Which planet comes first?
The use of mnemonics is a great way to reinforce logical thinking and language arts skills—and to remember planet order. Ask your students to listen closely to this zany sentence, particularly the initial letter sound in each word:
“My very educated monkey just served us noodle pudding!”
Have the children call out the letters: M V E M J S U N P. Give a clue that the first letter in each word stands for a planet. Randomly call on students to name each of the planets based on the initials shown. For those students who would like to face a fun-filled challenge, have them create their own mnemonic variation!
. Planet order from our Sun, working together in groups, and the reinforcement of directionality concepts (left-right) and sequential order from 1 to 10 (using both ordinal and cardinal numbers), are experienced during the following exercise.
Labeled 8 1/2” by 11” display cards of each planet and our Sun (provided by NASA*) are preferred visuals for this activity, but hand-drawn pictures created by yourself or your students can be used. Ten students (presenters) will be needed to help with this activity. Tape a line on the classroom floor as a marker on which the presenters will stand during this exercise. The remainder of the class will be broken up into tabled teams identified by astronomical terms (e.g., “The Orbits”, “The Satellites” . . . )
Face downward, the teacher scrambles the display cards. Each presenter will select a picture (keeping it face downward) and stand on the taped line. When all ten are in place, each presenter will hold up his/her selection. Together, the entire class will identify each pictured item. The fun begins!
Call on a team to put the presenters in planet order. Allot two to three minutes for each team to determine where the presenters, with pictures visibly in hand, are to be aligned. Win or lose, students will have fun learning to recognize the order of the planets.
Why do planets that are farthest away from the Sun revolve more slowly than those closest to it?
Using estimation, measuring skills and spatial concept recognition, children will experience the answer to this brain teaser. This experiment, should first be demonstrated by the teacher and subsequently experienced by each student. It is best to conduct it in a school gym or outdoor play area. (Note: This experiment does not present a true picture of rotation and revolution. It does, however, provide students with a sense of a planetary movement.)
You will need a yardstick, a little over one yard of sturdy string, a metal washer, and muscle power. Also encourage the children exercise caution when conducting this experiment. Wrap and securely fasten the string around and through the center of the metal washer. Hold the other end of the string securely. Outstretch your arm sideways and swing your wrist such that the washer moves in a circular path. Spin at the slowest speed possible to keep the string taut. Ask the children to watch closely, focusing on the speed of the washer at this distance. Repeat the process, this time snugly holding the center of the string. Ask the children what they notice. (They should observe that as the string’s length shortens, faster spin keeps the string taut and the washer in orbit. When the string is lengthened, slower and longer circular motion take place.) The principle just witnessed is similar to the movement of planets as they orbit the Sun.
*Refer to Teacher Resource Listing to order laminatable prints.
. To get an added sense of why planets that are farthest away orbit the Sun more slowly, try this outdoor activity. A clothes line or jump rope about four yards long and a school gym or outdoor play area are preferred. Have one child serving as an anchor hold one end of the rope. Have another child grasp the center, and another hold onto the other end. Pull the rope tight enough so that the rope remains taut. Have the anchor begin to spin in place at a medium pace. The others should walk to keep pace with the anchor’s movement. What happened? The child on the outer section of rope may be out of breath, for that person has to travel a longer distance to keep the rope taut and to keep up with the spin of the anchor. The one closest to the anchor is moving fast and keeping up with the spin of the anchor—and didn’t have as much distance to travel. This principle is again similar to the orbit of the planets around our Sun.
What is the difference between revolution and rotation?
Provide students with an understanding of these two types of motion through a fun-filled, role-play activity. For openers, the teacher should serve as a “planet role model”. Lay a poster-size picture of the Sun in the center of the floor. Tell your students that you will pretend to be a planet, and you have made up a planet name of your very own. “I’m the planet Zebnob, and I will rotate.” Begin spinning slowly in place. “I am the planet Zebnob, and I will revolve.” Begin taking small steps in a circular path around the Sun. “I’m the planet Zebnob, and I will rotate and revolve around the Sun.” This time, spin while pacing yourself slowly around the poster. Ask, “What happened when I rotated?” Children should identify that you began to spin. “What occurred when I revolved.” Children should recognize that you moved in a circular path around the Sun. Add that the path taken around the Sun is also known as the planet’s orbit. “Who would like to revolve or rotate around the Sun?” Remind your children to make up a planet name. Randomly call on children to join in, and encourage full class participation.
: Reinforcing directionality, listening and logical thinking skills, and the concept of planetary movement can also be achieved during gym or recess with the following activity.
Have your students latch hands and form one enormous circle. Lay a poster-sized picture of the Sun in the center of your circle. Have each child stay in place, leave an arms length of space between each participant, drop hands, close their eyes, and imagine they are a planet. Call out: “Planets rotate!” The children should spin in place. Call out again: “Planets revolve!” The children should step slowly, side-by-side in a circular path around the Sun. “Rotate and revolve.” Make the activity interesting by calling the terms out in an unpredictable pattern. The outcome: The concepts of rotation and revolution/orbit will be long-remembered.