Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
In this solar system lesson, which is adaptable for grades 5-12, students use BrainPOP resources (including an online game) to explore the seasons, tides, equinoxes, eclipses, and other aspects of the solar system.
- Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. (NGSS-MS-ESS1-1)
- Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system. (NGSS-MS-ESS1-2)
Preparation:Planet Mechanic is an online earth and space science game by Filament Games that invites players to explore and control a planet’s attributes in order to change its behavior. In this game, players have the ability to experiment with a planet orbiting a star, and alter a planet’s core attributes of atmosphere, tilt, rotation, and moon. Players adjust the different features of a planet to meet the needs of its’ inhabitants, which are quirky aliens who live on the planet. The aliens will require changes in temperature, atmosphere, seasons, day length, tides and even eclipses to meet their demanded living conditions from level to level. Through their actions, players will see how all of a planet’s attributes work together to impact the properties and conditions of that world.
Planet Mechanic can be played in about 15 - 30 minutes, and is intended for middle and high school students. You might explore different levels of the game depending on the unit you’re studying, and return to the game multiple times throughout a unit. Portions of this lesson plan have been adapted from the Planet Mechanic Curriculum, which you can download from Filament Games to get more ideas.
- As a warm-up, invite students to draw a picture and/or write a few sentences to explain why they think Earth has different seasons. Alternatively (depending on your specific learning objectives), you could have students explain why a day on Earth is 24 hours and why a year on Earth is 365 days.
- Have student volunteers share their responses, and use the information they share to guide you in addressing misconceptions and building background knowledge throughout your lesson.
- Play the BrainPOP movie that best relates to your lesson objective (Seasons, Tides, Eclipse, Moon Phases, Solstice and Equinox, Earth’s Atmosphere, Solar System, or Moon.) Allow students to revise their responses to your opening question if they would like.
- Project the Planet Mechanic game for students to see. Tell the class they will have a chance to explore the science topics they've been learning about through game play. Walk students through the beginning screens of the game in which they are introduced to their alien client. You can click the icon to read more about tides if you want to provide additional information for students.
- Demonstrate how to add a moon and therefore create a tide for the planet in the game. You may want to point out the data on the right side of the screen which tells the planet's conditions, and the slide at the bottom of the screen which allows the player to change aspects of the planet.
- Release students to play the game on their own or with a partner. Allow approximately 15-30 minutes for game play.
- Talk with students about the scientific principles they explored during the game. Why does the presence of a moon give the planet tides? What characteristics of a planet determines how long a day is? A year is?
- Encourage students to investigate a question they have related to the planets, tides, or seasons. They should work on their own or with a group to answer their question through online research (including BrainPOP resources, if applicable) and/or a science experiment. Have students share their findings with the class in a presentation or through digital media.