Sizing Up the Solar Systemby: Heidi Wiebke, Meredith Park Rogers, and Vanashri Nargund-Joshi

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Students learn about the importance of scale in scientific models. This article describes one approach teachers can use to elicit students' misconceptions about the distance between planets in our solar system.

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Reviews (19)
  • on Wed Dec 03, 2014 1:38 PM

When teaching students (of any age) about the solar system the first thing that comes to mind is the use of models and of graphic organizers. However, not all students will know how to read and learn from a model. So, how do you teach students to read and understand models? Well, this article is a great resource! With engaging activities and assessments, this article is easy to follow and offers great instruction on how to explain and teach models to students. The authors of this article provide clear and precise explanations. It also provides ideas on how to implement the information and activities into a classroom and into lessons. This article makes it easy to execute and/ or evaluate a proper solar system model that can be easily used to teach students in a way they will understand and learn from.

Jessica Schobert
Jessica Schobert

  • on Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:24 PM

This article allows student to explore what a scientific model is, even with little experience having dealt with them. Not only does this article provide clear and precise explanations, it provides great ideas for how to implement stuff like this into your classroom or into a lesson. It is very engaging for students and real allows them to get a grasp on our whole solar system.The activities it provides you with are very much student centered,and forces the student into self discovery, leaving the teacher as more of a facilitator which is awesome!

Mary Milligan  (Crofton, MD)
Mary Milligan (Crofton, MD)

  • on Sun Oct 27, 2013 1:38 PM

I found this source to be incredibly helpful for a soon to be teacher. With such a vast topic as the solar system, I am wary about creating different ways to teach my children about the broad topic of space. Models have always been a way that I would think to approach teaching the solar system, but learning what models would be appropriate is soemthing I didn't really look into. This article makes it much easier for me to evaluate and choose a proper space model that my students can understand and learn from.

Hilary D
Hilary D

  • on Thu Oct 17, 2013 12:21 PM

In the article of Well-integrated curriculum and activities, the writer takes readers on a ride through the solar system. This article highlights how teachers can help students use the model to understand the distance between and arrangement of the solar system planets. This article is really valuable to read especially for elementary teachers and students. On the one hand, it introduces a very novel teaching method, such as the use of a model. With the help of using the model, students can better understand and better memorize the curriculum. On the other hand, it helps students exercise their abilities by enabling them to find answers by themselves. In short, this article successfully integrates curriculum and activities, and should not be overlooked.

Lili Zheng  (Baltimore, MD)
Lili Zheng (Baltimore, MD)

  • on Thu Mar 14, 2013 2:49 AM

I really liked this article because it had so many pictures and graphs and examples that I can gain more insight from. Also, this article talks about the problems of current models and what we can do to change that. It gives us direction for the sentence strip model and conversion charts that go with the activity. It is really cool and it really an interactive article.

Angela Cho  (Ellicott City, MD)
Angela Cho (Ellicott City, MD)

  • on Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:00 PM

This article provides a great lesson plan for teachers looking to break through student misconceptions on the space between planets or just looking for a great introductory lesson on how to teacher scientific models. The activity can be modeled to work within any classroom only needing a limited amount of supplies but could be made larger so show students the solar system on a larger scale. The reading also provides discussion questions for follow the activity which may help students relate their ideas about other things that could be made into science models or how big space really is. The author also relates how this lesson could lead into a lesson of why Pluto is no longer a planet and the properties of the inner and outer planets. The article is short and to the point while still giving a great description of the classroom activity and its many benefits. I will definitely be recycling this idea when I become a teacher.

Whitney M
Whitney M

  • on Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:01 PM

This lesson is a great example of how we as educators can combat the misconceptions about our universe. With this lesson you can open your students eyes and engage them in critically thinking about the size and scope of the universe. This is an excellent lesson plan and a great resource.

Matt  (Columbia, Maryland)
Matt (Columbia, Maryland)

  • on Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:44 PM

This article gives a perfect idea on how to teach your students how to create their own model of the solar system. It gives you great ideas on how to start and keep your students motivated during the lesson. I really enjoyed reading this article and I think it's an excellent tool to use when teaching about the solar system.

Kimberly Morales  (Columbia, MD)
Kimberly Morales (Columbia, MD)

  • on Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:42 PM

This lesson is very thorough, and offers some great suggestions to take it even further with students by using critical thinking and inquiry. With the potential to have an engaging experience with models of the solar system, students can gain new perspectives on distance and approximations.

Tonya  (Halethorpe, MD)
Tonya (Halethorpe, MD)

  • on Wed Sep 28, 2011 9:52 AM

Sizing up the Solar System is an article providing a look at teaching students to understand models in science. In this article specifically, authors point out that by the end of 5th grade student should understand that a model is a smaller version of the real product. Then they turn the reader’s attention to the student (mis)understanding of the Solar System models. The authors explain that in order for student to understand the models better, teachers need to include size and distances within our Solar System by introducing a notion of “scale”. Authors offer lesson plan activities that lead students to understanding of distances and positions of planets as well as to making of a scaled representation of our Solar System on a sentence strip. As a future classroom teacher, I can see myself using this lesson with my students. I appreciate that it is engaging and easy to follow. The lesson includes preassessment (what students know about models and their use in science), clear criteria for observing the Solar System models (almost like a scoring rubric), very clear directions for making a scaled model, and also a visual of a final product.

Juraj Duracka
Juraj Duracka

  • on Thu Sep 15, 2011 10:41 AM

You can engage your upper elementary students in developing models in ways that scientist do to understand concepts such as scale of the solar system Authors show how students preconceptions about planets distances can be helped by doing the modeling activities described using formative assessment. Valuable websites are included.

Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton

  • on Thu Feb 18, 2016 12:54 AM

This article illustrates the need to introduce students to the process of developing a model and the importance of scale. Many students have the misconception that the planets a equidistantly spaced and this article provides an effective approach to clearing up this misconception and giving students a better understanding of models and how they are used in science. For teachers who are beginning a unit on the solar system, I think this article is a wonderful resource! It leads you through uncovering misconceptions and how to correct them through a series of tasks which involve making different models and discussion about them and their differences. I particularly liked the task at the end which has students create a model that is to scale using conversions in the metric system. Another great feature is the list of internet resources at the end of the article that can be used along with the activities. Although the article is intended for upper-elementary grades, the ideas could be modified for younger students as well. One option would be to apply the basic principles in this article to another type of model.


  • on Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:06 PM

This article is very well written. It begins by engaging the audience and promising good content. The article has a great focus on engagement and motivating the students to learn about the topic. And I think this is extremely important, because no matter how great the lesson plan is, if the students are not engaged, everything is for naught. The only reason I gave it 4 stars is because I felt the actual lesson itself was not as engaging as the motivation part of the lesson plan. I would personally add more visuals and simplify the lesson to make it more approachable for children. However the actual content is great and sticks to important facts. With a little tweaking the lesson in this article is something I would most definitely use in the classroom.


  • on Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:58 AM

This lesson had a good beginning assessment which allowed for various levels of written communication but which would benefit from a pictorial representation as well. The lesson of models and their use in science or anything for that matter, was wonderful. It took something we cannot actually see and gave a practical and easy to follow format to use in establishing a generalized proportioned position of the planets in our solar system. It was done by each student individually using a folding and halving process easy and familiar for all age levels. With the teacher as the demonstrator, I can see this working easily at many age levels. Next, using the mathematics level of the students, a more accurate method of placing the planets on the sentence strip in relative distance from each other and the sun was done. The summary and thought questions used repetitively for the student answers, the old models, the first folded models and the final measured models are good and should show growth in thinking and knowledge as the process unfolds. I especially enjoyed this model as it makes something unseen, tangible.

Jillian R
Jillian R

  • on Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:42 PM

I enjoy the description for the activity - its very thorough. However, the scale model made is very small. I'm not sure that it paints an accurate picture of the vast distance between the sun and its planets. Perhaps using a larger material that spans a greater distance such as toilet paper or a long hallway would work better.

Jessica  (Baltimore, MD)
Jessica (Baltimore, MD)

  • on Thu Feb 02, 2012 1:07 AM

I liked all the ideas for explaining how the planets are spaced, while also defining models. I thought it was cool that the students would become scientists and create their own to scale model (what a great way to incorporate algebra). These lesson ideas were very helpful.


  • on Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:21 PM

I think this article is very useful for teaching and learning. I think it is a great idea to see what the students prior knowledge is and to get the students involved in making a model. I think this is not only great for teaching science but is good for students because they can apply their mathematic skills. It's a great small group activity and can bring out the strengths of the students in each group.


  • on Sun Oct 02, 2011 8:06 PM

I think that scale is a difficult concept for young students to grasp. I thought that this journal offered some good ways to explain scale to a class. I think that this is a good resource for educators and also my help students if they were inclined to read it.

Taylor D
Taylor D

  • on Thu Sep 29, 2011 12:55 PM

I think it is very hard for young students to grasp the scale of the universe in comparison to us and the Earth. I agree with her that certain models do not emphasize on the distance between planets and the real scale. She gives great classroom ideas which starts with a preassesment that simply asks of their prior knowledge. Then when engaging in the actual lesson he gives detailed instructions of how to explain to the students how far away each planet is. The only thing I slightly do not like about this article is how structured he is, there is not much room to teach the way you want to. But overall, I think this is a great start to explain the "new model".

Alicia Krause
Alicia Krause

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