Low Cost Science: The Solar System in Your Classroom

Tuesday 3:20pm-3:40pm Weeks Geo: 140
Teaching Demo


Daniel Barth, University of Arkansas Main Campus
Katherine Auld, Northwest Arkansas Community College


All participants will construct a low-cost Earth-Moon system model that will allow them to explore lunar phases and the Earth-Moon orbital system. This model can later be expanded to encompass both inferior and superior planets, conjunctions and oppositions. Our team will then demonstrate the Earth-Moon and solar system models which will allow the participants to experience these powerful models for themselves.


Participants will use low-cost materials to construct scientifically accurate models in the classroom. The first model will allow the student to investigate the Earth-Moon system including lunar phases, elliptical orbits, and gravitational effects. Our second model will allow students to investigate the size and scale of the Earth-Moon system and how both solar and lunar eclipses work and why their frequencies are so different. The third project will allow students to construct an accurate model of the solar system from the Sun to the outermost dwarf planets that will demonstrate the relative size of solar system bodies and the vast distances between the planets. The advantage of our low-cost approach is that all three models, while being scientifically and mathematically accurate, can be constructed for less than $2 per student, making them inexpensive enough for rugged classroom use and students can 'take home' the projects that they have constructed. The projects are easily scalable, allowing their effective use from early elementary to advanced secondary classes. Mathematical complexity and scientific detail can easily be adjusted to meet a variety of state standards, as well as the needs of the individual instructor at any level.


Effectively communicating the ideas of size, scale, and orbital motion can be difficult in the classroom. These models allow each student group to build and use their own model, effectively demonstrating difficult concepts with hands-on STEM activities that are not only accurate, but extremely cost effective. Many teachers shy away from teaching Earth and space science precisely because of the expense of equipment and the difficulty of presenting concepts in a concrete and effective manner. Our low-cost models make it possible for almost any teacher to demonstrate and explore Earth and space science in a fun and dynamic way that captures students interest and powerfully addresses state educational standards. Elementary and middle school teachers can use these models on the conceptual level, while secondary and post-secondary teachers can mathematically model the concepts demonstrated with these low-cost projects utilizing geometry, trigonometry, vector analysis, and calculus.

Why It Works

Models and equipment for teaching Earth and space science and astronomy are known for being tremendously expensive, delicate, and difficult to use. Many schools are unwilling to invest heavily in single-use equipment such as telescopes, binoculars, and tabletop planetarium models. Our low-cost models retain the scientific and mathematical precision of more expensive equipment and do not require students to return to school at night for astronomical observations, alleviating problems of transportation and student safety.