However, my favorite activity is one I have presented to other educators, shared with pre-service educators, and finally got the chance to work through with my own class. Discovering a "Strange New Planet" is a great lesson to teach both observation skills and the steps space exploration requires. As an added bonus, though, we get to explore our planet in about thirty minutes versus the thirty years these steps often take!
- We begin with our pre-launch observations through a telescope...that's always a little cloudy thanks to our atmosphere! We represent this by covering our telescopes (toilet paper tubes) with blue cellophane; however, I couldn't find that during our spooky Halloween season (it's easier at Easter), so I used blue tulle. Each team chooses one explorer to look through their telescope for 30 seconds and report all their observations to mission control.
- The atmosphere is then taken off as we do a fly-by mission. At this point I talked a lot about New Horizons, our exploration of Pluto's features via photos, and why we don't land right off the bat. During this phase, each team chooses another member to walk quickly past the uncovered planet with an uncovered "lens" for about five seconds before reporting back.
- From there, each team goes into orbit; one person makes a quick pass around an unobstructed planet before reporting back.
- Finally, as a team, they decide where to "land" their push-pin, which is guided to a landing by the teacher. Once they've landed, one person gets to look around the landing spot through the eye of the toilet paper tube...after all, you'd never make it all the way around a planet in one landing! We have to imitate that limited radius of space.
- Before displaying all they've observed and guessed, each team draws what they infer the planet to look like.