Take your students on a walk to our solar system, try out the Virtual Solar System Pathway! This virtual pathway enables you and your students to scale the solar system using just a smartphone. It can be played as a game and executed using many different scales.
Student Learning Objectives:
The objective of the virtual model of the solar system is to give the user an understanding of the sizes of the planets in relation to each other and the sun, and to demonstrate the vast distances between the planets in the solar system, especially when approaching the outer space. It both gives the user factual knowledge about space and planets and teaches understanding of magnitudes and ability to make scale related calculations, sometimes based on rough estimates.
Space, Solar system, Planets, Walking tour, Scale, Distance, Trivia game
Age 10 and up. Younger children can also participate accompanied by adults. Both the walking distance and the difficulty level of the trivia questions can be adjusted to suit the targeted age group.
Schools, Science Centres and Museums
The time needed can vary from 2 hours into one school week as an entity. Virtual Solar System itself depends on the scale of the solar system. If executed on the suggested 1: 1,000,000,000 scale, the planet furthest away from the sun is located 4.5km from the sun (starting point). Other things that affect the time it takes to finish the task are the user’s walking speed and whether they are making a round trip or just walking the solar system from one end to another.
Connection with the curriculum
The model of the solar system is a multidisciplinary learning tool, the using of which can include elements from several subjects. It reperesents multidisciplinary elements for STEAM-pedagogy. The most obvious ones that are clearly present during walking through the solar system are science and mathematics. The topics that it mostly focuses on are as follows: Science: Space, the sun, planets. Mathematics: Magnitudes, scales.
Depending on the scale on which the solar system is executed, it usually also requires walking a reasonably long distance, so physical education is also always present. In addition, the Virtual Solar System fits well for the teaching of 21st century competences described as seven transversal competences in the Finnish National Core Curriculum overarching principles that guide all subject-specific instruction and must also be addressed through multidisciplinary learning modules.
In addition, the the Finnish National Core Curriculum includes strong suggestion of “Phenomenon education” as one-week period. The Virtual Solar System fits and is planned for this type of one-week timing.
More info (in Finnish): https://www.oph.fi/fi/koulutus-ja-tutkinnot/perusopetuksen-opetussuunnitelman-perusteet
This educational pathway follows an inquiry-based pedagogical approach, organised into 3 logical stages:
Teacher Support Materials
Useful resources, suitable for the age group of your students, are available at the “Teacher Support Materials” tab.
We suggest three virtual pathways we think suitable for your students to continue their astronomical journey they began with the “Virtual Solar System”. These are available at the “Follow-up Activities” tab.
Preparing the Teacher
The teacher (or other user) can either use an existing model of the solar system in a location where one is already in use (science centres etc.?) or they can make their own so that the sun is located at the school (or at whatever chosen location). If the Seppo platform is used, an existing model can be copied and moved to the chosen location. If done in that manner, the teacher only needs to move the planets along their orbits (so that the distances to sun remain correct according to the model’s scale) to spots where they are accessible (otherwise planets might be for example on busy highways or in the middle of bodies of water). The teacher can also choose to make their own model, so that they can choose whatever scale they want to and are not limited to the suggested 1: 1,000,000,000 scale. If the scale is changed, the teacher also needs to change the information provided at each of the planets and the trivia questions the students are asked accordingly, so that the sizes of the planets and the sun are on the same scale.
The teacher should have some useful links and sources containing space related information in a form accessible to the age group of the students in question. The students might need help coming up with meaningful questions and they might need some sources for background information.
The teacher can either use pre-existing trivia questions for each of the planets, use their own questions, or even use questions that come from the students (most likely a group of older students that has earlier finished the learning entity including the model of the solar system.) Keep in mind that the tidbits of information provided at each of the planets need to make sense with the trivia question. The information needed in order to have any chance at answering the question need to be provided, and if the question is changed, the possible ways the question is referenced in the information provided need to be changed accordingly. [Picture of one planet’s question and the information provided. Needs to be translated!]
The teacher (or the person responsible for arranging the solar system at the school, science centre etc. in question) places the planets on the map, the correct distance away from the sun (the starting point) on the chosen scale. On the suggested scale of 1: 1 000 000 000, the distances from the sun are as follows: Mercury 58m, Venus 108m, Earth 150m, Mars 228m, Jupiter 778m, Saturn 1400m, Uranus 2900m, and Neptune 4500m.
On the Seppo platform, existing solar systems can be copied to other locations. Teacher can then move the planets along their orbits (i.e. without changing the distance to the sun) to suitable spots. Changing the distance to the sun slightly in order to be able to place a planet in a location that is more easily accessible, particularly impressive etc., is justifiable, as long as the sense of magnitudes remains similar enough.
The teacher ought to explain to the students, that while the sizes of the planets and the sun and the distances between them are to scale, the locations of the planets are not correct. The planets generally do not form a straight line, be all located in a narrow sector of space, and so on.
Picture 1: “The sun” on a scale of 1: 1,000,000,000 (diameter 1.4m) in the second floor window of Suutarila elementary school. The words used are all related to the sun and there is a light bulb placed behind the window, so that looking at it from the outside, the sun appears to shine and is visible even from a long distance away.
Preparing the Students: Studying calculation with scales and learning about space
- Making the model of the sun somewhere in the school (for example in a window, using a lightbulb for effect as was done in Suutarilan ala-asteen koulu, which is an elementary school (see picture 1), on top of the school’s roof, in the schoolyard etc.) The size of the sun needs to be in scale with the virtual model, so that the distances between the sun and the planets are all on the same scale. On the suggested scale of 1: 1,000,000,000, the diameter of the sun is 1.4m.
- Making the planets in scale with the sun out of clay, play doh or some other medium (in case of larger planets, two-dimensional versions cut out of paper can also work) or finding object of the correct size to represent the planets. On the suggested scale of 1: 1 000 000 000, the diameters of planets are approximately as follows: Mercury 5mm, Venus 12mm, Earth 13mm, Mars 7mm, Jupiter 140mm, Saturn 120mm, Uranus 51mm, and Neptune 49mm. In the current version of the virtual model, the app instructs the user to find rocks, pine cones etc. of approximately correct sizes to represent the planets.
- Depending on the students’ level, they can be asked to calculate the sizes of the planets themselves, or asked to also calculate what size the planets would be on some other scale (possibly one that leads to calculations that are slightly more complicated).
- In Suutarila, the sun taped to a second floor window that was visible from as many of the planets as possible consisted of words that were related to the sun (picture 1). If executed in a similar manner, the students can research the sun and list as many words as possible (the words can be divided into different word classes, or be in different languages. These are only some of the ways that can be used to make the learning experience more multidisciplinary). The students can then vote or the teacher can choose the words that are used to make the sun.
- More elements of arts can be added to the learning unit if the planets are also painted or decorated in some other way. How could we make the rings of Saturn?
- If users of the solar system learning unit have access to an expert in the field of astronomy etc., they can arrange beforehand a Q&A session either in person or online (Zoom, Skype etc.), where students get to ask space related questions of their choice (this was done successfully in Suutarila).
For Students: Working in groups to navigate the solar system and answer related trivia questions
- The virtual model of the solar system shows the locations of the planets. The students start from the sun (located at the school), and walk to either all of the planets or the planets previously agreed upon, usually in order starting from Mercury, proceeding then to Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune (which on a 1: 1,000,000,000 scale is located 4.5km away from the school).
- At each of the planets, the students answer a trivia question about the planet in question and get points for the correct answers. The questions combine science knowledge to mathematics, the students need to have an idea about magnitudes and to be able to calculate travel times, distances etc., sometimes estimating based on the approximate distance they have at that point walked.
- They need to be able to agree on the chosen answer and use one of the group members’ smartphone together to navigate the solar system. Group work – an important 21st century skill!
- The students get exercise and fresh air while practicing reading the map and navigation.
- The teacher can follow the progress of each of the groups using the Seppo-platform (and maybe whatever app is chosen for making the solar system in its stead? Depends on the app.)
Picture 2: Trivia question at the furthest away planet in the solar system, Neptune, was perhaps the easiest one in this particular version of the solar system, which was aimed at the students aged 10 to 12. In English, the following text says something like:
You have reached Neptune – congratulations! After this you start approaching outer space, because Neptune is the furthermost known planet in the solar system. However, beyond Neptune there are still Pluto and some other dwarf planets, and an insane number of asteroids and comets. The furthest away space probe sent by humans, Voyager 1, has barely left the solar system. It was launched in 1977. It will approach the next star in approximately 40 000 years. That’s right! 40 thousand years!
Question: How long has Voyager 1 been travelling so far?
For Students & Teachers
- Which team “won”, or scored the most points in the planet related trivia? What were the correct answers?
- Impressions of the distances between planets: Did the model give the students better understanding of the magnitudes?
- What would the speed of light be on a model the scale of which is 1: x? Did the students gain a better understanding of the time interplanetary travel would take?
- Do the students have new space related questions after using the model of the solar system? If possible, the expert mentioned earlier can arrange another Q&A session.
- The learning entity also presents a good possibility for interaction between older and younger students. After completing the solar system model themselves, the older students could plan a new, smaller one for younger children, and place the planets in the correct location on that scale. They can also invent new trivia questions for the planets that are more suitable for the younger age group, and even arrange a Q&A session, where they themselves attempt to answer the younger students’ questions based on what they learned during their own adventures in the solar system.
The use of the virtual model of the solar system is not limited to schools. It would work well as a permanent (if virtual) fixture in for example a science centre or a museum. It could be executed either on a large scale, so that people willing to walk through the model would have to go outside to do so, or on a small scale, staying within the centre (taking into account that on a much smaller scale, the smallest planets become all but invisible). Placing a QR code that the visitors could scan on their smartphones either within or outside of the science centre or museum would instantly direct them to the right place online. If the science centre would have a space related exhibit or if there would be an expert available to provide information and answer questions both before and after walking through the solar system, it would most likely give the visitors a more holistic experience.
Picture 3: A view of the first planets of the solar system in one test version. Each planet “opens” when the user gets close enough to its location. “Open” planets appear pink on the map.
Having completed the “Virtual Solar System”, you may also want to try out the following tree virtual pathways that are of astronomical interest: