Explore the Planets with NASA

Nov 15, 2006 by

I must preface this post by saying that I originally had a much more passionate, and controversial topic of discussion that was ignited by recent conversations at our district’s Technology Advisory Group meeting. Whether or not I can find a way to articulate my viewpoints without sounding like a wet-behind-the-ears, naive educator remains to be seen, so for now I’ll continue to craft my sentiments about the “un-post” and instead point out a wonderful site produced by the good folk at NASA.

Planetary ExplorerThe third graders in my building are studying the Sun, Earth, and Moon, so I’ve been looking for websites that they might find beneficial. While I haven’t found many that aren’t completely above their heads, I did find a very flashy, engaging, and kid-oriented Solar System Exploration page on NASA’s impressively huge website. What attracted me initially was the colorful “CLICK ME!” nature of the site, but once I had stopped playing around with all of the buttons and features realized that it had a lot of content to offer that was easily digestible by third graders and beyond. Clicking on a planet reveals the rotating orb and give you a number of panels to click on from Size to Vital Statistics.

The planet’s vitals covers everything from diameter and mass to volume and average distance from the sun. There’s even stats on how long the planet’s days are, and how many days, or in some cases years, it takes to orbit the sun. Everything is compared to Earth hours, days, or years, so there’s a great frame of reference for learners. Also handy are both the standard and metric measurements for all of the vitals. Size and distance is covered not by more numbers, but rather a simple visual comparison with Earth and an analogy (if the Earth were the size of a nickel….), making it much more student friendly. Also included are fun computer animated slide shows in which you are a space probe approaching the planet as well as information about any missions currently or previously being undertaken by NASA to explore the planet.

My favorite resource by far was the timeline, in which a small interactive timeline of astronomer’s observations and important discoveries about the particular planet are listed. The entries are short, easy to read, and are not overly verbose (unlike some of my posts), with vocabulary easy enough for most later elementary students. All in all, quite a nice trip through the solar system from the experts.

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