Astronomy has always been a favorite part of the 8th grade curriculum. Students are always eager to study this subject. Many of them are science fiction fanatics, faithfully watching shows like the X-Files, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Babylon 5, and Space Above and Beyond. Terms used in the above shows such as zero gravity and black holes will be addressed, along with commonly used astronomical vocabulary.
In addition, it is important in the teaching of science to keep up with current events. Astronomical topics/discoveries are constantly in the news. Examples include the comet that could be seen in the night sky, the Hubble Telescope repair, and the discoveries of many new galaxies and even some planets. In the minds of students these discoveries can make young imaginations soar and fuel their search for knowledge.
A curriculum unit on Astronomy is also an excellent way to teach the scientific method. Activities that are part of this topic are a great lead into high school for the 8th graders.
Prior to this unit, it is assumed that stellar evolution and the history of the Universe have been studied. This unit will be structured in the following manner: the history of space flight, space basics (including physics), astronauts, living and working in outer space, and the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe.
Taking off from Earth, orbiting and space travel involve a number of planetary laws/forces such as inertia and gravity. These will be discussed and their impact on space travel will be shown through demonstrations and hands-on activities.
Living and working in outer space is a integral part of space travel. Spacesuits, living quarters, food and recreation will be covered. Breathable air and waste recycling are important considerations. These will be covered in a Space Station activity.
Distance is an important, yet hard concept for students to understand. This includes the definitions of light year and astronomical unit. What is the fastest travel speed, and just how far away planets, moons, stars, etc. really are. Activities will cover these topics.
Once we land on a planet, how can we stay and live there? What supplies will we need? What kind of jobs/people are needed to sustain a space station? If people get stranded on a planet, what type of emergency supplies are necessary for survival? There are a couple of activities in this unit pertaining to the above.
The last part of this curriculum unit will cover the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. Students enjoy discussing this topic, which fuels their imaginations. Scientists are constantly listening and looking for signs of life outside the Earth. An activity called, “Invent an Alien” is included in the lesson plans.
All curriculum in 8th grade is preparation for high school and I address this in the lesson plans. I believe in incorporating a variety of types of activities, as students have different learning styles. Thus, labs addressing the scientific method, handson activities, open-ended lessons and writing across the curriculum are part of this unit. Opportunities are included for both individual and cooperative learning.