Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the Beginning...

One of the concerns I had about educating my kids, was teaching subjects which were important, but that I didn't necessarily enjoy myself. I didn't want my lack of enthusiasm for a topic to influence them. So I made a decision to jump in with both feet, when it came to science in general, and astronomy specifically.

How could I make this interesting? How could I make this fun? So the first thing we did was take a trip to the Adler Planetarium. Shockingly, living here all my life, I had never been there.

I didn't want to try to do too much in that trip. Living so close, I knew there would be many more opportunities to visit. My goal was to be inspired, and to inspire the kids. To be awed and to want to know more. Mission accomplished. After seeing the big picture, literally, I got excited about "outer space." Hmm, maybe there was a correlation between my level of interest and my level of knowledge.

After teaching the kids some basic "stuff" like what's astronomy, what's a star, what's a satellite, and what's a planet (don't even get me started on Pluto. Can everyone please update your websites and books? It has been three years, ya know.), we embarked on building a model of the solar system (sans that "dwarf planet").

There were two main points I wanted to teach with our solar system model beyond knowing the names and order of the planets: the size of the planets in relation to each other, and the relative distance of the eight planets to the sun. My experience in school was that all the planets were pretty much the same size and pretty much equidistant from each other.

Why did I think this? Same reason I had no concept of the size of Alaska or Hawaii, nor where they existed on the globe. Gotta fit everything on one page!

Also, I didn't want the sun in the model. If we are going to have the sun, it's gotta be accurate, relatively, in size. And that's just not possible, unless I want Mercury to be microscopic, or move in to a bigger home.

To determine the scale we were going to use, we needed something that could be tiny enough to be Mercury, and large enough to be Jupiter. So we chose to use balloons--water balloons, birthday balloons, and punching balloons.

Here is our model, in this 41-second video: