For students of any age, conceptualizing the shear magnitude of the universe is tough stuff, particularly when there is no “right answer” (astronomers are still working out plenty of the unknowns beyond the scope of our solar system!) Models play a big role in our astronomy unit. Moon phases, seasons, global wind and ocean currents; each requires a student to step beyond the scope of their physical world and examine simulations that better understand scientifically cyclical concepts.
The model universe project is a three-day process (outlined in web document here) designed to assess students understanding of the size and relationship between celestial objects in our universe. On day one students were given a portion of class to organize into groups of three and four, at which point they were asked framing questions designed to help them think critically about how to best address the sheer size and quantity of objects in the universe. For homework students were encouraged to do individual research on questions that arose and were provided online resources to peruse. Students were also encouraged to bring in “junk” the following day that they believed would be useful for model design.
On day two students were provided a detailed rubric citing the criteria for the model and presentation expectations. Students were also able to survey their current supplies, outline a plan for their model, and assign homework to one another addressing what would be needed for tomorrow.
Model construction and presentation day is arguably one of the most hectic and exciting days in the classroom. For 40 minutes students frantically construct their model, rehearse their presentation lines, and practice their flip camera one-take journeys through their universe. The clock is always on so that students practice prioritizing and time management while experiencing working under a sense of urgency throughout.
With student presentations captured in short, two minute video segments, the cameras were then collected and their videos posted to our YouTube channel the same day. Digital presentations such as these not only save educators the headache of storing large projects or carrying them from school to home and back, they provide a venue for their peers to give thoughtful, constructively critical feedback to one another. Come Monday, students will be spending science class accessing one another’s blogs where their universe model videos have been carefully embedded and their own personal thoughts on the project articulated.
Check out the two videos embedded in this blog post for a sense of some of the better model presentations I receive. For a look at all groups universe models (good, bad, and one or two uglies!) visit the ParkerScience YouTube channel.