Learning Space 98: Summer Science

It’s summer, and that means bored-child season. We have a cure though: Science. There are a ton of activities that you can do with your child, or with all the kids in the neighborhood. We don’t have time in our one hour to go over all the best, or even all our favorites, but hopefully we can get you started.

For the “sit still and draw” crowd:
A lot of people somehow go a lifetime without realizing the Moon is sometimes up with the Sun. Summer, with it’s long days, is the perfect time to change this impression. Here’s how:

  • fingersWhen the moon is right and the weather is clear, go outside with your kid(s) and find East. Have you kids carefully sketch out the horizon. Remember, they can use their hands to measure angles and if they draw a grid on the paper, their sketch will allow them to accurately track the Moon’s position.
  • Pick a time when your kid can regularly return to that spot (and when the moon is likely to be regularly visible). If you start this activity on or near July 20, a time like 6pm works well. (TimeAndDate.com has good tables of Moonrise/Moonset times.) Each day, have them add the moon to their sketch, and write the time of their observation next to the Moon.
  • Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 2.33.04 PMWhen the Moon stops being visible at their chosen time, sit down and discuss what they observed. You can use free software like Stellarium to look at the Moon’s position over longer periods of time, or play with a Moon orbit & phase simulator to get even more understanding of our Moon.

Right now, we’re sitting at full moon, and Moonrise is during evening twilight. Unfortunately, each day the moon will be rising a little later. If you wait, however, the moon will cycle around, and starting on July 19, a crescent moon will be rising a little after 10am and lingering until after the average kids bed time.

Build a Quadrant
How high in the sky is that star? The Moon? Venus? These questions are best answered using degrees instead of miles or kilometers, and a quadrant will help you make those measurements. Don’t have a quadrant handy? Make your own! All you need are a few simple items like string, paper clips, a straw, scissors, and some tape.quadrants Get the template here.

Don’t forget to add some art to your science and personalize your quadrant… perhaps with rockets and aliens like these cool ones shown here.  🙂

You can measure the altitude of the Moon and stars and even planets over the course of many nights or even during one night! For teachers, there are many math and science extensions in this version of the activity from the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin.

Solar Baby Book

We often think of our Solar System as one big family, so why not celebrate the life of the head of this family–our Sun–with its own baby book? This activity can go either low-tech with basic classroom art supplies or high-tech with your favorite presentation/drawing app.babybook Search the Internet for samples of baby books–or maybe you actually have a few around–and some basic information on the life cycle of our Sun.

Use the template here to create pages of the book, and make a nifty space-themed cover out of construction paper.  The template provides a page for four stages of a star’s life cycle. You can add pages for even more solar milestones if you’d like. Or, create a baby book for Jupiter, or Europa, or… even Pluto! Now that would be fun!


Adopt a Star

So, unlike puppies, a star won’t ever follow you home. But, you still may want to adopt one! This activity works great for any celestial object that you can easily and regularly observe with the naked eye: stars, our Moon, constellations, planets, nebulae… whatever cute shiny/glowing object you’d like to choose. Summer is the perfect time to get some experience observing the night sky. Simply choose an object that you can find in the night sky. If you’re new to stargazing and in the northern hemisphere, get someone to show you the Big Dipper. Anyone from south of the equator got a recommendation? Or, just observe the Moon or maybe a bright planet. If you’re more familiar with the night sky, go for a constellation or star that you usually don’t look for. Then, adopt that star!

  • Create an adoption certificate that states that they are responsible for observing that object for at least two weeks. Here’s one just to give you an idea.
  • Use a simple observer’s log to record the brightness, color, location, sky conditions, time, date, etc. for each observation.
  • Try taking a picture of your object over successive nights.
  • Create a scrapbook about your object… collect news articles, stories, artwork, other pictures, history, etc.
  • Finally, share this information on a blog, on a poster, or with a PowerPoint presentation (good for classrooms!).

And finally…
Don’t forget that you can also build yourself a planet! (An entire solar system actually).

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