Earth and Space Science > Activities > Creating the Solar System – step by step

Creating the Solar System – step by step

Karen J Curtin
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This activity benefited from feedback during the development process.

This activity benefited from feedback from peer teachers and instructors during its development and implementation as a part of the Earth and Space Science professional development course. For more information on the process, see

This page first made public: Jul 22, 2011


The goal of this lesson is to encourage the clarification and understanding of the processes involved in the creation of our solar system. The lesson is part of a larger unit of astronomy which addresses the MA Science Curriculum Framework Standard concerning gravity and its' role in the formation of the planets, stars, and the solar system. The lesson is a springboard to other standards including; describing the layers of the earth – lithosphere, mantle, and core, and differentiating among radiation, convection, and conduction- heat transfer in the earth's system. The lesson begins with a lecture describing the complex process of creation from molecular cloud to planetesimals to planets to organized solar system. The lecture is followed up with a draw/write activity in which the students are required to put in pictures or writing their interpretation of the series of steps that have been presented. The activity involves the students, working in pairs to create a visual model of one of the steps in the series. Their phase in the process will be assigned and the class as a whole will be creating a timeline in entirety. It is important to make clear that this process is not linear but certain steps overlap. In addition, this process is ongoing and is occurring in many places in the universe even today.

Learning Goals

The primary goal is a more complete understanding of the processes involved in planet and solar system creation. Emphasis is put on gravity's role in the big picture. Presenting the material in three ways maximizes the chances that all learning styles and levels will be addressed. In addition, cooperative learning encourages questions and discussion. Understanding of this material is key in laying the foundation for the next unit (geology).

Context for Use

This activity is well suited for grades 6-8. It is an activity assigned for the dual purpose of clarification and informal assessment. Total time including intro lecture, creative follow-up and activity will be a minimum of 3 -45 minute blocks.


Students must be familiar with the basic theory regarding the creation of the universe and ensuing process of solar system and planet building. Introductory lectures should cover this material. The write/draw activity in which students are asked to cartoon the solar system creation process as they understand it should take place prior to this activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

In-Class Activities

Listed materials will be provided. Students are directed to pick any materials they need to complete their model and to work collaboratively to build it. After the models are completed, they will be exhibited for all to see. Individual reports are assigned for students to describe and critique each model.

At Home Assignments

Prior to activity working pairs are established and specific assignment is made. Students are advised to start brainstorming to plan their strategy. They are encouraged to bring in any materials they wish to add to the mix.


Materials list (feel free to amend):
Construction paper
Glitter (silver, gold, blue)
Styrofoam balls and sheets various sizes
Paint and brushes
Lint – dust
Packing peanuts
Shredded paper
Bubble wrap


This activity touches on learning standards including Earth's structure, Heat transfer , and the Earth in the Solar System

Teaching Notes and Tips

As stated previously, introductory lecture and write/draw activity should be completed prior to assignment of this activity. Materials are limited only by cost, availability, and imagination. The timetable building and displaying the models is 2-3 45 minute blocks (minimum).


Informally- the models themselves will exhibit knowledge of the material (or not) as well as instructor circulating and questioning during the building process.
Formally – students will be required to individually complete a short summary report on what each model 1. should depict and 2. how accurately it does that. In addition, formal assessment takes place as information is tested on unit test.

References and Resources

Creating the Solar System – step by step --Discussion  

G'Day Karen:

Some general thoughts as a non-scientist reading through this.

1. SUMMARY: You mention that this is "ongoing" even today, giving the impression that it is occurring in other solar systems as we speak. I think it is important to realise that the different stages of the process are even occurring right now in our OWN solar system. It's a non-linear process even within our own system. (e.g. things are still being hit with objects, and I am sure there are still bits of gas particles floating around glomming together, and I am sure gravity is doing things to objects in the Kuiper belt still, and all that.) SO ... you might want the kids to attach "range bars" to their models to show the time frame of their processes merging and spreading into each other's models or something.

2. Do you have a vision of how kids might make a 3-d dust cloud? Are all the steps possible to model in a practical sense for kids? (Give them the challenge, I am sure they will come up with wonderfully inventive approaches!)

3. It would be good to celebrate the kids' final product in some way by displaying it directly, or displaying photographs on the web.

A fine project. If the kids really get into it and work to do it well to model the true process as best they can, the results could be spectacular.




Share edittextuser=3827 post_id=12762 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=3641

Hiya Karen -

Producing models for steps of formation will certainly help students both understand and remember what they have been taught. Your activity, though, needs a lot more meat -- here are some questions that occurred to me while reading.

Where does the information on solar system formation come from?

How is it given to the students, and how are they guided to understand it?

How do you direct them to choose parts to model?

Do the teams work together to make a seamless series of models, or are they all separate?

How will you help them describe or show processes, and not just physical images?

Will you introduce the idea of uncertainty in this model and discuss which parts are best understood?

Do take care to move well beyond Wikipedia in your sources. Personally I like Wikipedia a lot but it should be a starting point, not an ending point.

I look forward to hearing how it goes!

all the best -



Share edittextuser=3776 post_id=12786 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=3641

Hello Karen -

I think that model making (like drawing or writing) allows one to express knowledge and also to further develop it through exposing uncertainties, conflicting ideas, and the like. For that reason it has real potential for students who are learning how the solar system formed (and is evolving).

To start on their models, students need to have quite a bit of knowledge already. The more concretely you plan how you will "get them there," the better. I know you plan a lecture. They may also need to integrate information from other sources.
Elaborating on your Learning Goal might be useful at this point. What, specifically, would a more complete understanding entail? Fleshing out the science in the Background section would also be a good move.

In the Assessment section, you note that the models will show what students know or don't. How about scheduling time for further research and discussion after this, so that students can clarify confusions and further develop their ideas? They can then "upgrade" their models accordingly.

It could be useful for kids to model "options" where different theories have been suggested.

I'll be interested to hear what the combination of lecture (and perhaps work with other sources) and modeling yeilds!



Share edittextuser=3872 post_id=12868 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=3641

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