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Grade 3
Unit 6: The Solar System
Time Frame: Approximately two week
Unit Description
This unit is focused on the observation and exploration of the objects in the sky and their
describable characteristics. The structure and composition of the solar system will be
investigated, using various reference documents and models, as well as direct
observations of visible bodies.
Student Understandings
Students will learn through drawing and observing body shadows, recording data, and
describing changes that the Sun appears to change positions in the sky during the day.
Students will create a model of the planets in our solar system. Students will do research
reports on the planets and present them orally. Students will understand that day and
night occur because of the rotation of Earth on it’s axis, and understand that seasons
occur partly because of the revolution of Earth around the Sun, which takes one year to
Guiding Questions
Can students explain why the Sun appears to be at different places in the sky during the
Can students explain why shadows get longer or shorter and change direction over time?
Can student name the planets, in order, from the Sun and explain why the Sun is so
important to our planet?
Can students explain how the rotation of Earth causes day and night?
Can students explain how the seasons of the year are caused by the revolution of Earth
around the Sun?
Unit 6 Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs)
GLE Text and Benchmarks
Science as Inquiry
Ask questions about objects and events in the environment (e.g., plants, rocks,
storms) (SI-E-A1)
GLE Text and Benchmarks
Pose questions that can be answered by using students’ own observations,
scientific knowledge, and testable scientific investigations (SI-E-A1)
Predict and anticipate possible outcomes (SI-E-A2)
Use a variety of methods and materials and multiple trials to investigate ideas
(observe, measure, accurately record data) (SI-E-A2)
Express data in a variety of ways by constructing illustrations, graphs, charts,
tables, concept maps, and oral and written explanations as appropriate (SI-EA5) (SI-E-B4)
Combine information, data, and knowledge from one or more of the science
content areas to reach a conclusion or make a prediction. (SI-E-A5)
Use a variety of appropriate formats to describe procedures and to express
ideas about demonstrations or experiments (e.g., drawings, journals, reports,
presentations, exhibitions, portfolios) (SI-E-A6)
Physical Science
Observe and analyze motion and position of objects over time (e.g., shadows,
apparent path of the Sun across the sky) (PS-E-B3)
Earth and Space Science
Identify, in order, the planets of the solar system (ESS-E-B1)
Describe the patterns of apparent change in the position of the Sun (ESS-E-B2)
Explain the results of the rotation and revolution of Earth (e.g., day and night,
year) (ESS-E-B4)
Compare shadow direction and length at different times of day and year (ESSE-B4)
Sample Activities
Activity 1: Sun and Shadows (GLEs: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 25, 54, 56)
Safety Note: Observe proper sun protection practices when having students work
Teacher Note: Direct students to create a Sun and Shadows Notebook for use with this
activity so that seasonal observations can be recorded together throughout the year.
Have students ask questions about shadows and the Sun. Guide them to pose the
questions so they can be answered by observations and investigations of shadows and the
Students will work with partners outside on a sunny day to draw and record shadow
changes on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Students can draw shadows of themselves
and/or stationary objects. Different colored chalk should be used to draw on the pavement
for the morning, noon, and afternoon drawings so changes in position and length are
more obvious. Shadows should be measured using both standard and metric
measurements. Predictions will be made as to what changes students think will occur in
the shadows and position of the Sun. They will record the date, season of the year,
shadows, shadow changes, position of the Sun, and explanations of these changes in their
journals. Students should also be able to explain in writing that the shadow is changing in
size and position and the Sun’s position changes during the day. Keep the journals for
reference and repeat this shadow activity several more times spaced throughout the
school year noting on each journal entry the time of the year. Compare the shadow
pictures each time and discuss the position of the Sun when each shadow was made.
Conduct a teacher-lead discussion about the Sun’s position changing during the day and
at different times throughout the year. Students should now be able to explain that the
Sun’s position changes in the sky at different times of the year with respect to a position
on the horizon. Discussion questions include the following:
Where was the Sun in the morning drawings relative to your object? at noon? in the
Did the shadows change? How?
Where was the Sun in relation to the shadows on the drawings?
Were the shadows the same or different from previous drawings at other times of the
Activity 2: Rotation and Revolution of Earth (GLEs: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 54, 55)
Have students identify questions that they might have about the Earth and its movement
in relation to the Sun.
Students will simulate the movement of Earth on its axis by modeling the Sun and Earth.
A flashlight will be used to represent the Sun by shining on Earth for daytime. A student
will demonstrate the Earth. To demonstrate day and night the student that represents
Earth rotates (spins) so that the flashlight shines on the front of the body during the day
and on the back for nighttime.
Students will demonstrate the revolution of Earth around the Sun in a similar manner. To
demonstrate a year, have one student stand still to represent the Sun while another
student, representing Earth with a globe, completes a revolution around the stationary
Sun. Place a sticker on Louisiana to serve as a reference point. The Sun student shines a
flashlight on the sticker that was positioned on the globe. Place four students with season
signs at four distances around the Sun to represent the revolution path. Start with the
summer season as the Sun shines directly on the sticker on the globe. Explain that days
are longer with more direct rays from the Sun. If students are using an un-mounted globe,
such as a globe ball, etc., be sure that it is properly held to represent the tilt of the Earth
(23.5 degrees). The student with the globe starts revolves very slowly counter-clockwise
around the Sun, while rotating the globe counter-clockwise on its axis. The teacher might
need to assist the students as they rotate and revolve at the same time and monitor the
position of the axis on the globe. As the sticker reaches the opposite side away from the
Sun’s light, ask, “What time is it now?” as Earth is now dark. Ask students how long it
will take Earth to make one complete rotation on its axis. They should know one day or
twenty-four hours. As the globe approaches fall, notice the tilt of the globe and the rays
are not as direct as summer time in Louisiana and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
Earth should be one-fourth of a revolution around the Sun. Night and day should occur
many times as Earth continues around the Sun. When the revolution is one-half
completed, Earth should be in front of winter with indirect rays of light striking the
Northern Hemisphere. The student continues on to spring and again notes the rays and
position of the tilt. When Earth returns to the summer position, ask how long a real
revolution of Earth takes. The procedure can be repeated with different students if they
need more help in grasping the concept. A calendar can be used to show progress through
the year as Earth moves through the seasons. At each season, students should be asked to
discuss a series of repeating questions: What is the position of the Sun in the sky in the
morning, at noon, and in the afternoon? What is the weather like at that time of year?
What types of clothing are usually worn during this season? What holidays are
celebrated? What is the length of the day and the night? (e.g., time between sunrise and
sunset). During a class discussion, check student understanding of the tilt of Earth’s axis,
rotation and revolution. Have the students write an explanation of rotation and revolution
of Earth including illustrations and drawings.
Activity 3: Seasons of the Year (GLEs: 4, 9, 10, 11, 54, 55, 56)
Students will discuss the weather changes for the seasons that occur in other parts of the
United States and then compare them to local conditions. Using bulletin board aids on the
four seasons (available from school supply catalogs) or any other drawings, display the
changes that occur in the seasons. The teacher leads a class discussion about regions that
have a noticeable change in the trees and weather patterns as the seasons change. Select a
city like the nation’s capital, Washington, DC that has these changes. After viewing the
changes and discussion of the changes in the seasons, relate the changes to the revolution
of the Earth around the Sun. Divide a piece of paper in fourths and draw a scene from
each of the four seasons, label the season, and describe the weather trends for that time of
year in Washington, DC.
Choose a tree that will obviously change in appearance during all four seasons of the year
on the schoolyard, if possible. Have students draw a picture of that particular tree at the
beginning of school during the summer season. Have students predict where the shadow
of that same tree will be during the fall season. Draw another picture of the same tree
during the fall season. Have students make a prediction of where the shadow of the tree
will be during the winter and the spring respectfully. Draw a third picture of the same tree
in the winter, and again in the spring. Include these pictures on a display or in a lab
notebook for the year.
Activity 4: Make Model of the Solar System (GLEs: 1, 2, 5, 9, 11, 53)
Allow students to ask questions about the planets in the solar system. Have them pose
these questions so they can be answered through knowledge, observations, and or
investigations. Students will make a model of the solar system to help them visualize the
order of the planets. Allow students to choose the planet they would like to use to make
the model. They could make the model by placing a copy of the planets on pieces of
string measured according to the distance of each planet from the Sun (in a centimeter
type scale) with the planets in order from the Sun. (1mm = 1 million km.) The planet
pictures could be hung from any appropriate spot like a central spot in the classroom or
placed on the floor in an auditorium or hallway. The distance of each planet from the Sun
can be found in charts from textbooks and other reference tools that list the number of
centimeters required for each distance of the planets.
Students will use reference books, textbooks, or computer programs to research the nine
planets and compile reports. (Teacher uses own discretion on how to assign planets to the
students for the reports.) Reports should include a written description of the planet and a
diagram and/or picture of the planet. Reports will be presented orally.
Sample Assessments
General Guidelines
Assessment techniques should include use of drawings/illustrations/models, laboratory
investigations with reports, laboratory practicals (problem-solving and performancebased assessments), group discussion and journaling (reflective assessment), and paperand-pencil tests (traditional summative assessments).
Students should be monitored throughout the work on all activities via teacher
observation and lab notebook entries.
All student-developed products should be evaluated as the unit continues.
Student investigations should be evaluated with a rubric.
For some multiple-choice items on written tests, ask students to write a
justification for their chosen response.
General Assessments
The student will keep journal records with shadows drawn and position of the Sun noted
during different time periods throughout the year.
The student will use written or oral explanations of why shadows are different at different
times of the day and year.
The students will conduct a simulation of the rotation and revolution of Earth.
The student will provide a written explanation of rotation and revolution of Earth.
Have students draw and label a scene from each of the four seasons in a particular city.
Have student make models and write reports on the solar system.
Activity-Specific Assessments
Activity 1: Students make drawings of the shadows made outside in a journal
type notebook. Each drawing should include the object, it’s shadow, and the
Sun in the correct positions. Each drawing should be labeled with the time and
the time of the year with respect to the horizon.
Activity 2: Students write an explanation of Earth’s rotation and revolution
giving specific details including length of time to complete one revolution.
Activity 4: Students complete a report on a planet. The report should include a
written description of the planet as well as a diagram or drawing of the planet.
A rubric should be used to assess student’s oral presentation.
Cole, Joanna. The Magic School Bus: Inside the Solar System
Gross, Michael. Bill Nye the Science Guy: Outer Space