What do scientists and children have in common? They both feel excitement when new discoveries are made. For children, this excitement can capture their imagination and introduce them to the fundamentals of math and science. My goal in this unit is to help this generation of students grow up feeling more at home in this vast, awesome, and exciting universe.
I teach third grade at Harry S. Conte West Hills Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut. Conte is an interdistrict elementary school of choice. Students come from all thirteen New Haven neighborhoods as well as from the surrounding suburban communities. I find that at the beginning of third grade many of my students do not even know their addresses and telephone numbers. How can I help these students understand that they are not only part of their family, neighborhood, and city but also part of the Universe? My job as a teacher is to make them feel at home with the information. Most of my students come from African-American and Latino backgrounds. For this reason, a special emphasis has been given to encourage students from groups who have been historically underrepresented in the sciences such as women and ethnic minorities. The New Haven Public School Science Curriculum includes a unit on the Solar System for third grade students. The topic overview for this curriculum is the study of the characteristics of the members of the solar system and the exploration of the motions of the Earth and the Moon.
Many teachers would love to include astronomy in their classroom but they are often held back because their own background and training in the subject is weak or outdated. This unit is designed to build background knowledge of the Solar System as well as provide resources to obtain up to date information to teach this content area. It is also designed to instill in students a curiosity and concern for their natural world and create critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Students need to see connections among the various disciplines of science, mathematics, and the humanities, as well as between what they learn at school and the real world.