Plotting the Stars
Updated: Jan 5, 2019
Introduce the life cycle of a star with this hands-on activity
I love space. It has always been one of the most fascinating subjects for me to learn about and teach, so much so that in my college writing class I chose to write about black holes for my 15 page research paper! Students often have a difficult time visualizing certain aspects of space (like distances, sizes, temperatures) because they are so much larger than our everyday units of measurement. A unit on space is the perfect time to learn about why scientists use models and scales. If you teach middle/high school science you know that one of the standards is to cover the life cycle of stars. In previous years when I've taught students about the HR (Herschel Russell) diagram they look at the scatter-plot with a blank stare as I try to describe the relationships between various star properties. How much more fun would it be to have the students create the HR diagram together with a giant scatter-plot?!
In this activity, each student receives a star with specific properties (luminosity, temperature, mass, color). I began by setting up the labels on a large part of the classroom wall (about six feet by six feet). Then I set out the stars of various colors and sizes on student desks with a matching Star Fact Card. The students were intrigued as soon as they walked in to class! I instructed the students to locate the correct place on the scatter-plot for their star based on the temperature and luminosity presented on their Star Fact Card. (This part was a great review of exponents since students had to convert their numbers to scientific notation.) There was great collaboration as some of my advanced students assisted those who were struggling. I also loved seeing that light-bulb moment when my students realized the difference in size between our sun and other larger stars such as Betelgeuse.
After students work together to create the scatter-plot they complete a discussion worksheet where they are asked to relate properties, such as luminosity and temperature, to each other. I find that students are much more likely to participate in a group discussion if they already have some personal experience with the topic, so I wait until after we make the scatter-plot and allow students to help explain what they just created! This #flippedclassroom approach helps students take more ownership of their learning and come to conclusions on their own! We concluded the activity with a class discussion about the actual HR diagram and the life cycles that stars go through. To see more about this activity CLICK HERE!
If you like this activity you might also want to check out my "Scaling Space" digital interactive slides activity. These Google slides allow students multiple different contexts to see the scale of space and create a scaled model of the sun and the planets. Click here to see my Scaling Space lesson & activity.