Sun distance

Developing understanding of the relative sizes of the Earth and Sun and the distance between them

Portugal, 5 years old

The teacher planned a range of creative activities to foster children’s understanding of the relative sizes of the Sun and the Earth and the distances between them, providing a variety of materials to represent the Sun and the Earth and the distance between them, giving them time to raise questions and offer ideas and explanations. For example the teacher set the problem: “If the Sun is represented by a ball what would the Earth’s size be and what would be the distance between them?” The children showed imagination in suggesting that the Earth could be represented by a grain and that ‘people would be the size of microbes’ making connections with prior knowledge.

The children were asked to use their hands to show the diameter of the ball (the Sun) and asked how many diameters would represent the distance between the Sun and the Earth. When the children learned that it would take around a hundred, they were fascinated. The teacher then gave the children one hundred pieces of paper, each roughly the length of the diameter, to model the distance between the Sun and the Earth out in the corridor. Through their own observations, the children noticed that the grain, which they had chosen to represent the Earth, could no longer be seen from the position of the ball, which represented the Sun. Subsequently, they reasoned that the distance between the Sun and the Earth was too great and the size of the Earth too small for it to be seen from the Sun.

Children’s curiosity was stimulated, they brought books about the theme, they talked with their parents and raised more questions. For example they brought in drawings where they tried to answer their own question “How did Copernicus find out that the Earth that moves around the Sun?”

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