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Year 5 pitch to NASA

When Year 5 received a letter from NASA this week, informing them that a planet would be eliminated from the Solar System, they had to mount a persuasive argument to protect their chosen planet!

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As part of their latest Unit of Inquiry into 'How the world works', Year 5 have been researching the Solar System. And Mrs Burkett came up with an easy way to help them remember the order of the planets in the Solar System. She suggested they use a mnemonic device, using the first letter of each planet as the first letter of each word in a sentence. As she explained, the sillier the sentence, the easier it is to remember. For example, My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Noodles is a great way to remember Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

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As part of their inquiry, Year 5 thought about how to compare the different features of planets? How has our understanding of the solar system developed over time? What is Earth’s place in the solar system? And how can we observe regular events in the solar system?

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Using augmented reality (AR) tools on their iPads and virtual reality (VR) with Google Goggles, Year 5 extended their scientific horizons and literally held the Earth in their hands – albeit a three-dimensional computer-generated Planet Earth! Along the way, they discovered all sorts of interesting facts. They learnt that the planets in our Solar System are not evenly spread out and that terrestrial planets are grouped much closer together than the gas and ice giant planets. They learnt that human-made spacecraft like Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have travelled to Neptune, the furthest planet from the Sun.

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They also discovered why ‘dwarf planet’ Pluto did not make the cut when astronomers were redefining the Solar System in 2006 – even though Pluto had been widely regarded as a planet since its discovery in 1930. Basically, it was decided that to qualify as a planet, a celestial body had to be in orbit around the sun and it had to be spherical. It also had to clear the neighbourhood around its orbit. This last stipulation is what killed it for Pluto. Pluto is small and shares similar orbits with smaller asteroid-like objects. However, as some astronomers have argued and as the Year 5 students learnt, Jupiter is also dogged by asteroids called Trojans, Earth has the moon following its every move and Neptune crosses orbits with Pluto. All very interesting and all food for thought!

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Excitement reached fever pitch in the Year 5 classrooms, when in ‘breaking news’, the Year 5 teachers (or the in-room NASA spokespeople) received a mysterious letter from Steve Jurczyk at NASA, informing them that its board had elected to eliminate yet another planet from the Solar System. Which planet would it be? Well that was up to the students to decide.

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The students were all allocated a planet and working in pairs, they had to give a presentation to the NASA board members (teachers and their Year 5 peers) as to why their planet deserved to stay in the Solar System. They had to give a clear description of the unique features of their planet. They had to explain the similarities and difference between their planet and Earth. And they had to give a justification of why their planet is an essential part of the Solar System. While not essential, students were also encouraged to detail how their planet had influenced the development of different cultural or Indigenous understandings of the Solar System.

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Students could incorporate visual materials, graphs and diagrams to enhance their presentation.

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While NASA board members (Year 5 teachers) are still making their decision about which planet will be stripped of its planetary rights, this has been an exciting journey of discovery for Year 5, with lots of interactive, hands-on learning. What a great way to bring the Solar System to life!

Vivent les différences planétaires!

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