful way to take your students up-close and personal into the Solar System.

Also, the “virtual reality moon phases” website allows users to enter any date (month, day, year, time) into the website and it will return with a picture of the moon phase for that day. Even though the website is not visually appealing with the green font against the black background, the content on this site is priceless. There is a great corresponding lesson that goes along with this website called “Birthday Moons“. The lesson comes complete with a sheet for the children to complete as they work through the activity. Basically, the kids enter their birthday into the moon phase finder, and record the moon phase for that day on their sheet. From there, the kids enter every third day into the moon finder until they complete a month long cycle from their birthday. Each moon phase is recorded as they go. While this is a very motivating lesson to do with kids, you may want to prepare kids ahead of time just in case their birthday moon is a “new moon” since nothing will be there. If you are creative with this ahead of time, you’ll avoid tears of disappointment! You’ll find using these sites in class will make teaching the content easier!

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