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McREL Standards Activity

Star Light, Star Bright

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will be able to identify different constellations and the myths associated with them. Students will also have a better understanding of why the stars appear to move across the sky and why different constellations can be seen in different seasons.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
 Standard 3.Understands the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth's place in it
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 3. Knows that the patterns of stars in the sky stay the same, although they appear to slowly move from east to west across the sky nightly and different stars can be seen in different seasons
Student Product:oral presentation; constellation visual
Material & Resources:Access to the Internet or a library; Black construction paper; Yellow or gold construction paper; Scissors; Glue; Markers; Gold glitter (optional)
Teacher's Note:Although nothing beats observing real constellations in the night sky, this may not always be practical. But there is still a lot that can be learned about the stars and the constellations from within the classroom.
What exactly is a constellation? Constellations are distinctive patterns of stars that people identified ages ago to help organize the stars into a type of map. These patterns were useful in many ways — for navigation, to determine proper times to plant and harvest, and to keep track of the seasons. Many constellations have myths behind them that were made up by ancient civilizations to help explain and remember them. There are 88 formal constellations, but you can only see certain ones based on where you live on the Earth and what time of year it is.


Part I:  The Constellations
Have the students research the constellations and the associated myths.  There is an abundance of resources available at the library and on the Web.  Each student should pick a different constellation to research and prepare to talk about what they learned to the rest of the class (for example, describe the general shape of their constellation, explain what object or thing it "represents," and tell the myth behind the constellation). Make sure that constellations are represented that appear during the different seasons. You might have students present in clusters - winter constellations, then summer constellations, etc.

To aid their oral presentations, the students will create a constellation visual.  Starting with a piece of black construction paper to represent the night sky, students will glue stars cut from the yellow consruction paper in the pattern of their constellation (glitter adds a nice touch, but is optional).

Part II:  The Apparent Movement of the Stars
The second part of this activity is intended to help the students understand why the stars appear to move across the night sky, while they are in fact not actually moving.

For this demonstration, you will need to work in an area large enough to accomodate the entire class.  Have two people act as the Sun and Earth (either two students, or perhaps the teacher and one student), and the rest of the class act as the constellations.  Those acting as the constellations will stand in a large circle and hold up the constellation visual they made in the first part of the activity.  The Sun will stand in the center of the circle, and the Earth will stand next to the Sun.  

The Earth will then slowly rotate in a counter-clockwise direction as it slowly revolves around the Sun.  As the Earth is rotating, explain to the students that the part of the Earth that is facing the Sun cannot see the stars because of the Sun’s brightness.  But the part of the Earth that is not facing the Sun can see the stars.  As the Earth revolves around the Sun, explain to the students that this is why you are see different constellations at different times of the year.

For a more advanced activity, have the students stand around the Sun and Earth according to the actual seasons that their constellations occur (i.e., winter constellations at one end, summer constellations at the other end, and spring and fall constellations in between).