Solar System Exploration
Pre-Service Teacher Institute

Activities and Resources

Presentations from 2017

Solar System Models

  • Cosmic Survey
    Students work in groups to sort objects in the universe by size, distance, and age.
  • Paper Strip Model
    This simple activity from the McDonald Observatory uses a strip of paper to model the scale of the solar system. Students make a prediction of the scale on one side, then use folds to create and compare a more accurate model on the other side.
  • Human Scale Model
    Students each play the role of a planet and estimate its location relative to the Sun and other planets in a scale model.
  • Modeling the Night Sky
    Students explore the Earth and Sun's positions in relation to the constellations of the ecliptic with a small model. Then they extend to explore the motions of the Earth and inner planets in a larger classroom-size model.


  • Data Inquiry Activity: Heating Things Up
    Students graph average high monthly temperatures for different cities to learn how temperatures vary by location and by season.
  • SunWatchers
    Students observe the sunrise and sunset positions of the Sun and its altitude in the sky over a year to connect with the Sun’s apparent motions over a year.
  • Reasons for Seasons
    Students explore a model of the Earth’s daily rotation and annual revolution around the Sun.  There are a variety of write-ups for this activity available from different sources; another great sources is the GEMS guide Reasons for the Seasons.
  • Daylight Hours
    Students reinforce their understanding of seasonal dynamics by reading and graphing annual day-length data to determine the relative north or south latitude, and name, of their “mystery city.”
  • Powerpoint on Seasons

Moon Phases

  • Moon Observations
    Students record data about Moon phases on a data sheet over the course of one complete Moon cycle (approximately 28 days), using Stellarium
  • Oreo Phases
    Students will recreate the lunar phases using the frosting from Oreo® cookies.  Round cream cheese crackers can also be used if cookies are not an option.
  • How Far is the Moon
    This demonstration briefly models the size and scale of the Earth-Moon system.
  • Lunar Phases: A Dance with the Sun
    This activity creates a model with the real Moon and Sun in the sky to help participants discover the real reason for the lunar phases.
  • Golf-ball Phases and Embroidery Hoop Eclipses
    In the first half, students explore the dynamics of lunar phases to develop an understanding of the relative positions of our Moon, Earth, and Sun that cause the phases of the Moon as viewed from Earth. Using a golf ball glowing under the ultraviolet light of a “blacklight” makes it easier to see the actual phase of the Moon. 
  • Paper Plate Phases
    Students use paper plates with various phases to create a three dimensional model of the lunar phases relative to the Earth and Sun, as both an assessment of their understanding and to continue to build a conceptual model through kinesthetic activities.
  • Powerpoint on Earth-Moon System
  • Powerpoint on Phases and Eclipses
  • Video of the Moon Dance, taken by Jennifer Anders

Geology of the Moon

  • Recipe for a Moon — for lunar structure, density
  • Impact Craters
    Students determine the factors affecting the appearance of impact craters and ejecta by dropping impactors into a crater box.
  • Water Balloon Impacts
    Students measure the diameter of their water balloons, model an impact, measure the diameter of the “crater” area, and determine the ratio of impactor to crater.
  • Ice in the Shadows
    Students examine shadows on the Moon and use their understanding of seasons to reason why deep craters at the poles of the Moon would never receive direct sunlight.
  • Dr. Walter Kiefer’s Powerpoint presentation

Objects in the Solar System

  • Sorting the Solar System
    Students explore some of the different objects in the Solar System and create their own categories for them. They then have a discussion about what categories scientists currently assign to each object.
  • Modeling Planetary Interiors and Differentiation
    Students model the interior structure of the terrestrial planets and the process of differentiation using solids and liquids of different densities
  • Edible Rocks
    Analyze and discuss candy bars with the same terminology used by geologists to study meteorites.
  • Blue Marble Matches
    Use Earth images taken by astronauts to introduce students to geologic processes on Earth and how to identify geologic features in images, and model how scientists use Earth to gain a better understanding of other planetary bodies in the solar system.
  • Heavyweight Planet Jupiter
    Students weigh themselves on other planets.
  • Pull of the Planets
    Students model the effects of gravity with an embroidery hoop, plastic bags, play doh, and marbles.
  • How Bright Are You?
    Students graph the brightness of asteroids and asteroid size versus their dates of discovery.


Exploring the Solar System

  • Strange New Planet
    Students find out how human curiosity in planetary exploration results in science questions, engineering solutions, and teamwork. This activity demonstrates how planetary features are discovered by the use of remote-sensing techniques. Students will experience the different phases in planetary exploration, including telescope observations, fly by missions, orbiters, landers, rovers…and their own ideas about human exploration.
  • Planning a Mission to the Lunar South Pole
    After evaluating an assortment of data, students decide which of seven locations situated in the lunar south polar region is the most suitable for a future settlement, taking into account four environmental factors – temperature, water supply, illumination, and communication.
  • On the Moon: Roving on the Moon
    Students design and build a rubber band-powered rover that can scramble across the floor.
  • On the Moon: Touchdown
    Students design a platform that can safely cushion astronauts when they land on a table near you.

Nature of Science

  Back to SSE Pre-Service Teacher Institute main page

Get the solar system in your inbox.

Sign up for LPI's email newsletters