Right now our 4th grade is working on the Georgia Performance Standards dealing with the solar system and stars. They kicked off their unit of study in class with a KWL chart. With that knowledge named and questions formed, they came to the library for an exploratory lesson to further expand their knowledge and spark additional questions before they continue their unit of study in the classroom.
We began our time together as a whole group. I sparked their interest with my own research of the end of the shuttle program, the price tag for a seat on a Russian shuttle, and updates on the Mars Rover. Next, students got to choose from two books to read aloud: You Are the First Kid On Mars by Patrick O’Brien and The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto by Elizabeth Rusch. I was actually surprised that they picked The Planet Hunter because we had talked so much about the Mars rover and they were excited about it. Nevertheless, we read the story and they were amazed to learn that scientists could change the definition of what a planet is and things we once called planets are now called something different. They wondered if there would ever be a day that Earth would not be a planet anymore.
After our book exploration, students split into 2 groups. One group went to the desktop computers and used a pathfinder created with Sqworl to explore YouTube videos and interactive sites. The other group used our 10 iPads to explore a variety of free solar system and constellation apps such as Distant Suns, Moon, Solar System, NASA Viz, Stellarium, GoSkyWatch, and Planets. Groups switched halfway through our time so that they went to both centers.
The students left with excitement about the solar system. They left with questions and a desire to continue learning. When one student discovered something in an app, video, or interactive site, they immediately wanted to share it with other students in the class. Without any prompting, they were teaching one another how to use the tools. The teacher and I served as facilitators in both groups. One student even said he wanted to go build a model rocket after watching one of the YouTube videos. They will carry this new knowledge and energy back into their classroom to continue their unit of study on the solar system.
In total, this took about 45-60 minutes, but I feel like the energy that was created in the students at the front end of their unit will be well worth the time and exploration.