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Name: Stephanie
Status: other
Grade: other
Location: NV
Country: N/A
Date: N/A


Question:
How would you describe and what are the distances of the common stars to third graders?


Replies:
Stephanie,

It is always difficult to explain extremely large distances or numbers to young children. One of the most common ways that these topics are taught is to reduce the scale to distances that they can understand. Here is a link to a question on explaining planetary distances:

http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/webpages/askasci/ast99/ast99624.htm

If you scale the distances down so that Mercury is now 1 inch from the sun instead of 10 yards, then the nearest star would still be 225,925 miles away. Since the Earth's circumference is 24,906 miles, you would have to circle the Earth 9.07 times! The distance to the moon is 238,857 miles, so the moon would be approximately where the nearest star is! Remember, this is only the nearest star and it take reducing down to this tiny scale to comprehend how far the closest star is (4.3 light years)! Other starts are millions of light years away--the logistics of trying to explain these distances are very difficult.

The same reasoning can be applied to explaining atoms as well--but this time, you have to increase the distances to the usable scale that they can comprehend.

Matt Voss


The third grade is not at a point of brain development to comprehend great distances. It is a waste of time to try. However, you can make arbitrary models to show distances. One that is simple, does not require much effort, but is actually inaccurate which I do not think is the point. Use a paper clip on the floor, and assuming you have floor tiles place the earth very close to the starting point. Illustrate the Sun by placing one at the other side of the room. The nearest star would be somewhere in the distance of the classroom window. The paper clip can not be seen without a large telecope.

That is about the best you can do pragmatically and realistically.

Steve Sample
Certified K-6 Teacher



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