When students in the fifth grade classes of Mrs. Laura Hamed, Mrs. Tammy Martin, and Ms. Cari Matejka at Olean Intermediate Middle School began their study of the solar system, little did they know what an out of this world experience it would be. The unit actually began much earlier in the year with an in-depth study of Earth. By learning many of the concepts associated with Earth, students were then ready to begin their six week study of the solar system with foundational knowledge they could tap into, compare, and apply to their new learning.
Each student was assigned a “mission” to become an expert on one aspect of the solar system such as a planet, satellites, meteors, and the asteroid belt. They spent days working together in small groups to thoroughly research their topics. Once they had enough background information they began constructing models of their mission assignment. During the approximately two weeks that students worked in class on the construction phase, they were busily learning without even realizing it. As students were constructing their models, their teachers were continually questioning them about various aspects of their projects to help reinforce what they’d already learned.
The culminating activity in this unit literally required the solar system to take over one hallway at OIMS. Mrs. Hamed, Mrs. Martin, and Ms. Matejka worked for hours to create a replica of the solar system, including hanging black plastic on the ceilings and walls and positioning the students’ models of the planets, the asteroid belt, satellites, and even a giant glowing sun within the display. Included in the arrangement of planets and stars were stations designed to explain satellites, a solar eclipse, and a working Mars Rover constructed of Legos.
All of this was a surprise to students when they toured their newly constructed solar system.Once complete, students and teachers hosted a space exploration evening for parents, family, and friends as a way to demonstrate their knowledge.The fifth graders acted as tour guides of the solar system by taking their guests on an informational walk through the display, sharing interesting facts about the various aspects and missions included throughout.While not a traditional pen and paper test, students very clearly and authentically showed everyone involved all they had learned through this exciting journey of learning about the solar system.