For ages, people all over the world searched for patterns in the heavens and related them to daily life and beliefs. Celestial study guided early travelers, and sightings of celestial objects helped determine when to plant and harvest food. In this study, students choose a celestial body or constellation and study how it has been explained and interpreted across cultures and time. Students present their learning using technology-enhanced displays and dramatic interpretations during a culminating star party.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Starquest Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Introducing the Unit
Ask students to describe the objects they see in the sky and what they have observed about them. Have students hypothesize about what they think the sky may have looked like thousands of years ago. Pose the Essential Question, What can we learn from the night sky? Have students discuss the question in a pair-share grouping. Bring the discussion back to the whole group and have students share what they discussed. Lead a discussion on ancient concepts about the sky and the ways that celestial objects could have enabled ancient peoples to tell time or to navigate. Have students write notes and questions in their journals during discussion periods.
Have students begin to develop a Know-Wonder-Learn (K-W-L) chart about astronomy. Prompt questioning during this process, and record student responses. (Sample prompt questions include the following: What are constellations, and what stories are associated with them? What is the difference between a star and a planet? What is our current concept of the universe?) Throughout the unit, come back to the K-W-L chart before and after each activity, and add new information. Explain to students that people tend to see patterns formed by different groups of stars, which they often name. These patterns are called asterisms. Some asterisms, called constellations, were broadly recognized and became important to entire cultures.
Help students appreciate how other cultures see the sky by organizing a cooperative sky-gazing project with teachers and students in other parts of the world. Search for a class wanting a partner class to study astronomy at the ePALS Web site*. If none exists, set up a project proposal. If you have nonnative speakers in your class, try to locate ePals in countries that speak their native language. Do this as far in advance as possible. Have students pair with assigned ePALS partners and discuss with other students what they see in the night sky at their respective latitudes and longitudes.
Decide what kinds of records the students will keep and the frequency with which they communicate with each other. For example, students may note positions of stars and constellations at a given hour, and maintain maps and other records of differences and similarities in the night sky on a global scale. Set aside time to talk about and record students’ thoughts on chart paper for the whole class to view.
Looking at Constellations and Writing Myths
Explain to students that people all over the world have tried to make sense of the sky. Share the Unit Questions: How has the night sky been explained and interpreted across cultures and time? What impact has this had on modern astronomy? and Why is the study of stars important to us today? Explain that students explore these questions by choosing a celestial body or constellation and studying it. Distribute copies of the unit syllabus, which includes a checklist and outlines expectations for the unit.
Distribute the Create a Constellation pattern (doc) to each student. This has the group of stars interpreted by the ancient Greeks as Ursa Major, which means the Great Bear. Tell students that different cultures looked at the same skies and created different stories. Present myths from different cultures based on this star pattern. Have students use this set of stars to invent their own constellation and write a short myth or story that explains its significance or write a new myth about an existing constellation. Have students share their short stories with the class. Discuss similarities and differences between students’ interpretations and those of different cultures. Use a Venn diagram to model this. Next, have students find at least two myths from different cultures that relate to a different constellation. Have them highlight the similarities and differences using a Venn diagram.
Introduce the Creative Constellations activity, and hand out the constellation creator instructions and story rubric. This activity requires a homework session on a cloudless night, so it may be assigned on another date within the project. Consult the Clear Sky Clock* for your area for a forecast of sky conditions. This site also provides lists of astronomy clubs and other resources that may provide volunteers and other assistance in organizing the unit’s culminating star party. Volunteers often bring their own telescopes to such events. Set aside time so students can present their creations to their class. Engage ePALS partners in the activity, and have students share their constellations with their partners. Ask students to provide peer feedback using the story rubric.
Distribute the constellations and celestial body list. Divide students into small groups (some students may choose to work alone). Those students working in groups use the collaboration rubric to help them work together successfully. Each group or individual is responsible for the following tasks:
Remind students to revisit their collaboration rubric, dramatization rubric, and scoring guide throughout their project work. Conduct student conferences to ensure that students are on track.
After students have completed their projects, have them answer the Starquest questions, and be prepared to discuss and debate the answers with the class.
Concluding the Unit
Have students organize all their assignments in a portfolio. Host a star party or “Starquest Night” and invite other students, parents, guardians, and community members to share in the students’ learning during the unit. The event could include guest speakers, stargazing, and the presentation of students’ original myths, presentations, and dramatizations. Invited guests can provide feedback to students.
As a final reflection activity, conduct a summary group discussion around the Curriculum-Framing Questions and the following topics:
Special Needs Student
Geoffrey Ryan participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Grade Level: 6-8
Subjects: Science, Language Arts
Topics: Communication, Constellations, Space, Stars, Celestial Bodies
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Interpretation, Comparison, Creativity
Key Learnings: Cultural and Scientific Understanding of the Universe
Time Needed: 2-3 weeks
Background: From the Classroom in Texas, United States