Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Probing Our Solar System

Susan Sherrow


This lesson uses structured, small group activities and individual work incorporating student research on space satellites and probes and international connections. Student groups construct information disks, timelines, and written reports.


The student knows that available data from various satellite probes show the similarities and differences among planets and their moons in the Solar System.


-Class lecture notes
-Research materials: any printed material and/or web sources that will provide information about space satellites and probes
-Construction paper strips for creating timelines
-Section in notebook with paper for space journal (or provide teacher-made paper)
-Paper for short reports ( size and shape to be determined by the teacher)
-Template to trace 6- circle
-Gold poster board for circles ( 1 circle per group)
-Pictures and diagrams of space satellites and probes
-Copy paper
-Pencils, pens, markers
-Copies of selected readings for students
-Possible source books for selected readings: Scholastic SPACE by Mary Kay Carson,
1996 and Exploring Mars And Beyond, TCM, 1998
-Copies of all readings for each student in the class. See above possible source books for selected readings, or you may select your own sources.
-Copies of Pre-Test and Post-Test, copies of Space Probe Fact Sheets, and copies of the formative assessment checklist ( see Associated File).


1. Copy reading material for all students. Create template for gold disks.
2. Assemble construction paper, writing paper, pencils, pens, markers, scissors, poster board in a selected supply area.
3. Download and copy the pre/post tests, Space Probe Fact Sheet, and the formative assessment checklist (see Associated File.)


1.·Administer Pre-Test ( 25 minutes-see Associated File)

2.·Before beginning the introduction to space satellites and space probes, students should have completed a basic study of the planets and the Solar System.

3.·HOOK: Announce to students that today they will prepare to blast off into the outer reaches of the Solar System!

·DAY #1

*Pre-Activity #1: ( 35-40 minutes)
1. Distribute copies of the selected reading for this particular activity to all students.

2. Using a reading of your own choice that describes space satellites and probes and their intended purposes, have the class read along on their copies as you read aloud. Any book or website that gives basic facts and descriptions of these satellites and probes will do. Students will keep all copies of reading materials for future reference as they complete the different activities. Pictures and diagrams will help students identify the various space satellites and probes.

3. Before starting Activity #1, divide the class into groups and appoint a leader for each group. Ask students for their ideas on how to work cooperatively and encourage each member of the group to contribute something to the overall product and group.

4. In their individual space journals, students will define the following terms: Moon, Sun, planet, comet, asteroid, space satellite, space probe, and solar system.

*Activity #1: ( 40 minutes) Create A Timeline of Space Milestones

1. Distribute construction paper strips to each group.

2. Instruct the groups that they will be creating a timeline of important space milestones from the early 1900s to the present. Tell students that this is a shared activity and each group member is responsible for contributing information and filling in part of the time line. Milestones should be taken from class notes previously read and discussed. Information from notes and research will be discussed among each group, and each group can decide how they want to mark off intervals of years. ( see Associated File)

·DAY #2

* Pre-Activity #2: ( 20-25 minutes)
1. Review with students the names of the nine planets and important information concerning each planet. Be sure to discuss how data from various satellite probes show similarities and differences in the planets and their moons. This review will ensure that students have the background necessary to complete this activity.

2. Notes from this review will be placed on the overhead or board for students to refer to as needed.

3. Using reading(s) of your choice and information from the notes previously taken, discuss with students how space satellites and space probes have provided data about places where no humans have gone. Discuss with students why this information is important to our country and to future space exploration.

* Activity #2: ( 50 minutes) Group Satellite Reports

1. Depending on the groups, assign or let each group choose a planet. More than one group may select the same planet, but be sure that all nine planets are covered.

2. Have groups research how a space satellite or probe has helped gain information about their particular planet and write a one page report on this event. Students must list the date and which satellite provided the information in their report.

3. Completed reports may be placed on bulletin boards or in center around the room. ( see Associated File)

4. Students write a one-page report about any two planets comparing/contrasting the data received from satellites/probes. Planets must be compared/contrasted in three areas. Collect for assessment purposes.

·DAY #3

* Pre-Activity #3: ( 30 minutes)

1. Using reading(s) of your choice, read and discuss with students how the United States and the Soviet Union are working cooperatively in the area of space exploration. This reading should include some ways in which these two countries are working together to explore the solar system.

2. Have student groups list at least three reasons why it is important for countries to work together in this area.

3. After listing three reasons on a sheet of paper, ask for volunteers from the different groups to give one reason from their paper. These should be written on the overhead or board.

* Activity #3: ( 40 minutes) Create A Message Disk

1. With students in their assigned groups, discuss the fact that space probes leave the solar system and float in open space long after their power sources have been exhausted. What would happen if travelers from another system would find one of these probes? Explain to students that each probe carries a 12-inch gold plated copper disk with information and images from life on Earth. Although the chances that an alien civilization will find these recordings seem remote, ask students what messages, sounds, pictures, and information they think should be included on these disks for future probes.

2. Distribute gold poster board and the 6- circle templates to each group.

3. Have each group make their own disk with the information that they would like on it. ( see Associated File)


Assess the one-page essay. Students should be able to list at least 3 similarities/differences concerning the two planets from info obtained through a satellite or probe.
Formative: During activities, assess the following:
Clean-up (Resource Managers)
Material management (Resource Managers)
Timelines ( planet/moon data from satellites)
Written reports (similarities/differences)
Message disks (data)
Team leadership (cooperative workers)

Summative: Pre-Test,

Groups are made aware of assessment criteria on the board or in a place visible to all groups. (see Associated File)


Extension Activity #3: Have groups present their ideas to the class, then combine the best of all groups for a bulletin board or room display.

Web Links

Web supplement for Probing Our Solar System
Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

Web supplement for Probing Our Solar System
The Planetary Society

Web supplement for Probing Our Solar System
Planetary Sciences at the NSSDC

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