Part 1-The Light in Our Night Sky...Stars

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SWBAT explain how the appearance and brightness of stars is due to their relative distance from the Earth.

Big Idea

Students will investigate how the distance of the stars contribute to the brightness that is seen on Earth.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Out of This World-A Journey Through Our Solar System unit focuses on students recognizing that Earth is a part of the “solar system” that includes the sun, planets, moons, and stars and is the third planet from the sun. Through models, investigations, graphing, and computer simulations, students learn that Earth revolves around the sun in a year’s time, and rotates on its axis once approximately every 24 hours. They make connections between the rotation of the earth and day/night, and the apparent movement of the sun, moon, and stars across the sky, as well as changes that occur in the observable shape of the moon over a month. The unit wraps up as students learn about the brightness of stars, patterns they create in the sky, and why some stars and constellations can only be seen at certain times of the year.

Lesson Synopsis

Part 1- The Light In Our Night Sky...Stars lesson begins with a projection of the night sky (using google sky) where students make five observations and then write five "I wonder"...questions based on what they are seeing. This leads them to conduct research about the characteristics of stars relating to size, brightness, distance, temperature, and types. Then, students investigate a star's distance in relation to its brightness with a flashlight activity. They use this experience to construct an explanation that the apparent brightness of stars is due to their relative distance from Earth.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

  • 5-ESS1-1: Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from Earth.


  • 5-ESS1-2: 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.

  • 5-PS2.1: Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.


Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices...

8.) Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating: Students conduct research on stars size, distance, brightness, kinds, and temperature. They use this information to construct an explanation that the apparent brightness of stars is due to their relative distance from Earth.


Crosscutting Concepts

The Part 2- The Light In Our Night Sky...Stars lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

1.) Patterns: Students use their research to reveal patterns that distinguish them based on brightness, distance, color, and how these patterns help organize them into groups.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System


Classroom Management Considerations

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


10 minutes

Sparking Curiosity

To begin, I project a portion of the galaxy using googlesky.  

nigh sky.

I ask students, "What do you see?" I want them to note the variety of stars. They create a t-chart in their interactive notebook, one side labeled observations, the other side questions. Under observations, I have them write down 5 observations of the image. Then, under questions, I have them write 5 "I wonder..." questions they want to know more about based on their observations. I want them to note the brightness, color, size, distance, etc. 

star observations and wonder


I note observations on the board. Then I use a ball and toss randomly to a student who shares one of his/her "I wonder..." questions. I write it on the board so others see it and to avoid it from being repeated. That student passes the ball to someone else who shares his/her "I wonder..." question.  The process continues until a sufficient amount of questions are on the board.  

We look over the questions. I tell them their next task is to find out more about  stars to answer these questions.


30 minutes

Exploring Stars

After listening to their questions about the stars brightness and color, I ask them to think about how the distance from Earth may affect the brightness and color of a star. I want them to start thinking about how distance might explain why some stars appear to be brighter than others.  

I explain to students that they are taking part in "Star Search,"where they are finding out details that will help them figure out an answer to the question I posed.

I point out the different research areas of the room where a Star is located. Each star indicates the particular topic they are researching on the chromebooks: What is a Star?, Types of Stars, Magnitude of a Star, and Luminosity of a Star.  

I have the students use the following websites for their research.

   Kids Astronomy     Stars    Ducksters-Astronomy for Kids 

  Magnitude of a Star    Luminosity of a Star     Our Universe for Kids

I explain they are rotating through each station to read and gathering details. They are recording these details on a Star Search graphic organizer which I hand out.  After reviewing directions, I hand them a card directing them to their first station. I do this so students are heterogeneously mixed.

I am circulating the room and checking in with students. At times, I work with small groups to monitor comprehension.

star search notes


20 minutes

Guided Discussion

We come together as a whole class and look over our "Star Search" graphic organizer. I ask students to think back to our questions at the start of the lesson and ask if any of them were answered. I ask for students to summarize what they learned about a star, its color, brightness, temperature, and distances.  I show them a video to help make these characteristics more concrete.



Bringing Our Research to Light

Then I have the students take a closer look at how a star's distance can impact our perception of its size. To demonstrate this, I use two flashlights (one large, one small) to represent two different sized stars. I have a student hold a large flashlight in the front of the room and another student hold a smaller one from the back of the room. The rest of the class has white boards which are used to write down their observations.

I darken the room and ask the student volunteers to shine the light on the class whiteboard. With the flashlights shining, I ask them to compare the two lights and write their observation down. Then I engage the class in a discussion based on their written observationsI want students to notice that the further away the light, the less bright it appears.  I explain that in the night sky we typically see varying brightness of stars.

Next, I have two different student volunteers hold the flashlights (big and small) side by side. Again students note their observations on their whiteboard and we discuss what they see.  I want them to recognize that the bigger flashlight is brighter than the smaller one at the same distance. I connect this to stars and help students conclude that bigger stars are brighter.

I make a point to clarify that we can't assume that a dim star we see in the sky is very far away. Our activity proves that when the light is closer to the board it appears brighter than the the light farther away, even though it was bigger. We discuss how this relates to the stars in the sky.


5 minutes

Showing Our Understanding

After discussing our observations of the flashlights and the connection to a stars appearance in the sky, I hand out an exit ticket called "Star Rating" to reflect on their understanding of today's lesson. There are four stars and students are asked to shade in the number of stars that reflects their level of understanding. I review the rubric defining what each number of stars means.  

Once they finish rating their understanding, I ask them to answer the same question I asked at the start of our research and write an explanation for why the apparent brightness of a star is due to its relative distance from Earth.

They continue working on this until the end of class or finish it for homework. I collect it and use as a formative assessment. 

I use the students' self-assessment rating to identify students who appear to be struggling with the concepts within today's lesson. I use this information to and create small groups to work with during our intervention block. This is a thirty minute block of time each day in our school that allows students to get extra help, remedial support, and/or work one on one for further instruction.