In this course, you are going to engage in a series of investigations that are designed to reveal the nature of the Solar System and the objects it contains.  Each of these investigations poses a question to be answered by a small group.  At the end of each investigation, you should reach an evidence-based conclusion in answer to the question.  In our course at Penn State, we recommend and model the “claim, evidence, and reasoning” (CER) framework (McNeill & Krajcik 2012) for constructing responses to the investigation questions.  We also recommend that students keep all of their work on these investigations in a science notebook.  At Penn State, students previously used the Evernote software ( to keep their science notebook, as it allowed them to electronically share their notebooks with their group members and the instructors. In more recent offerings, we have shifted to using Microsoft OneNote, as it has similar features, but it required less support from the instructors.

As you complete each investigation, you can begin collecting your claims into your own “evidence bucket” in a science notebook.  Because you have supported your claims with evidence and reasoning, at the conclusion of each investigation you should take those claims as scientifically accurate understandings of the Solar System.  As you progress through the series of investigations, you should be looking for connections between the claims in your evidence bucket.  At the end of the set of investigations, you should be able to piece these together into a coherent science storyline that reveals a big idea about the Solar System.  Inevitably, there will be gaps in your storyline as you see other avenues for further investigation that would fill in your understanding of the Solar System, and those additional questions should be recorded even if they won’t be directly investigated in your course.  As you construct a storyline out of the claims from your evidence bucket, you should note where there are gaps in the storyline that could be filled in by further investigation.


Science Notebook Assignment

Create a notebook using the software recommended by your instructor, such as evernote.  Create a note called “Evidence Bucket”, and plan to add to that note after each investigation.

In this course, you will also engage in the practices of astronomy in your work on several of the investigations.  Often, these practices require scientists to make observations of the night sky over time, frequently with sophisticated equipment.  While you will make some observations of the sky directly, we will also make use of software to supplement these direct observations.  In particular, we recommend the use of the application Starry Night Enthusiast 8.  You will use this software as a data collection tool, allowing you to collect observations that would otherwise be impossible to do in the class because of the limitations of weather, time, and our inability to easily travel to other locations for another point of view.

State and national standards  addressed in the curriculum

These course materials grew out of work that the authors did as part of a National Science Foundation Targeted Math and Science Partnership award to Penn State for a project called The Earth and Space Science Partnership.  The original versions of the curriculum were presented to in-service science teachers from around Pennsylvania in a workshop format.  The workshop was offered four times, and it was iteratively improved upon based on the feedback from each year’s group of participants and instructors.  The final curriculum from the last offering of the workshop was then adapted into a course for pre-service teachers working towards their pre-K  to 4 and/or 4 to 8 teaching certifications at Penn State.  Because it was designed for current and future teachers, we used the Pennsylvania Standards for Science and Technology and the Next Generation Science Standards as guides for the curriculum design.

Pennsylvania Standards addressed in this curriculum

  • Standards that focus on investigations, models, using instruments, creating evidence based conclusions:
    • PA 3.3.2.A7 and 3.3.2.B3 (2nd Grade, Earth and Space Sciences),  3.3.4.A7 and 3.3.4.B3 (4th Grade, Earth and Space Sciences), 3.3.6.A7 and 3.3.6.B3 (6th Grade, Earth and Space Sciences), 3.3.8.A7 and 3.3.8.B3 (8th Grade, Earth and  Space Sciences)
  • Standards that focus on observing the Sun, Moon, planets, studying the properties of Solar System objects, using light to study objects in space, and using gravity to explain the properties of planetary orbits
    • PA 3.3.2.B1 (2nd Grade, Earth and Space Sciences),  3.3.4.B1 (4th Grade, Earth and Space Sciences), 3.3.6.B1  (6th Grade,  Earth and Space Sciences), 3.3.8.B1 (8th Grade, Earth and  Space Sciences), 3.3.10.B1 (10th Grade, Earth and  Space Sciences)

Next Generation Science Standards addressed in this curriculum

The curriculum was designed using many of the same ideas used to construct the Next Generation Science Standards.  In particular, the investigations are designed to focus on science practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

  • 1-ESS1-1:   Use observations of the Sun, Moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted
  • 3-PS2-2:  Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.
  • 5-PS2-1:  Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.
  • 5-ESS1-1:   Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.
  • MS-ESS1-1:  Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.
  • MS-ESS1-2:  Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system.
  • MS-ESS1-3:   Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system.


Resources for further reading

Students who have never or who have rarely been asked to keep a science notebook are often not sure what to be recording in their notebooks.  We recommend that students look through some of the decades of notebooks of scientist Linus Pauling, which have been scanned and are posted by the libraries of Oregon State University.