I tried to save what would possibly be the most engaging science unit until May in hopes that it would be enough to distract my students from the increasingly good weather and help keep them focused on their learning. Thus we are studying the effects of gravity and friction, complete with science investigations about the acceleration of gravity (they get to have fun dropping heavy objects from considerable heights) and tossing paper airplanes. We’re also exploring the difference between weight and mass. They have so far been fairly receptive on the concept that weight is affected by gravity while mass is not, and to help further their understanding of how gravity affects weight we’ve been using Exploratorium’s Your Weight on Other Worlds webpage.
Simply put, the mass of other planets (both smaller and larger than Earth) has an affect on how much you weigh as you feel the effects of greater and lesser gravitational forces. My students were at first skeptical about the premise as they imagined themselves becoming morbidly obese as they traveled to Jupiter where they would weigh several hundred more pounds than they do on Earth. A quick re-cap of mass and how an object retains the same amount of mass no matter where it goes in the universe helped a bit, but by using the Weight on Other Worlds site, they were able to quickly see how the larger size of Jupiter, Neptune, and even the sun would greatly increased their weight, while Mercury and Mars would provide a much “lighter” feeling without actually losing any mass. The site also calculates what you might weigh on the surface of a neutron star (a horribly large number), which the kids got a lot of amusement over.
Tomorrow we’ll do a follow up on the site, and add a creative writing twist to our concept. After confirming what they would weigh on other celestial bodies I’m going to have them create a list of everyday chores and activities and then choose two planets, one larger and one smaller than Earth. Using their knowledge of what we’ve talked about weight they should hopefully be able to write, and publish to their blogs, about what it would be like to carry out simple activities and chores on those two planets. What adaptations might they have to make in order to perform certain duties at home or school, and how successful would they be will also be included. I’m sure there are many more uses for the website than just a creative writing prompt, but I’ll leave it up to you, the rest of the experts, to figure out how the site might be useful in your classroom as I’ll be busy trying to figure out how to type when my fingers each weigh over 10 pounds.