Week Forty-Two: Outer Space Science


October 19, 2015 by libraryheather


Program Title: Outer Space Science

Target Age Range:
 Grades 1 – 3

Program Length:
 60 minutes

Brief Description:
Learn about the distance between planets, the phases of the moon, and constellations.

Oreos (enough for each child to have 8 unbroken cookies)

3 containers Betty Crocker vanilla frosting

Disposable bowls (1 per table)

Paper plates (2 per child)

Plastic spoons (1 per child)

Plastic knives (1 per child)

Wet wipes

Printout of the phases of the moon (1 per participant)

Masking tape

Black construction paper (1 sheet per participant, plus extras for your demo copies)

Gold star stickers (1/2 – 1 sheet per child, depending on your budget)

White crayons (as many as you can gather, up to 1 per participant)

Pencils (1 per participant)

Computer hooked up to a projector with sound

Clipboards, books, trays, or something else hard for them to draw on

Cost: $ 0-50 (assuming you have many of the supplies on hand)

Advanced Preparation:
-Email parents at least 2 days in advance to let them know that their children will be using (and eating!) 8 Oreos in this program, and possibly Betty Crocker (or whichever brand) vanilla frosting, in case there are allergies.

Draw 10 or more constellations on black construction paper (you do not have to use star stickers–just white dots will suffice) and hang them up around the room.  Be sure to label them with the constellation name!

-Print out a picture of a finished product from the Oreo Cookie Moon Phases project (like this one). Print one for each participant.

-Walk the paces for the Distances Between the Planets demonstration and mark the floor with a piece of tape for each planet.

-Distribute frosting equally into bowls (1 per table).

Optional: Make a model of the Oreo Cookie Moon Phase project.

Optional: Label each participant’s plate for the Oreo Cookie Moon Phase project with the names of the phases and/or with a picture of the Earth in the center.

Program Outline:
1. Settling in, welcome, introduction to topic.

2. Brainstorm what we know about space.

3. Ask who can name all the planets. Ask them to list the planets in order from closest to the sun to furthest from the sun. Write this on a whiteboard or big sheet of paper so everyone can see it.

4. Discuss how far apart the planets are from each other. (See Special Instructions and Procedures below)

5. To make distance between the planets easier to understand, ask for volunteers to do the Distance Between the Planets demonstration. (Note: If you don’t have enough room to do all the planets, explain how many more steps away those planets would be, e.g. how far outside the room, or even outside of the building).

6. Discuss the closest object to our planet: the moon! (distance from earth, orbit, etc) You could also use this time to discuss the appearance of the moon and how craters form on its surface.

7. Discuss how the moon looks different all the time, but it doesn’t really change shape.

8. Watch up to 3:45 on this video that explains the phases of the moon.

9. Reiterate the moon phase terminology they just learned while showing them a photo of the phases of the moon, either from a book or like this one online.

10. Take 20 minutes to do to this Oreo Cookie Moon Phase activity. See the instructions we gave them under Special Instructions and Procedures below.

11. Take a couple minutes to discuss what stars and constellations are.

12. Use the last 10-15 minutes to do this Constellation Drawing activity. See instructions below in Special Instructions and Procedures.

Handouts: None

Special Instructions and Procedures:
Brainstorming Ideas:
Outer space is cold, bigger-than-big, silent, full of stars, meteors, planets, and moons. There are 8 planets, plus the dwarf planet Pluto. Our solar system exists in a galaxy called the Milky Way, but there are billions of galaxies in the universe. All planets in our solar system orbit the sun. There is no oxygen in outer space, so we cannot breathe. The sun is in outer space. The sun is a star. The sun is HUGE–you could fit a million earths inside of the sun. Things in outer space are very far away from us and from each other. Things don’t weigh much on other planets or in outer space (hence the floating). And so on, and so forth!

Planet Distance Discussion:
We said: “All the planets are so far away from each other that it’s hard to understand in terms of distance. For instance, Venus is about 26 million miles away from Earth, whereas Earth is more than 2.7 billion miles away from Neptune. We can’t even really understand what 2.7 billion miles is like, because our own planet is only about 25,000 miles around. That means you would have to walk around the middle of the earth 108,000 times to go the distance between Earth and Neptune. It is impossibly far away!”

Moon Phase Terminology:
We said: “There are 8 phases of the moon: New Moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter, and Waning Crescent. ‘Waxing’ means ‘getting bigger’ and ‘waning’ means ‘getting smaller.’ I know ‘crescent’ and ‘gibbous’ are weird words, but it might help you remember if you think of ‘crescent rolls’ for ‘crescent,’ and that the word ‘gibbous’ has two b’s–just like a basketball, which is also round. The most important thing to remember is that the moon starts out dark, gets brighter and brighter until it’s full, then it gets darker and darker until it’s a new moon again.”

Oreo Cookie Moon Phase Project:
If your group is on the younger side, the Oreo Cookie Moon Phases project will be more labor intensive for you, as it is very difficult for 1st graders to successfully twist open an Oreo, and to make each cookie look like the picture. 2nd and 3rd graders have little to no problem doing this activity, but 1st graders will probably need a lot of help.

To save time, anyone helping you with the program can start passing out materials while you explain the instructions.

Aside from the instructions, we made sure to let them know four things:
1) You can use your knife to move some of the frosting between sides of the Oreo if it gets a little messed up.

2) The bowls of frosting should be used like glue. You will put it on the back of the Oreos that you stick on the plate. The frosting is not for eating!

3) Your goal is to make the Oreos on your plate look just like the ones in the picture at your table.

4) Yes, you can eat the halves of the Oreos that you don’t use.

Instructions for Constellation Drawing:
Use the instructions from Share and Remember’s blog post to direct this simple activity. We pointed out the constellation examples that we’d made and hung around the room, and told them to choose whichever one they liked best to copy onto their paper.

Resources Used:
Science Kids: Space Facts

Science Bob: Oreo Cookie Moon Phases

Lunar Cycle, Why the Moon Changes Shape (video)

NPS.gov: How Far Apart are the Planets?

Share and Remember: Constellations

Constellation Image: Cassiopeia

How We Learn: Constellation Cards and Myths for Kids

ThePlanets.org: Distances Between Planets

Ask an Astronomer: How Far is Each Planet From Earth?

FactMonster.com: Neptune

FactMonster.com: Venus

Science Kids: Moon Facts for Kids

Image of the Phases of the Moon

Space.com: How Big is Earth?

DePaul.edu: Oreo Moon Phases

Mr. Benson’s Science Classroom: Moon Phase Lab

Additional Resources:
I Can Teach My Child: Why Are There Craters On the Moon?

Astrosociety.org: Cosmic Collisions

Nasa.gov: Measuring the Distance

Nasa.gov: Moon Phases Demonstration

Nasa.gov: Keeping Nine Eyes on the Weather

Nasa.gov: Design and Build Your Own Spacecraft

Nasa.gov: De-Twinkling the Stars

Nasa.gov: Making the Parts Fit Together

Nasa.gov: The Moon’s Phases in Oreos

What we would do differently:
For starters, make sure you don’t pronounce “Uranus” as “Yer-AY-nus,” as many of us were taught to in elementary school.  Nowadays, kids are taught to say “YOOR-ah-nus.”  If you say it the way you have always known it, you will elicit cackles of glee and a hefty distraction overall.  They might still laugh, but I’d say it’s less likely.

We only had one printout of a completed Oreo Cookie Moon Phase project per table–this was a problem. It was very difficult for the 1st graders to understand without a model to copy. Therefore, it’s imperative that you print out one per child and tell them do exactly what the picture shows.

That being said, it’s unlikely that we would attempt the Oreo Cookie Moon Phase project with this age group again. It’s an awful lot of work for them, and it seemed to be particularly confusing for the bulk of our 1st graders. Instead we might opt for this (potentially messy!) activity about craters. We might also consider trying this interactive moon phase demonstration if we could sufficiently darken the room.

Adaption for older/younger audience:
Please see our blog post about an outer space-themed STEAM storytime for 3-6 year olds and their caregivers. For a 4th-6th grade (or possibly middle school) audience, NASA has several good projects, including: a more math-intensive activity for measuring the distance between planets, building a model satellite, designing and building a model spacecraft, understanding components of a mechanical system, or a group activity involving the stars.


One thought on “Week Forty-Two: Outer Space Science

  1. […] older/younger audience: We would not recommend this for an even younger audience. We have done an outer space program for 1st-3rd graders, which is a good option to try for that age […]

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