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Years ago, when we lived in Kula on Maui, I was talking to my husband one night about the moon, and he told me that with binoculars, I could see five moons. I was skeptical, but I followed him outside. We took the binoculars, the moon was up, and he said that was the first one. Then, he pointed at a very bright star in the sky, and he said that it wasn’t a star; it was Jupiter. We focused our binoculars, just 12x power, on Jupiter, and I could see the disc of the planet. Then, he told me to look to the left and right of the disc, and I would see tiny dots. I saw four dots, two on each side of Jupiter. They were all in a line, which I know now is the ecliptic, and that made them easy to find again whenever I had to put the binoculars down to rest my arms. That was the night I saw five moons. When I was reading about Galileo and his early telescopes, I remembered seeing those four of the moons of Jupiter, and I thought about how strange it must have been for him to see those tiny moons for the first time. I guess he didn’t even know what he would find, but I’m glad I looked. Whenever I think about science lessons for my kindergarteners, I want to help them feel the same wonder about the solar system and outer space.
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Hi Veronica, thank you for sharing that story! Sometimes we forget that a pair of binoculars can bring many celestial gems to the forefront. I love using mine to view Saturn rings. I found an article that might be of interest to you since you teach kindergarten. It is called Sky Observations by the Book. The article has already received 3 reviews and seems to provide some great ideas for teaching about the Moon using trade and fiction books. It also shares a free astronomical program that I have used before and found useful: Celestia. I purchased Starry Night Backyard: Elementary which is very useful for teaching some of the basic earth, sun, and moon concepts. I hope you enjoy this article. I know you will share your enthusiasm for the universe with your kindergarteners!
What are others' ideas/resources for teaching kindergarteners about the Moon, Earth, etc?
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I live in an area of Maine where we can still see stars and planets in the sky. With light pollution so prevalent in so many parts of this country it is nice to see a discussions about how to approach astronomy with young students.
With Kindergarteners my inclination would be to have them observe and wonder about the sky both at night and during the day. What do they notice and what are they curious about when they view the sky? I'd query them on what they experience and observe
Where is the moon in the sky as a month goes by?
Can you see it only during the night?
Can you sometimes see it during the day?
As days and months go by when you get up in the morning is it light out or dark out?
Does the sun always rise and set in the same place each day or month?
What do you see?
I'd keep it on a level of wonder and observation and curiosity
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
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I didn't know you could see saturn's rings with a binoculars? I just got a cheap telescope from scholastic, and I will try to create an activity for families to borrow the telescope and observe at home. Originally, I thought you can only see the moon clearly with the telescope now I will try to see if I can locate the other planets with the telescope.
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You have to have a very steady hand, Judy, but yes you can see Saturn rings with binoculars. You might be interested in this article about Saturn from the Learning Center: Saturn-Ringed Jewel of the Night Sky.
What have others seen in the night sky with their naked eye or a simple pair of binoculars?
I liked the questions that Arlene posted related to working with Kindergarteners. It reminded me of working with K students a few years ago. One thing that struck me about younger students is that they do experience the wonder of learning that we so long for in all of our students. While it's difficult to do hands-on experiments on space science you can help them to see trends over time even if it's just for a month. Having them look at the sun and moon (one and not five!) and tracking data either in class or as a homework assignment will help them to answer higher level questions such as Arlene's. Students who are not understanding the concepts will have opportunities through class experiences.
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I am a Graduate student at UMBC and I recently did a project where I had to research one of Jupiter's moons, Ganymede. I found my research very interesting and I did read that with binoculars we could see the moons from earth. For some reason I questioned whether it was true and didn't include it in my presentation. After reading your post I with I had shared this with the class and I will definitely look for myself.
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Thank you for sharing your story Veronica. Like others, I had no idea that you could see that far with binoculars. I always knew that on certain days you could see some planets and moons, but I never thought of actually going outside to look at it. This would be really great to talk with your kindergarten students about and learning about the different celestial objects. I'm glad that you told me this story, because now I can try to use this knowledge and have my students observe the night sky. At our school, we have a Star Night in the month of May, where the Bishop Museum on Oahu brings telescopes to the school. The students are then able to make observations of the stars, the moon, and the planets. So I hope that we will be able to see something fantastic like the that when we have our Star Night. Thank you for sharing your story.
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This discussion reminded me of a telescope I have in my Science storage cabinets... I have used it during the day with the kids to look off into the mountains, but have never used it to observe the night sky. I read Judy's post and it made me start thinking that perhaps I should get it out and provide a borrowing schedule for my kids where they could do a short/easy observation activity with their family at home in the evenings. It might inspire some budding scientists.
I was also unaware of the possibilities with just binoculars. Thanks for sharing the ideas!
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I have really enjoyed reading through this thread. Thanks Veronica for the story about the five moons because I had never heard about that before. It wasn’t until a few years ago, that for the first time I was able to see the rings of Saturn through a telescope. I remember thinking how it looked like a sticker or something because through the telescope it looked just like the stereotypical images of a circle with a ring around it. For me, that was a moment of wonder and awe—I had not realized you could see such detail in astronomical objects that are so far away. It was amazing.
Young children naturally have so much wonder and awe. My son, who is 1 ½ for example, asks to “see moon and stars,” every night. So every night we are outside looking up at the night sky. I also teach Kindergarten, and want to keep that curiosity and interest in the natural world alive for my students.
One tool I have found useful this year is actually just the simple Google search. I Googled “night sky,” “day sky,” “moon in the day sky,” “sunrise,” and “sunset,” with my students. I did an image search, and the students were very interested to see so many varied pictures of the sky. We then used those images as examples, and we went outside to make our own observations of the day sky. I had them make observations of the night sky with their families as homework, and we also used pastels to make illustrations of the night sky—as an art extension.
I think this thread has also reminded me about how in-depth you can go with the day and night sky observations. With the day sky, you can observe the movement of the sun through the day sky, the change in shadows, the different kinds of clouds, and in the night sky you can observe the phases of the moon, as well as all these cool planetary objects.
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A great lesson for kindergartners is to have them view the moon, and attempt to draw some of the features they see. i.e. mare and craters. Kids love to imagine what they might be, guessing they are bodies of water, or even canal systems. Wait, I think scientists did that as well! That would make those little ones really feel smart, to tell them there observations where the same as well known scientists. Another wow factor is to bring them outside on a day that the moon is present in the day sky, it is amazing how few people realize that it is up there. Imagine that story around the dinner table with mom and dad.
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