Students will observe and record the location of various constellations over time.
Main Curriculum Tie:
Science - 6th Grade
Standard 4 Objective 2
Describe the appearance and apparent motion of groups of stars in the night sky relative to Earth and how various cultures have understood and used them.
- black craft paper, shaped in a large oval to cover a bulletin board (same
shape as the opening in a star finder)
- smaller pieces of black craft paper or construction paper
- glow-in-the-dark stars, star stickers, or fluorescent markers or paint
- white or yellow string or chalk (optional)
- graph paper, 1/4 ” squares
- books with myths and stories about the stars (See Appendix)
- transparency of a star finder map such as Uncle Al 's Star Finder, available
at http://www.lhs.berkeley.edu/starclock/skywheel.html (Note: The Sky Wheel
can be printed off free for teacher and student use. The copyright must show
on it. Permission needs to be acquired from Alan Gould for distributing to
students and other teachers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Star Finder, available from Learning Technologies, Inc., 59 Walden Street,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02140,1-800-537-8703, $1.00.
Using large pieces of black paper, lay out the background for a large star map
on a bulletin board. Make an overhead transparency of a star finder such as
Uncle Al 's Star Wheel (see Materials) to project an enlarged image on the wall.
The size you use will depend on the space available. Using the transparency
as a pattern, construct three simple, easy-to-recognize circumpolar constellations:
the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia. Put each constellation on
a single piece of black paper so that they can be moved throughout the year.
Use glow-in-the-dark stars, star stickers, or fluorescent markers or paint to
make the stars. Label each constellation and Polaris. (Polaris is the North
Star —it will be the last star in the handle of Ursa Minor.)
Use the star finder as a guide to determine where you will place the constellations
in their approximate correct positions for 8:00-9:00 p.m. in the current month,
but do not put the constellations on the bulletin board yet. Plan to place Polaris
in the upper center part of the star map (see star finder). Plan to change the
position of the constellations each month. Also have enough room to
add other constellations as they appear throughout the year.
- star finders, such as Uncle Al's Sky Wheel, available at http://www.lhs.berkeley.edu/starclock/skywheel.html
or available from Learning Technology, Inc., 59 Walden Street, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 02140, 1-800-537-8703, $1.00
Heifetz Planisphere. Sturdy plastic star finder, principles and instructions
printed on back. Available from Learning Technologies, Inc., 59 Walden Street,
Cambridge, MA, 02140, (800) 537-8703, $9.95.
Night Star, advanced star map, soft, movable rubber, for more dedicated star
gazers.1334 Brommer Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95062.
Star and Planet Locator, Edmunds Scientific, (800) 728-6999
Dickinson, Terence. Exploring the Night Sky.1998. Good description of light
time and relating it to objects in space, star distances, and constellations.
Good pictures and photos. Text covers about half the pages. 72 pages.
Hinz, Joan. Dot to Dot in the Sky: Stories in the Stars. 2001. Excellent resource
material for constellations. Describes fifteen common constellations; how to
locate them, a myth that goes with each, interesting highlights, and scientific
“space notes.” 64 pages. $12.95.
National Audubon Society. First Field Guide: Night Sky .1999. Nice overview
of all astronomy topics. About half the book focuses on finding objects in the
night sky, 160 pages, pocket size paperback. $8.95.
Rey, H.A. Find the Constellations.1976. Excellent beginners guide to finding
the constellations in the northern hemisphere. Well-illustrated, extensive index,
glossary and timetable for sky viewing. A classic. 72 pages.
Rey, H.A. The Stars: A New Way to See Them.1976. “Clear, vivid, text
with charts and maps showing the positions of the constellations the year round.
One of the best books available for its purpose.” It gives thorough descriptions
and directions for locating constellations and their positions relative to each
other. Many drawings and diagrams.160 pages.
Thompson, C.E. Glow in the Dark Constellations: A Field Guide for Young Stargazers.1989.
Simplified guide to constellations, describes how to find twelve common constellations
throughout the year, includes a myth for each constellation. Illustrations have
glow-in-the-dark ink to distinguish the constellation in the sky.32 pages.
There are many amateur astronomy associations throughout Utah. Please check
Hansen Planetarium 's website for the most up-to-date information on the club
- Abrams Planetarium
This Michigan State University site includes links to the Abrams Sky Calendars; a Sky Watcher 's Page has many links to information on constellations, stars, planets, the moon, and more. It also has a list of constellations sorted by months.
- Constellation and Star finder
- Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley
This site includes Uncle Al 's star finder and Star clock as well as other links.
Note: The SkyWheel can be printed off free for teacher and student use. The copyright must show on it. Permission needs to be acquired from Alan Gould for distributing to students and other teachers. Email: email@example.com
Background For Teachers:
Constellations are patterns of stars visible from Earth in the sky at night. The
stars in any given constellation form a pattern only as they appear from Earth
and are usually many light years apart from each other. Although the positions
of the constellations as they appear in the sky change over the course of a year,
they are constant and predictable from year to year.
Many ancient civilizations organized the sky into constellation patterns. They
associated these star patterns with stories or images of mythological creatures
and heroes. The particular stars grouped into an individual constellation varied
from one civilization to another. More than half of the constellations recognized
today were identified by the ancient Greeks.
Constellations were more than just interesting patterns in the sky. The rising
or setting of particular constellations was used to determine both the time
of night and the season of the year. They were used to determine when to plant
crops. Seafaring people used stars for navigation. Using stars for navigation
continues today. As Earth revolves around the sun, the visible constellations
change from season to season. Particular constellations are associated with
the various seasons. Circumpolar constellations such as Ursa Major (Big Dipper)
are visible throughout the year as they appear to revolve around Polaris (North
Constellations are used as reference points on a star map to help people communicate
with each other concerning the location of various objects in the night sky
such as the moon, planets, stars, comets, meteor showers, etc. In 1930, the
International Astronomical Union established eighty-eight constellations with
Intended Learning Outcomes:
1-Use science process and thinking skills
2-Manifest scientific attitudes and interests
3-Understand science concepts and principles
4-Communicate effectively using science language and reasoning
6-Understand the nature of science
Invitation to Learn:
Several days before you begin this activity place the replica of the constellation
Cassiopeia (without its name) and the title “Mystery Constellation ”
in a conspicuous place in your classroom. Ask your students if any of them know
what this constellation is, or where it can be found. Suggest that they try to
locate it in the next few nights.
Since the positions of constellations and the particular constellations that
are visible change through the seasons, students will gain a better understanding
about the constellations if they are studied throughout the school year. This
lesson describes activities that begin in the fall (when it is dark enough at
9:00 MDT and 8:00 MST to see stars) and continue throughout the school year.
If that is not possible, the lessons may be taught in a shorter period with
- Show students the replica of the Cassiopeia constellation again. Ask if
any students have found this constellation. Show them the replicas you have
prepared of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Ask students if they have
seen these patterns in the sky. Explain that these are constellations visible
in the Northern Hemisphere. Their positions relative to Earth change over
the course of a year. Place the constellations on the bulletin board in their
correct positions. Locate Polaris and explain that it is also called the North
Star because it always appears to be directly north. Its position is constant.
- Use a pointer to outline the constellation figures on the bulletin board.
Or if you prefer, use string or chalk to permanently outline the constellations.
Tell at least one myth associated with each constellation. Ideally tell several
myths from different cultures. (See Additional Resources) Tell students that
they will be finding other things about the constellations in the following
- Have students record the positions of these three constellations in their
science journals. Challenge the students to find these constellations the
- Discuss student observations in looking for the constellations. Talk about
any particular challenges they faced. Depending on the time of year, the Big
Dipper may be hidden behind mountains in some parts of Utah. Also, light pollution
may affect visibility in populous areas. Have the students record observations
in their journals.
- Introduce two additional circumpolar constellations (Ciphers and Drano)
to the students. Tell myths associated with these constellations or assign
students to present the information. Add these constellations to the star
map. Challenge students to locate these constellations in the night sky. The
next day, discuss the student findings and place these constellations on the
star map. Have the Students record observations in their journals.
- Help students become more familiar with these constellations by graphing
them on grid paper. Use the following coordinates to help graph the constellations.
Have students transfer their graphed constellations to their science journal
and record information about each constellation.
- Ursa Major:(M, 37);(Q, 34);(R, 34);(U, 33);(W, 35);(Z, 32);(X, 30)
- Ursa Minor:(R, 17);(O, 18);(N, 20);(M, 22);(K, 22);(L, 25);(N, 25)
- Cassiopeia:((L, 1);(K, 4);(O, 4);(S, 5);(R, 2)
- Cepheus:(G, 6);(E, 10);(I, 12);(J,8);(O, 11)
- Draco:((B, 33);(C, 30);(E, 32);(D, 34);(B, 24);(C, 22);(F, 24);(G, 22);(G,
28);(G; 30);(I, 31); (N, 30);(R, 27);(U, 27)
- Next have students make constellations to be used on the star map. You may
have students choose the constellations or assign them. (See list below for
possible constellations) Let students use the star finder transparency to
make the constellations in the same scale as the classroom star map.
Have each team research the stories and myths associated with their constellation,
identify any particularly bright star(s), and determine the time of year when
the constellation will be visible at 9:00 P.M.
COMMON NORTHERN HEMISPHERE CONSTELLATIONS
The constellations are listed in the months when they appear high in the sky
at around 9:00 p.m. Bright stars are in parentheses. For more constellations
visit Michigan State website (see Additional Resources.) Many of these constellations
are also visible in other months as well. Consult a star map for details. Circumpolar
constellations such as Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Draco
are visible throughout the year as they appear to revolve around the North Star.
August -September October -November December -January
Lyra (Vega)*Pegasus Orion (Betelgeuse and Rigel)
Cygnus (Deneb)*Andromeda Canis Major (Sirius)
Cepheus Cassiopeia Taurus*(Aldebaran) Perseus
February -March April -May June -July
Gemini (Pollux and Castor)Ursa Major Bootes (Arcturus)
Canis Major (Sirius) Leo Ursa Minor
Ursa Major Virgo (Spica) Corona Borealis
*Another common star formation is the Summer Triangle including the stars
of Vega, Deneb, and Altair. Pleiades is a star cluster and part of the constellation
- Next have the students report on their constellations to the class. You
may have all teams report at the same time, but consider having teams report
over a period of time. That way they can report during the month when their
constellation is most visible in the sky (at 9:00 p.m.). Also, if the constellations
are introduced one at a time, it will be easier for students to keep them
straight. Have each team place their constellation on the star map in the
- One month later, ask students how the positions of the constellations have
changed in the night sky. Challenge students to find out where the constellations
now appear in the night sky. The next day readjust the constellations to their
new positions. Use the star finder transparency to help you adjust the star
- In the following month introduce any new constellations and reposition the
star map. As the months progress, the positions of the constellations change.
Discuss with students why different constellations appear. Help students understand
that the constellations are constant, but as the Earth revolves around the
sun, new constellations appear and others disappear. The constellations nearest
the North Star are visible year round (although mountains may block their
visibility during part of the night). These are known as circum polar constellations.
The further south a constellation, the less time it is visible during the
year in the Northern Hemisphere.
Students make and use a star finder to help them locate constellations and stars
in the night sky. This activity reinforces the idea that the apparent movement
of constellations is caused as the Earth rotates on its axis, and that different
constellations become visible during the year because the Earth revolves around
Plan for a star finder for each student. They may be purchased (See Materials)
or made from a star finder patterns on cardstock. A good source is Uncle Al's
Star Finder (See Materials). This activity may be used before Activity 1,if
you choose, but it might be easier for students to do if they have some background
knowledge about constellations.
- Ask students what things are visible in the night sky and how can they find
out what things are visible to them on particular nights. Explain that a simple
star finder is a tool that can help them find some of the main things visible
in the night sky.
- Have students make their own star finders. Cut out the star map and star
locator pieces according to printed instructions. Tape together star locator
and insert star map.
- Orient students to the parts of the star finder. If you have been doing
Activity 1 with the students, they should recognize that the star map is similar.
Practice aligning times on the star locator with dates on the star map. Identify
stars and constellations that will be visible tonight at 8:00,10:00, 12:00
- Have students find the constellation of their astrological “sign.”
Also have them notice which constellations are not visible.
- Ask questions to help students discover that the constellations that are
visible will vary by date and time of night.
Questions to ask:
- What constellations are found in the sky in Fall? Winter? Spring? Summer?
- What happens to stars during the day?
- Why do the constellations change from season to season?
- Are there any constellations that are visible during every season? Why?
- Are there any stars that do not seem to move?
- Why are some constellations not visible during some parts of the year?
- How is the sky different from 8:00 to 10:00? 12:00 midnight? 4:00 A.M.?
- Have a “star party ” at night and use the star finders for
locating constellations. Have students teach family members about the constellations
using star finders. Arrange for telescopes and astronomers to help. (See Additional
- During a “star party,” it is a good time to introduce some of
the brightest stars. Teach students that the magnitude or brightness of a
star depends on a combination of several factors: size of star, temperature
of star, and distance from Earth. As students learn the names and locations
of stars they will have a reference point for understanding the differences
in sizes and distances of stars in the sky.
- Make a Star Clock. This is a simple device that is used to determine the
time by the location of stars relative to the North Star. The clock is rotated
until the stars on the clock line up with the stars in the sky. A simple star
clock is available on the same Internet site as Uncle Al 's Star Finder (See
||8.6 light years
|37 light years
|25 light years
|42 light years
|773 light years
||11 light years
||522 light years
||17 light years
||65 light years
||197 light years
||262 light years
||31 light years
||25 light years
||1467 light years
||77 light years
||49 light years
Have students make constellation viewers using film canisters. The constellation
viewer will have pinholes in the bottom to simulate seeing the constellation.
These constellation viewers could be made and/or used at a star party.
Prepare constellation patterns that will fit within the circumference of a
film canister lid. To do this, isolate constellation patterns on a star finder
(see Materials). Reduce or enlarge the pattern if necessary. Next make reverse
images of the constellations. Students cut out constellation patterns, place
the reverse image pattern on the outside bottom of film canister, and tape it
in place. Using a pushpin, students poke holes through the stars on the pattern
and the film canister bottom. Students can view the constellations by holding
the canister toward a light source and looking through the open canister.
Another option is to have students research and complete an information box
about the constellation on the viewer. The information box is taped around the
outside of the canister or rolled up and put inside the canister for easy reference.
The box should be a rectangle that measures "height by circumference”
of the canister. Information could include how to find the constellation, when
it appears in the sky, a description, myths associated with it, etc. Students
may either wrap the information box around the outside of the canister and tape
it in place, or roll up the information box and place it inside the film canister.
Sample Information Box
The Big Dipper, part of the constellation Ursa Major
Best time to view: January – October
Importance: The two outer stars of the cup point to the North Star
The Big Dipper is a group of stars or an asterism that is part of the
larger constellation Ursa Major (Big Bear). It is one of the easiest star
groups to recognize because all seven stars are fairly bright stars and
it is in the northern sky year round. The Big Dipper is useful because
it helps locate other constellations.
One version of a Greek legend says that Zeus ' wife Hera was jealous
of Callisto and changed her into a bear. Native Americans saw a bear (the
dipper) being chased by three hunters (the handle). The second hunter
is carrying a pot (a double star) for cooking the meat.
- Have students teach others how to make a star finder and explain how it
works. For example, students could teach their parents or siblings how to
make and use one at a star party in the evening.
- Have students draw constellations and write what they have learned about
them and stars in their journals.
- Have students explain why the constellations visible at 4:00 or 5:00 in
the morning are the same stars that will be visible in the evening four to
six months later.
- When students have made constellations or film canister viewers, organize
a round robin and have the students teach their constellations to each other.
This lesson is part of the Sixth Grade Science Teacher Resource Book (TRB3)
http://www.usoe.org/curr/science/core/6th/TRB6/. The TRB3 is designed to be
your textbook in teaching science curriculum to your students. This book covers
all the objectives of each standard and benchmark. If taught efficiently, a student
should do well on the End-of-Level (CRT) tests. The TRB3 is designed for
teachers who know very little about science, as well as for teachers who have a
broad understanding of science.
Created Date :
Oct 04 2002 08:51 AM