The Scale of the Universe in the Classroom
Student-centric learning puts the educator in the role of an ethnographer. In the role of ethnographer, the educator studies the learners – both individually and as a group. The educator can then offer a menu of learning activities based on what is discovered about the learners. Because of technology and the Internet, this menu can be composed some rich and exciting learning delicacies. The learning environment operates in a similar manner as a food cooperative (the ideals of a cooperative, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochdale_Principles)
The Size of the Universe
A few years ago, I worked with gifted 3rd through 5th graders in a pull-out program. What I learned about them, as a group, was a general attraction to science and especially, space and space exploration. I also learned that as much as they loved technology (I had a small computer lab and integrated technology into the curriculum) that when given a choice they would choose hands-on activities over technology. So with that in mind, we began our second year together with an activity, The Thousand Yard Model or, The Earth as a Peppercorn.
This is a classic exercise for visualizing just how BIG our Solar System really is. Both the relative size and spacing of the planets are demonstrated in this outdoor exercise, using a mere peppercorn to represent the size of the Earth.
The kids talked about this activity for the entire school year – stating it was one of the best school activities in which they had ever participated.
Now, with so many related activities online, I would have offered (and can offer future students with similar interests) the following activities as part of this learning menu:
From the smallest possible unit of distance (known as the Planck Length) to the other reaches of space and the universe and everything in between, this amazing tool gives you a small idea of the incredible scale of the universe. Fascinating for any biologist, chemist, physicist, as tronomer, cosmologist, science student or simply anyone who marvels at our insignificance in the grand scale of things.
The Known Universe by AMNH
The Grand scale of the Universe
. . . and for the more artistic and mathematics oriented learners, here is a TED talk:
part of the transcript:
And here is a similar sculpture. That’s the Sun at that end. And then in a series of 55 balls, it reduces, proportionately, each ball and the spaces between them, reduce proportionately, until they get down to this little Earth. This one is about the Moon. And then the distance to the Earth, in proportion also. This is a little stone ball, floating. As you can see the little tether, that it’s also magnetically levitated.
And then this is the first part of — this is 109 spheres, since the Sun is 109 times the diameter of the Earth. And so this is the size of the Sun. And then each of these little spheres is the size of the Earth in proportion to the Sun. It’s made up of 16 concentric shells.