MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > How high is BIG? - using an astrolabe

How high is BIG? - using an astrolabe

Don Fraser
Oak Crest Elementary
Belle Plaine
MN
(Based on an idea we did in the Earth Studies class)
Author Profile

Summary

Students will search for and measure "how big" poles, equipment, or buildings are at our school by using an astrolabe and the objects' shadows on the first day of school in each month throughout the school year. Students will begin to realize how measuring very carefully is important as the shadows length will change but the height of a fixed object should not. The students will begin to recognize patterns according to the seasonal changes of the Earth. The students will be collecting photographs and data for their objects they found on the school site. The students will collect and record their data by using an astrolabe, digital camera, and their science notebook. They will be able to use their data and documentation to place each labeled object with it's shadow in ascending order by month on a SMARTBoard Notebook page that will be presented to the class.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals:
1. Determine what the investigation will be
2. Make scientific observations
3. Record and document scientific observations
4. Develop questions about observations
5. Make additional scientific observations each month looking for evidence
6. Record and document additional scientific observations
7. Collect data together
8. Demonstrate understanding

Key Concepts:
1. Students will understand how to design their own investigations
2. Students will understand that observation, measurement, and documentation of their investigation are very important parts of the scientific method, even though that process might vary somewhat according to the question being investigated and the scientists designing the experiment.
3. Students will understand that all questions are not suited for scientific investigation and that their question has to be something that can be measured.

Skills:
1. Predict
2. Observe
3. Describe
4. Document
5. Classify (ascending monthly order)
6. Question
7. Observe (8 more times looking for evidence)
8. Describe
9. Document
10. Classify (ascending monthly order)
11. Demonstrate (knowledge)

Vocabulary:
1. Astrolabe 6. Degrees 11. Multiply
2. Accurate 7. Altitude 12. Location
3. Measurement 8. Height 13. Position
4. Scale 9. Length 14. Ascending
5. Angles 10. Meters

Context for Use

Context for Use
This activity can be done at a 3rd grade student level in small groups of 3. By doing this, all students will have plenty of opportunities to use their astrolabe, digital camera, and science notebook. It is also nice to have partners to verify that the measuring is being done correctly. Students working in small groups fit nicely into this investigation because the first student can do the measuring while the other students can not only be checking, but also recording the first students observations. With a typical class size of 24 this would mean 8 groups. I would do this exercise over 20 class periods, or days, on the first day of school in each month throughout the school year. You will be working outdoors for part of the experience each month so preparation needs to be considered for being outside in the fall, winter, and spring.

Subject: Environmental Science, Mathematics, Geoscience, Geography
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity, Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)

Description and Teaching Materials

Subject: Earth Science, Environmental Science
Resource Type: Field Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: grade 3

Description and Teaching Materials:
-Science Notebook
-Pencil
-Meter Stick or Tape Measure
-Tag board
-Sidewalk Chalk
-Dark Thick Thread
-Plastic Bead or Metal Washer
-Plastic Drinking Straw
-Copy Of The Astrolabe Template
-Digital Cameras
-Printer (for pictures of objects being measured)
-Computer with Internet
-SMARTBoard and Notebook software

Introduction
Day 1 (Sept.) I start by letting the students divide into groups of 3 (8 groups). I ask them, as a group, to make a list of tall, high, or big things that can be seen at our school. I then ask the students to write their group's answers on the SMARTBoard. Next, I have the groups brainstorm 3 ideas they would like to study about these objects' shadows and their height. We then share and review their ideas. As a class we make sure their ideas will be something that can actually be measured during this investigation. Each group then decides on one idea that they will investigate. I then have each group make a prediction and record it in their science notebook. While in their groups, working together, we then make the astrolabe (one for each student). I would then demonstrate how to use the astrolabe (see References and Resources). Next, I would let the students practice using their astrolabe on objects in the classroom and measuring how far they are away from the object "the shadow". Last, we would discuss the math for calculating the height of an object and the premade table I made with the angle and tangent conversions.

Adaptations * You could give students a premade list of objects that the student groups could choose from with a key that shows the correct height of each object to help with the math (especially at the beginning of the year). You could have a parent make the astrolabes ahead of time so you could just pass them out and collect them.

Day 2 (Sept.) I would discuss the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point. I would take the students out and investigate their object (1 per student or 3 per group). Sidewalk chalk can be used to mark the end of the shadow to make measuring easier. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 3 (Sept.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to start making a SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 4 (Oct.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 5 (Oct.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 6 (Nov.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 7 (Nov.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 8 (Dec.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 9 (Dec.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.
Day 10 (Jan.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 11 (Jan.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 12 (Feb.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 13 (Feb.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 14 (Mar.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 15 (Mar.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 16 (Apr.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 17 (Apr.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 18 (May.) I would review as a class what was discussed the previous month(s). I would then have the students revisit the questions that they came up with. I would refresh their memory of who was in their group and get them back into the same groups again. I would review the ground rules of where they can go and how they are to behave. Discuss the expectations for being outside. Have the students choose which job they will perform first and how they should take turns doing all three jobs for the group at some point in this next go around. I would make sure that they understand that they are going back to the same 3 objects that they measured before in the previous month. Next, I would take the students out and investigate another time to look for evidence that gives greater credibility to, or contradicts, what was discussed the previous month. Remind the students to measure and record their data in their science notebooks.

Day 19 (May.) I would discuss as a class their investigations, predictions, and observations. Then have the students formulate future questions they might have about the next month when they go out to make more observations. Make sure they record their questions in their science notebook. We will then go to the computer laboratory to continue making their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group) about their investigation and what they learned. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page.

Day 20 (May) We will go to the computer laboratory to make any final changes to their SMARTBoard Notebook file (1 per group). Students should be clear about what they learned in their investigation. Students can use their digital images, their science notebooks, and the web as a resource for this SMARTBoard Notebook page. They will then present what they found to the class. If buildings "grew" discuss the importance of measuring carefully. As the shadows change in length, remind the students that the distance away from an object and the measured angle will change as well. However, the height of the fixed object like a building should still be the same.

Fraser Astrolabe Resources (Microsoft Word 92kB Aug2 09)
Angle/ Tangent Conversion Excel File I created (Excel 34kB Aug2 09)
Printable Science Notebook (Microsoft Word 2.9MB Aug2 09)
Printable Science Notebook Cover (Microsoft Word 24kB Aug2 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Teaching Notes and Tips
By doing half of the investigation outside the students always enjoy it more, but by having firm rules and consequences in place for what scientists do in the "laboratory" really need to be reviewed and taken outside with the students. The students might be tempted to go into a "recess" mentality being outside by the playground in some cases. Especially, being in an "outdoor laboratory", some students might have a hard time wrapping their mind around this concept. Also, have the same student measure the same object each month (1 per student, 3 total in each group). A big difference in height from one student to another might throw the math slightly off depending on how closely they measured. It still should work but remember they are third graders.

Assessment

Assessment
The students will use their science notebook and digital images at the end of the unit to make a SMARTBoard Notebook page displaying their group investigation.

4= All of the object photos, sketches, and notes are all in the correct place showing ascending monthly order and all labeled correctly.

3= All of the object photos, sketches, and notes are all in the correct place showing ascending monthly order but some are missing labels or labeled incorrectly.

2= Most of the object photos, sketches, and notes are mostly in the correct place showing ascending monthly order but are labeled correctly.

1= Most of the object photos, sketches, and notes are mostly in the correct place showing ascending monthly order and some are missing labels or labeled incorrectly.

0= None of the object photos, sketches, and notes are in the correct place showing ascending monthly order. Labels might be missing or labeled incorrectly.

Extension - You might have the students measure their height with the astrolabe. Students could then place their number on a Post-it Note. A conversation could then be had about ascending order, range, mode, median, and mean. You could also have a pair of students go out each morning and measure the angle of the sun and chart it from fall to spring. If students try to calculate the angle of the sun make sure they don't try to look at it through the straw as they would for an object. Have the students hold their astrolabe in such a way that it forms a perfect circle as sunlight shines through the straw on their opposite free hand. Then measure the angle.

Standards

Standards
3.1.1.1.1 The Practice of Science
3.1.1.2.1 The Practice of Science
3.1.1.2.2 The Practice of Science
3.1.1.2.3 The Practice of Science
3.1.1.2.4 The Practice of Science
3.1.3.2.1 Interactions Among Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Society
3.1.3.4.1 Interactions Among Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Society
3.2.3.1.2 Energy
3.2.3.1.3 Energy
3.3.3.1.1 The Universe
3.3.3.2.2 The Universe

References and Resources

See more MnSTEP Activities »


« Investigating simple plants       Tic Tac Toe - Pick 3 in a Row Atomic Model Assignment »