Begin the unit by discussing with the class what they already know about the ‘Universe’. This will give you an idea of how much is known by the students. Many of them will probably talk about some aspect of the Solar System, the planets and such without saying the word or concept ‘Solar System’. Most elementary students may also associate stars with the idea of the Universe. However the basic structure of the planets revolving around the Sun, and then the Solar System being a minuscule element in a massive arrangement we call the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Milky Way just being one in billions of other galaxies spread throughout the vastness of nothingness known as the Universe, will probably be an ambiguous or totally new concept for many of them. By the end of this unit they will understand this order better.
In this discussion, a few key and inspirational statements or facts can be given about the Universe. These would depend on the direction that the class is taking the dialogue. For instance, if the students were concerned with the Earth and Moon, then the analogy of the Earth being reduced to the size of a quarter and the Moon being a nickel and placed approximately 90 centimeters away (for the sake of mathematical convenience, all measurements will be in the metric system) could be pertinent.
This is where the teacher should have previously done his homework and read any of the informative texts listed in the bibliography so that depending on the conversation, the teacher can give the appropriate information. There are many stimulating resources for any novice with an open mind to read up on and quickly gain a perspective on the simplest terms necessary for a discourse about Astronomy. Anyone can easily be drawn into a discussion of some of the overwhelming facts involved in Astronomy. I believe there is something intrinsically attracting to the human spirit in any discussion about the heavens. The teacher will have very little problem motivating the class to learn more about the planets and stars.
After this first class initiation into Astronomy, give a homework assignment for them to write down in essay form, all they know about the Solar System, stars, Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe. This will give the teacher the opportunity to get a better understanding of what they know and where to go from there. Give this assignment again when the unit is completed, as a way to assess the students and what needs to be done differently in the future from the teacher’s perspective.
The next lesson needs to involve a talk about ‘scale’. As an art teacher, I begin this topic with a drawing on the board of a person. Then I would draw two trees, one very small and one to scale with the person. Ask the class which of the two trees appears to be the ‘right’ size to the person. This can be repeated for any symbol from dogs, cars, building, etc. What we are trying to do is to make the connection that once one symbol is changed in size, then all other symbols relevant to the subject must be changed also in order to match.
Next the class can be given a set of blueprints (see material list) of a familiar building. Ideally, if the original plans for the school are available, they would be very helpful and befitting for this discussion about scale. With the blueprints, demonstrate once again how scale is used. Show the class the scale reduction used in the key legend. Point out how everything is drawn to match everything else in size. Explain how this is the simplest and most convenient way we have for the designer to illustrate to the builders how big to make all the components of the building, from windows, doors, wall heights, etc.
After the class has been acquainted with the plans, ask someone to calculate the actual sizes of furniture inside the rooms if it where to be drawn in the scale of the plans. This will start the students in the math computation necessary for this unit.