Fifth Grade Hands-On Science Sends Students to the Stars
Sept. 28, 2016 (TAMPA, Fla.) – Stars twinkled inside the Farish Center as Corbett Prep teachers put the galaxy into students’ hands.
Fifth graders kicked off their science unit on the earth and space systems with an astronomical activity, using flashlights to simulate the brightness of stars to observe how the size of the “stars” changed based on distance.
Brain scans have shown that physically experiencing lessons, particularly scientific concepts, helps students better understand what they have learned and improves their performance in class, according to a 2015 study published in Psychological Science. Taking a hands-on approach to learning activated sensory and motor-related parts of the brain among students in the study.
The study of Sun-Earth-Moon systems naturally lends itself to interactive science lessons that integrate math and literacy, said fifth grade teacher Michelle Hill. Students design scale models and gather data to express in bar graphs or circle graphs. As they learn about water, they calculate the ratio of salt to fresh water on earth. Literacy is a necessary component as students research and report on how systems on Earth interact with systems in space.
Fifth grade teachers began the unit with a discussion of systems of space, which includes the earth. Then students had a chance to move as they began to explore the distance and brightness of stars.
Students wrote hypotheses about what they thought would happen during the experiment and in small groups measured and marked two distances from a starting point. Observers lined up against the wall while a pair of partners stood at a close distance. They shined the flashlights from the same distance before one of the partners stepped back several more feet. Observers compared and recorded the size of the light and how it appeared to diminish the farther back students stood.
Their observations will help the fifth graders relate the distance between Earth and the sun and other stars seen in the night sky to relative brightness. Students use data to calculate the difference in the size of Earth and that of the sun, designing and making scale models based on those figures that accurately represent the ratio of their relative size.
Filling Corbett Prep’s Farish Center with starlight was the first step to bringing these concepts to life.