Solar System Project Activity NGSS MS-ESS1-3 ESS1.B Scale, Proportion & Quantity


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Your students will be blown away at how different the planets are and how big our solar system is! This NGSS 3-Dimensional 5E is engaging, rigorous and easy prep! The materials are inexpensive and my teacher notes will make classroom management easy so that you have a classroom full of engaged and on-task students!

Students first start with the question “When you look at a picture of our solar system with the sun and all the planets it’s not to scale. What does that mean and why aren’t most pictures of our solar system to scale?” to access their prior knowledge and come back to it later for metacognition.

We then watch the YouTube clip, “The Solar System — our home in space.” by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. Its roughly 7 minutes and very engaging! It’s a nice way to allow the students to become familiar with the characteristics of each planet.

Students then look at a picture that has the scaled down version of the planets and they answer questions that tap into the Cross Cutting Concepts of Patterns and Scale, Proportions & Quantity in the “Explain” section of the 5E.

In the next section, students access the Science and Engineering Practice of “Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking”. Here, students calculate the scaled down sizes of the planets. As the instructor, you can decide how much you want to scale down the solar system model. Their solar system can fit on their tables and I can have 8 different groups making 8 different solar system models. Each solar system is about 3 meters or 1.5 meters from the sun in the center of the table. Or you can make one solar system that takes up the whole room. This is why this resource is editable, so you can use a scale that fits your needs!

When all groups are done with their models, I have every group clear their tables except for the solar system model. I then tell the students to walk around the room and look at all the other models. Then, when the students return to their seats, we have a class discussion. I ask, “What was it about the models that surprised you about our solar system?”. Then I ask, “What patterns do you see in your models?”, once again addressing the Cross Cutting Concepts of Patterns. The class discussions that ensued were rich and the students were very engaged!

We then move on to the video, “To Scale: The solar System.” This video is awesome! Before I play the video, I tell the students that the individuals in the video also made a scaled down solar system like they did. However, they made a 7-mile-wide model in the desert! It’s a great video that does a great job of addressing the Cross Cutting Concept of Scale, Proportion and Quantity.

In the “Evaluate: Reflecting on Background Knowledge” section, students use metacognition to reflect on their background knowledge to write a new and improved answer to the question “When you look at a picture of our solar system with the sun and all the planets it’s not to scale. What does that mean and why aren’t most pictures of our solar system to scale?”

I include a PowerPoint to discuss my expectations, manage the classroom and student instructions. In the PowerPoint I include more YouTube videos and solar system information that could add to more classroom discussions. This lesson is approximately 2.5 hours

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NGSS Standards:

Performance Expectation: Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system. 


Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI)ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System

The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. (MS-ESS1-2) (MS-ESS1-3)

Science and Engineering Practices (SEP):

Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

Developing and Using Models

A practice of both science and engineering is to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. These tools include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations.

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

In both science and engineering, mathematics and computation are fundamental tools for representing physical variables and their relationships. They are used for a range of tasks such as constructing simulations; statistically analyzing data; and recognizing, expressing, and applying quantitative relationships.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

The products of science are explanations and the products of engineering are solutions.

Cross Cutting Concepts (CCC):

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small. 

Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

Engineering advances have led to important discoveries in virtually every field of science and scientific discoveries have led to the development of entire industries and engineered systems.

Systems and System Models

A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.


-2 balloons

-20-30 grams of Play-Doh

-Scratch paper




This resource comes with the following:

-Student Handout PDF

-Student Handout Editable Word Document

-Key PDF

-Key Editable Word Document

-Detailed Teacher Notes

-Editable PowerPoint for student instructions and classroom management

This resource has the following concepts:

-Characteristics of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune

-Distances of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune from the Sun

-Solar System

-Astronomical Units (AU)


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