Teacher's Toolkit - Grades 3-5
This toolkit is designed to help you make the most of your visit to the Manfred Olson Planetarium. Refer to the following list for quick and easy navigation:
- Before Your Planetarium Visit
- During Your Planetarium Visit
- After Your Planetarium Visit
- Learning Activities
Various activities, videos, websites, and audio clips for students. Also refer to the corresponding Grades 3-5 Notes & Discussion Topics page.
Before Your Planetarium Visit
Please consider incorporating the questionnaires below into your lesson plan:
- Pre-Visit Questionnaire (.doc) or (.pdf)
- Post-Visit Questionnaire (.doc) or (.pdf)
- Answers to Questionnaires (.doc) or (.pdf)
You could also compile a list of astronomical questions from your students and bring it with you and/or send it to Jean in advance. There is a question period during your visit at our facility where we could discuss these and other questions as time permits.
Discuss these questions with your students prior to your visit, to stimulate their curiosity:
- What is the solar system?
- How do Earth and its Moon move?
- How do objects move in the solar system?
- What are the planets like?
- How do people study the solar system?
- What celestial bodies make up the solar system?
- What celestial bodies make up the universe?
- What causes the shift from day to night?
- What causes the change of seasons?
During Your Planetarium Visit
Please arrive 10-15 minutes before your scheduled visit. Locate the restrooms in the Physics Building lobby and give students the opportunity to use them. The theater doors lock after the show starts and it will be disturbing to allow visitors back into the Planetarium.
Please remind your students to be quiet in the hallways. UWM classes may be in session.
The students will have the opportunity to:
- Look at the sky on the evening of the Planetarium visit
- Point to stars, planets and the Moon if visible from Milwaukee
- Enjoy a beautiful dark sky away from city lights (for this age group, the dark sky portion is kept short)
- Move their bodies to model the Earth's rotation as the cause for night and day
- Recognize geometric shapes in the constellations
- Realize that the constellations are the basis for many cultural stories
- Take a brief tour of the solar system and look at images of main objects in the solar system
- See how the sky changes during the course of the night
- Ask an astronomer questions
Supplementary Activities for an Additional Fee (Optional Hands-On Activities)
At your option (Additional $30-$60 depending on group size), the following activities offered during your visit:
After Your Planetarium Visit
Remind the students how they responded to the Pre-Visit Questionnaire at the top of this page, and invite them to discuss:
- How their thoughts have changed
- The reasoning behind their thoughts
- What they have learned
Use the Post-Visit Questionnaire as a model for additional discussion. Use their responses to correct misconceptions that students may have developed - through further questioning, class participation, and other textbook activities.
To gauge students' comprehension, you may invite them to:
- Share their planetarium experiences verbally
- Write journals about their planetarium experience
- Create and present drawings of their planetarium experience with classmates
- Research and write a report on space exploration or other celestial phenomena (Grade 5)
Listed below are the major themes for grades 3-5. You might find information for a topic under several themes. Also refer to the corresponding Grades 3-5 Notes & Discussion Topics page.
Theme One: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky
1. The Sun is the closest star to us
- Activity: Have students draw objects in the night (or day sky) on a dark piece of paper with a white or light colored pencil and discuss the objects that students drew. Find out what they know.
- Activity: Edible solar cookies
The Sun is largest object in the solar system.
The Sun is a medium sized star. Why does the sun look so small?
- Video: How big is the Sun? (Left side of screen under videos)
- Activity: How can the Sun and moon appear to be the same size?
2. The Moon is the Earth's only Natural Satellite
*See also: "Phases of the Moon" under Earth/Sun/Moon interactions
Moon light is reflected light from the Sun.
3. Planets (The Earth is a planet) go around stars and in our solar system they have to be big enough to form a spherical shape rather than a potato shape.
Planets revolve around stars.
4. Meteors (AKA shooting stars/falling stars) are brief luminous trails observed when a small piece of rock from space enters the Earth's upper atmosphere
5. Constellation in modern astronomy is one of the 88 designated areas in the sky that often get their names from patterns of bright stars in that area of the sky
- Activity: K-5 information on constellations
- Website: Classzone Simulation (Movement of constellations across the sky)
6. Galaxies are large groups of stars (Typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction
- Information overview on galaxies (Grade 5)
- Image gallery (Grade 5)
- Windows to the Universe: The Milky way Galaxy - Our Home (Grade 5)
Theme Two: The Solar System
1. Overview of solar system: it has 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects in it
The Sun is located at the center of our solar system.
2. Characteristics/properties of different planets
- Activity: Properties of planets
Students work in groups and try to recall all the information they can about the Sun and the planets; they write one fact/property/idea on a post-it and put it on the appropriate poster; each group is assigned a poster to organize their facts in correct, incorrect, uncertain statements for their assigned poster. Older students can discuss how they would check the uncertain statements.
3. Special objects such as Asteroids, Comets, Kuiper Belt objects, Oort Cloud, Dwarf Planets (Such as Pluto) (Grade 5)
Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
1. Rotation of the earth: Evidence is day and night
- Activity: Students make 50 balls of playdough and count them. They find an average-sized ball (with help if need be), which is the Moon. They take turns squashing the other 49 together to make the Earth. The Moon is 30 diameters of the Earth away from the Earth.
- Interactive Websites:
- Website: Kids astronomy Sun location
- Audio: Rotation of the Earth Lesson
- Rotation and Revolution
- Students make 50 balls of playdough and count them. They find an average-sized ball (with help if need be), which is the Moon. They take turns squashing the other 49 together to make the Earth. The Moon is 30 diameters of the Earth away from the Earth.
2. Rotation of the Earth: Evidence are Seasonal Constellations
Earth revolves around the Sun on this tilted axis. It makes one revolution approximately every 365 days.
- Interactive Website: Classzone applet on seasonal constellations are evidence of revolution of the Earth
- Use the controls at the bottom of the site to add the months and simulate the revolution of Earth around the Sun. Look for the realistic shape of Earth's orbit that is very close to a circle.
- Video: What Causes the Seasons?
- Website: Simulation on eclipses
- Activity: Students in dark room with a lamp (the Sun). Have one student be the Moon and one the Earth so they can figure out how to get a solar or a lunar eclipse.
4. Phases of the moon
- PDF: Moon Journal from Madison Planetarium
- Video: What Causes Earth's Seasons?
- Students explore the shadows of a toothpick projected on a manila folder when a flashlight moves. Stick a toothpick into a 1"square piece of Styrofoam. Stick the Styrofoam on the manila folder. Project the flashlight onto the toothpick. Students notice that the direction and length of shadow move. They find they can reproduce those changes even if the Sun stays stationary and the folder moves (2009).
- More in depth inquiry on the seasons
6. Historical perspective
7. Aurora Borealis
This is entry level material for 5th grade and older. More advanced material can be found on the pages for grades 6-8 or 9-12.
- Powerpoint: Auroras presentation for elementary students
- Video: Time lapse view of Earth from the International Space Station
Climate, weather, etc:
- Website: Climate Wisconsin (Vignettes of how climate change is impacting different WI locals and residents) (Grade 5)
Theme Four: Constellations
1. Cultural references and myths
- Video: The Universe: The Constellations (Grade 5)
- Website: Windows to the Universe (Information on constellations)
2. Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
- Stardate activity on constellations (Grades K-5)
- The Sun was a yellow Styrofoam ball in the middle of the Planetarium. I was the Earth going around the Sun and you were stars twinkling. As I moved around the Sun, I could see the constellations away from the Sun only.
3. Sky maps and stargazing
Theme Five: Life of a Star
1. How do stars live?
- Video: Hubble Video (Grade 5)
Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties
- Interactive Website: NASA applet on how gravity works
Readings: Grades 3-5
- What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, Nancy Tafuri
- The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole
- The Magic School Bus Space Explorers, Joanna Cole
- The Solar System, Cathy Imhoff
- Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jeanette Winter
- The Usbourne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
- Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
- Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
- 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant
“Always enjoy it. Dr. Jean is great with the kids. Perfect finish to our solar system unit”. –Jessica Heyman, Grade 3, Richards (WFB)
“We would like to thank you again for a wonderful program. It is a wonderful way to reinforce our science program, and I know the students really enjoy our visits; they talk about it/them for years. They remember it.” –Cheryl Rybka, Grade 3, North Cape
“The duration of the program was just right for antsy 3rd graders. I believe the combination of video/question/oral interaction really helped the kids to stay focused.” –Tracy Matthews, Grade 3, Richards
“Great job involving the students by participation with voices and clapping! Engaging and great overview of the solar system. Thank you!” –Aliza Werner, Grade 3, Parkway
“I liked the hand clapping which told me they were listening. Good switching gears or hopping planet to planet at a nice rate to keep attention.” –Wendy Schuetz, Grade 4, Holy Trinity
“Excellent reinforcement of unit and excites the students to further explore space and astronomy topics.” –Cheryl Shirk, Grade 4, Eastview
“This was wonderful. Just the right amount of information for our students, a great curriculum enrichment. Thanks.” –O’Donnell, Grade 4, Milwaukee Academy of Science
“We appreciated the pre-field trip visit. This got the students very excited and eager to learn more. Excellent presentation! Thank you!” –Anderson, Grade 5, Lake Bluff
We would like to thank the National Science Foundation for its support of the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The teachers who contributed resources for the UWM Planetarium webpage—Ms. Jeanine Gelhaus (Medford Middle School), Ms. Karen Green (Milwaukee Public Schools High School Science Teaching Specialist), and Mr. McDonald (Alexander Mitchell School)—were all recipients of a RET grant at UWM (2011, 2007, 2008). For more information on this grant opportunity and how to apply see http://www4.uwm.edu/ret/.