The Great Lessons

The Beginning - The First Great Lesson

Teacher Preparation


The Beginning

Follow Up

Key Lessons

Journal Suggestions

Language Cards



Upper Elementary

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Teacher Preparation

A fellow teacher and I laughed when we were asked early in our teaching careers what book we were reading. Our reading at that time always consisted of some nonfiction hundred page volume on the universe, evolution, early humans or other various broad histories. You should be immersed in the same way so that your mind is properly prepared to lead students to find answers and to help them expand their knowledge. Many students will know a lot so you must be prepared to help broaden them.

My advise is to read The Universe Story by Thomas Berry up to where life appears. He writes in story form which may help you to tell the story in story form. I have also read and enjoyed A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings.

Books that look good that are more recent: One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos by Neil De Grasse Tyson and others, Hubble Vision: Further Adventures with the Hubble Telescope, The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg and After the First Three Minutes by T. Padmanabhan.

If you have an existing class then I strongly urge you to do The Beginning on the first day. If you are taking over an existing class then you might want to do some community building before leaping into work, but I think I would let the work form the community.

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You can have a hot plate to show how solids turn to liquid and then to gas. I don't until later in experiments.

The Classroom

My assistant takes the students outside and does organized games for about 20 minutes while I set up and get in the mood. You could set up ahead if you didn't have an assist.

When the students enter the room (they know the lesson's volcano is a surprise and would never tell)

I have soft music on (harp) and the new students enter first sitting close to my lesson rug - the second year sit behind them and the third year students sit on chairs behind. They love this honor. Tell the story slowly and allow for questions - actually ask questions and draw out the answers. Celebrate how knowledgeable the third year students are and treat all questions equally unless they are totally off topic and then I smile and go on to others.

Although I encourage answers to all questions and try to answer any questions students ask, this is the most formal of all my lessons. The Beginning of All Time deserves a sense of awe and mystery.

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The Beginning

What did you see while outside today? ( students reply: Trees, sunlight, grass, birds). What do we see at night? (stars, the moon, darkness). Well, in the beginning, there was nothing. People did not exist, cities did not exist, animals did not exist, even the Earth itself did not exist. There was nothing. No stars, no mountains, no rivers, no oceans, nothing. There was only great space which had no beginning and no end. All was dark; so dark that our darkest night would seem like brilliant sunshine. It was so cold that ice would seem warm. ( I move the balloon slowly back and forth as I speak)

(Pop Balloon) Suddenly - in an instant of great energy - a force brought the whole universe into being. Time began and particles appeared. So tiny were these particles that even the smallest specks of dust would seem large next to them. (Light the candle.) There was now light - light greater than we can imagine. So intense was the heat that all matter - iron, gold, rocks, water - existed as a gas. The particles raced around in chaos and when they rammed into each other, they ceased to exist. Our universe may have disappeared in that instant, as quickly as it had appeared, but the universe cooled just enough and the force, something that cannot be seen, but which has great power, began to draw these particles together. Protons, neutrons and electrons, as these particles came to be called, began to join together and the elements of Hydrogen and Helium were formed. These elements would soon transform this chaotic universe. Five billion years had passed. (pause and look down)

Over the next 5 billion years the particles continued to join together unable to resist the force. Paper experiment: pour the water into the rectangular bowl

Add the cut bits of paper slowly (encourage students to pick one bit or a group of bits to watch. No blowing or touching - The Force will do it.)

Watch how some of bits come together - this is the force at work. Look also for bits that seem to repel each other - this is also the force at work. Galaxies appeared and as they collided, stars of great energy were born. Our Milky Way has a hundred billion stars and our sun is only one of them. Our galaxy is not a typical galaxy - only spiral galaxies are rich in the metals our kind of life needs.

When we look up in the sky we see millions of stars, but every star we can see is in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Even the stars of our own galaxy are so far apart that it takes the light of some stars millions of years to reach us. If the stars were placed on our Earth, the closest star to us would be in Australia and there would only be room for those two stars on Earth. The stars stretch out to fill the whole space of our universe. ( This can be shown on the globe)

Do you know how fast light travels? (One hundred miles? Two hundred miles? A thousand miles an hour) Light travels 186,000 miles in one second. Imagine how fast that is! It means that in one second light can travel around the earth seven times or 25,000 miles. If we drove around the earth driving at 100 miles per hour without ever stopping to rest, it would take us 10 days and 10 nights to drive around the earth seven times. Light can do all that in one second! You can snap your fingers and light has already gone around the earth seven times. Now you can imagine how far the stars are from Earth when it takes their light millions of years to reach us. (I try to move my hand around the globe as the students snap one second.)

Fifty million years ago in another cosmic instance, our sun was born out of the clumps of particles being pulled together. (sun chart or pull a real picture off the web) When the fiery cloud that was to become our sun was born it was a million times larger than it is today, but not so big that it would become a blue giant and explode. Its size was just big enough to guarantee it a long, energy giving life. As the particles came together small clumps remained free from the pull of the sun. These particles began to follow the laws of space and each pulled together. The planets of our solar system were born and began to spin and move on a fixed path. The blue pearl that was to become Earth had begun its journey. (solar system chart)

There are so many stars, that scientists calculate that if each of them were one grain of sand, they would cover all the states from Virginia to New York 200 meter high! One of those stars, one of those grains of sand from among the thousands of billions of grains of sand, is our sun and one millionth part of this one grain is our earth. ( I put some sand on my finger tip and we try to count how many stars this would be while holding up the meter stick)

Does anyone know why the sun looks so small? (answers) The sun looks smaller than Earth because it is so far away. It takes light 8 minutes to reach us from the sun. If we were to travel to the sun at 100 miles per hour, it would take us 106 years to reach the sun. In fact, the sun is 1 million times bigger than Earth. The sun is so big that one flame from the sun could contain 22 Earths. It became our sun 5 billion years ago and will continue glowing for at least 5 billion more before its energy collapses and leaves our world in coldness. (chart showing Earth against sun)

When it first began to form, the Earth was so hot that it was just made of whirling gasses. As the Earth spun in space it began to cool quickly as its size is so small. The particles at the outer edge became cold and they shrank, huddling together they hurried toward the center of the earth. They then became hot though and as they became hotter they expanded and hurried back toward the edge - the coolness of space. For hundreds of million of years this dance continued. Finally, the particles cooled and settled down. The heavier particles sank to form the core, the lesser particles formed the mantle and the lightest particles remained on the outside and slowly formed a crust.

I have 3 liquids here of different weights:

Pour colored water in, then honey and watch how it sinks to the bottom.

Pour in the oil and watch it float. This is the force at work

I can shake this mixture and before the end of the day it will settle again with the heaviest at the bottom and the lightest at the top - the laws of the force are very powerful and all must obey

The particles assumed three different states - that of solid, liquid, and gas. Everything we know, every particle that exists on Earth is either a solid, liquid or gas. Their state only depends on how hot or cold they are. ( I do not introduce plasma in this lesson - only states of matter on Earth)

In the solid state, particles are very attracted and love each other, they hold together so tightly that they are impossible to separate. They form a body that will not alter its shape unless one applies force. If a particle is broken off, as when a stone is broken, all the pieces still cling together and remain a stone. ( show rocks)

In the liquid state, the particles hold together, but not so tightly. They have no shape of their own, but fill every hollow. They push sideways, and downwards, but never upwards. This is why we can put our hand in water, but not inside a rock. (bb's are a wonderful example of liquid molecules) The particles of gases do not cling together at all. They move freely in all directions. (gas) All the particles in space obey these laws. ( we wait until everyone smells the gas)

The heaviest particles on Earth sank to the center of the planet. They became solid because of the great pressure Earth exerts on its core. The mantle, between the core and the crust remained liquid and it was very hot. This molten rock wanted to expand; it wanted to rise up to where it was cooler, but the crust was blocking its way. So it burst out! (pour the vinegar into the volcano)

Volcanoes exploded all over Earth and a great cloud covered our world. (volcano chart) When the hot particles had finished their explosions Earth cooled again and rains fell. The water that fell became gas and formed more clouds above the earth. These clouds hid the sun and allowed Earth to cool again. The gasses became liquids and more and more liquids became solids. It rained and rained and rained; furious storms raged over the land and the water filled in all the hollows. Lakes, rivers, ponds and oceans were formed. The earth became wrinkled as it cooled, like an old potato. The wrinkles became mountains and the hollows became the oceans. Finally the clouds disappeared. The sun smiled down on this new Earth. Everything was beautiful and life was ready to begin. (beautiful Earth chart)

The students all go outside with a few always requesting to help me clean up. Most years they spontaneously clap when the lesson is done and often they ask if the volcano can explode again. I, of course, oblige. Usually I can do all this before lunch, but if busses were really messed up it might even be time to go home.

If not we explore the kinds of work we do in our class - I have the shelves arranged by subject area and we talk about each group of shelves: math, word problems, language (grammar, word study, reading, spelling, geography, and history), research and geometry. If we have time everyone goes to work, recording what they do in their diary. Hopefully they go home excited about their first Great Lesson and have stimulating ideas are flowing.

I leave all experiments in the room for as long as they hold interest.

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Follow Up

So the first Great Lesson is over and now is the critical time. The class can turn to language, math and other traditional subjects or you, the guide, can help to keep the energy going. The day after the the Great Lesson I have written a journal, or statement, (see Journal Suggestions) on a white board (I have a six foot white board on the floor). I usually choose something about volcanoes as this helps give the first graders a certain amount of previous knowledge when starting their research. I usually end the journal with some questions to direct their reading and have books pertinent to the subject in front.

This is the first work of the day.The students record the entry with the date in their daily diary - the older helping the younger - and look in the books to find interesting facts and pictures. They then partner up, older to younger, and look at neat pictures with the older students reading to the younger until everyone has arrived and most are done copying. It is okay for an older student to write some the words for a younger - this should not be overwhelming. I do expect all to copy every word, but I will sit beside a struggling student and tell them letters or take turns writing. I try to do all volcano journals in one week, and then go on to another topic that has come up through our discussions. The volcano books then move to the research shelf and new books on plate tectonics, galaxies or whatever appear the following week.

After everyone is almost done copying and some begin to wander, we sit in circle. First we read the journal and questions out loud; I ask for volunteers. It is very exciting when first year students begin to raise their hands to read. Then we talk about what everyone has found. I ask if anyone has found anything exciting in their reading. (The students usually have the books in their hands that I left out.) This is your opportunity to talk about what they found out, what draws their interest and expand on it. You need to know what is in the books so you can ask students to find other answers or pictures that show topics more clearly. You can expand on what they have found. These discussions lead the child into thinking so encourage their questions and ask more in return. When you feel interest waning take 2 more questions and then get to work. ( We stay for 30 -45 minutes.) Anyone not done stays with me or my assistant and finishes. We then go do our math, language, cursive, flash cards and choice.

I do journals several days on pertinent topics (ideas for journals follow) - plate tectonics, earthquakes, black holes, whatever - discussing every day. Older students may have already chosen a topic to research and this is fine. When I feel enough interest and knowledge has been gained, I put a bunch of books and materials on the floor and talk about research. I explain that one of the most exciting works in the elementary is research. Research is when the student picks a topic, reads a book or two on it, and take notes on what he/she thinks is important. After the student finds out everything the student can, he tells me and I edit the notes. Computer research is strongly encouraged - see I then stop the journals until the next Great Lesson.

I pick one book and read a paragraph, close it and ask what was important. The book can't be too simple or it's hard to summarize, but if it is too hard, everyone will be overwhelmed, so pick carefully. We write a very simple report together and then I ask everyone to pick a topic through the day. I have a list of their names on the wall white board and list their research after their name. This allows me to check off those ready to be edited and I can't lose the list... . (They can let me know during the day so they can look in the books if they want.) I suggest that all new students work together on their first report so I can help them, but every once in a while a new student will work with a returning student on the first reports. When everyone has written one report and presented them, I tell them to choose a new partner. I request that every report has new partners - they can work alone, but not more than three. Of course you have to have a good selection of resources on the shelves that pertain to The Beginning for their research. ( I have enclosed a list of a few of my favorite books, but in today's world there's no end to good resources for young people.)

In my room the second graders have been assigned the first research of the Solar System for several years. I don't remember how it started, but I do find it has its good points. That being that each planet has a finite number of facts and I have a great outline with questions that can help them focus - remember they were just first graders last year. Many bring in pages printed out from home computers and often they are overwhelmed with this amount of information. I have them take a highlighter and mark any interesting parts instead of taking notes. They do still have to read a book though to find out other things. Each student takes a different planet - during reports a third grader may step up to fill in a few interesting details about any planet that is not researched. This also allows me to observe who has not yet developed or retained skills from last year. The negative is that they do not choose their first research.

I work with the first graders - almost always on volcanoes - in pairs. We usually do big pieces of construction paper and write our results on it with pictures. They take turns reading to me, we talk about what they read. We put it in our own words. I write it on a white board - they copy. I put capitals and punctuation - but often, they do not see it - leave their finished report alone - it's their work. Everything comes in time. Observe, take notes, remind and point out these details in future reports or work these things into their language. This is how I assess every first grader on reading and comprehension in the first few weeks.

The other students are reading their books and taking notes. The third graders are off researching whatever - galaxies, stars, constellations, the moon, plate tectonics, igneous rocks...., If a student copies then I remind them this is plagiarism and we read the book and rewrite together. The second time an older student copies, I throw it away and tell them to begin again. I organize their notes into paragraphs on a small 2 foot by 18" foot white board and add details. They always know a lot more then they have taken notes on so I ask question, pull out facts and interesting things and add them. I usually have 4 reports in various stages of progression at a time. When they are finished, they make a cover and decorate it, find graphics to show and write three questions from their reports with answers. If a student is an advanced researcher, I just highlight the parts that go into each paragraph, edit caps and punctuation and they recopy.

When a report is done, they practice reading what they wrote every day for a week. In the beginning of the year my assist listens to them, but in the middle they just read to each other, finding us if they do not know the words. We do formal reports on Friday afternoons with a microphone. I try to do 5 or 6 reports every Friday, so I don't start reports until I have 10 -12 done. Often they get ahead of me when they start doing very long reports later in the year. Students often have 3 pages written in small cursive about their topic. It's hard to convince them to write less when there is so much to know. When they finish reading, they ask the audience their questions to see who was listening. When everyone is done, the presenters come forward and ask for audience questions. This is when the best thinking takes place as often the students know much more then can begin to write. I help only if the question is way over their head or I feel more details need to be added or if I can ask a question that leads to more details. Last year in the first reports a student asked what would happen if two Black Holes came near each other. Everyone loved that question and still talk about it once in a while. We invite parents and sometimes other classrooms. We have a celebration snack afterwards

So how to make time??? Every day I give a math lesson or review to a small group, rotating students so that everyone sees me as equally as possible. Obviously students who struggle in math see me more that those who don't. Then I give a language lesson to another group - we rotate grammar or sentence analysis, writing, word study and reading work each week. In the beginning of the year, I give a cursive and flash card lessons, but later I drop this unless necessary. Then I start research. I was once told that you should give lessons in every topic every day to show that all work is equally important. Some teachers give certain kinds of lessons on different days, but I find this too restrictive. I do sometimes get bogged down with correcting work or going over work that is incorrect. We talk a lot about doing our best effort so Ms. B has time to do research instead of reteaching things they should have paid attention to the first time. They love research so I don't have to remind them often.

It takes me 3 weeks to get enough reports ready. I finish as many of the first graders up as I can and then go to third so that the first reports are a mixture. They report for two weeks while I work with those planet reports. Then in the third week all the planets combine to do their report. Please do not forget art. All the first make either a clay volcano or a great picture with exploding glitter pens - we have made a mural in other years. Parents often bring a volcano cake with sparklers for our snack. The seconds either make a mural or make a solar system on a round table or make their own planets out of balloons and paper machee.

During planet reports I have a very large sun that almost fills the circle area of our room. A first grader revolves around the sun holding a representation of the planet while the second grader reads their report. This helps the firsts sit still during such an extended period of time. We then all go outside to do the rope. (See key lessons.)

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Key Lessons and general ideas for follow up work

Do not try give all the lessons every year - rotate through 3 years

Lessons on Igneous Rock ( I save the sedimentary rocks for after the Timeline of Life and add metamorphic and the rock cycle later)

Lessons on the Composition of Earth

Lessons on the oceans or atmosphere or mountain formation

Lessons on the moon

Lessons on the Composition of other planets

Timelines on daily Earthquakes or volcanoes, when spacecraft's went into space

Maps on where volcanoes are found - ring of fire or how the continents have moved through time

Read stories on Pompeii and other volcanoes and write your own to read to the class.

Read about Pele and the myths of Hawaii or other volcano myths to read to class.

Talk about having fun because we control our bodies first. Then go outside and spin around the sun. Be planets.

Go outside and come together. It's so hot - we want to explode. Explode. Go to space. It's cold. We need to huddle together.

Rope of solar system:

One child is the sun and holds the end of the rope. Students then double up at the knots and walk around the sun - well actually Pluto has to run and the inner planets crawl. Then we switch - I had to move Pluto in as our playground is not big enough. You can also rotate half way if space prohibits a full rotation. This is lots of fun!

Relative Planet Size:

Graph: Planet rotation, size, number of moons, time to rotate or revolve, distance from sun, your weight,

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Journal Suggestions

Be sure to follow anything that comes up from the students - ideas only

I do 1 to three entries / week - more when we start something new - less as the year goes on

I have books already pulled for them to puruse.

Today is the first day of a new school year. I am in _______________ & __________ classroom. What kind of a classroom do I want? What is important to me?

Volcanoes are places where hot, melted rock called magma comes up from under the crust through the vent. The magma becomes lava when it cools. Can you name all the parts of the volcano? What are the three types of volcanoes?

What is a volcano that erupted in North America? What is a volcano that erupted in South America?

Can you find one for every continent? Record names and dates. You may want to mark them on a map.

Plate tectonics is a theory that states that the continents are broken up into pieces that float on the magma of the mantle. The movement of these plates causes subduction, collisions and pulling apart. What are all the names of the parts of the Earth? Can you find the names of the major plates?

Earth's crust is divided into two different types: the continental is made out of granite and the oceanic is made out of basalt. As granite is lighter than basalt, the oceanic crust is heavier. When subduction occurs between an oceanic and continental plate, the oceanic plate goes under the continental. Often a volcano erupts here. Find a good picture of this. What kind of movement causes an earthquake?

Can you find earthquakes on every continent? Compare plate locations to earthquake activity. Do you see something interesting?

Are there volcanoes that occur that do not involve plate movement? Can you name one state that is the result of this activity in the United States?

Granite is the oldest rock on Earth. It can be billions of years old. Basalt comes from cooled magma so it is an igneous rock. The oldest piece of basalt is only 200 million years old. What are the other kinds of igneous rocks? What causes some of them to look like glass? What causes bubble? What causes sparkles?

There are two types of Igneous rocks. Can you find out what they are?

Is it possible to see the past? How long ago did what we see happen on other planets? On the sun? On the moon?

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Language cards

Copy into your word processor and
enlarge into matching cards.

Set 1: Volcano Cards


Liquid rock forming in an underground chamber.

The three kinds of volcanoes.

Shield, Cinder and Composite

Shield Volcanoes

The magma made out of basalt is fast moving. The sides of the volcanoes slope gently and look like a saucer turned upside down. They usually form slowly over many eruptions. (Kilauea in Hawaii)

Cinder Cone

These volcanoes are made out of chunks of rocks, ashes and andesite cinders called tephra. The cinders pile up like a giant sand pile that looks like a cone . It usually has a crater at the top. It usually forms in one eruption. (Paricutin in Mexico)

Composite Volcanoes

This volcano is made of both cinders and lava. The lava is slow moving and thick and forms giant volcanoes. Most disasters caused by volcanoes like this. ( Mt. Fuji, Japan)


Foaming globs of lava that cool in the air to form ashes, cinders and small rocks.


When a magma chamber empties during an eruption, the top falls inside the volcano. It forms a huge basin that may form a lake. (Yellowstone National Park)


What liquid rock or magma is called once it comes out of the volcano


When water mixes with ash and cinders, a giant mud flow is formed. It can cover a whole town and then harden like cement when dry.


When an earthquake is underwater, a giant ocean wave can be caused. It can travel up to 100 miles away from where it started and can be up to 100 feet high.


When underground water flows over the hot rocks above the magma chamber, it becomes very hot. Hot water expands so pressure builds up and finally the water explodes out.

Olympus Mons

The largest known volcano. It is on Mars and may be extinct.

Set 2: Plate Tectonics


Mountains in Europe caused by plates crashing into each other.


Where two plates are moving past each other. This movement may cause earthquakes.

North American Plate

The tectonic plate that contain most of North America. The Pacific Coast is on a different plate.

Pacific Plate

The tectonic plate under the Pacific Ocean.


The super continent that was mostly one piece of land. It started to break up 200 million years ago.

Ring of Fire

The area around the Pacific Ocean where many volcanoes and earthquakes occur.

San Andreas Fault

The break in the crust between the Pacific plate and the North American Plate. They are moving in opposite directions.


A machine that records how the ground moves during an earthquake

Set 3: Rocks

( I put rock samples in with these cards)

Igneous Rocks

Igneous rocks are formed directly from magma or lava. They make up more than 65% of the Earth's crust.

Extrusive Igneous

These igneous rocks are made from lava that cooled above the Earth.

Intrusive Igneous

These rocks are formed from magma inside the Earth.


An igneous rock that can hold a lot of gas. It is explosive when it erupts.


An igneous rock that does not hold a lot of gas. It is the rock that forms the ocean floor. It is extrusive and is made from runny lava. It is the most common igneous rock.


This is the rock that makes up most of the continents. It is an intrusive rock, forming deep within the Earth. It is lighter than basalt so the ocean crust goes under the continental crust.


It is the most unusual of all igneous rocks. It is made from thick, slow-moving lava that has a lot of gas so it is extrusive. This rock can float in water.


This is not a rock from the Earth's crust. It is scraped off the underside of a subducting ocean plate so it is rare. It is a rock of the deep mantle.

Set 4: Space Exploration

(I put the Mercury book on the shelf with these cards - see resources)

Sputnik I

The first satellite that the Soviet Union launched into space.

Explorer I

The first satellite that the United States launched into orbit in 1961.

Yuri Gagarin

The first human to go to space in 1961 was a Russian. He made one orbit around the Earth. The Vostik I was the rocket that launched him.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

The organization that is in charge of the United States space effort

Project Mercury

The U. S. Space program began in 1958 with this project. The Soviet Union and the United States competed to be the first to get a human into space.

The seven astronauts in Project Mercury.

Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Donald Slayton. Only Donald Slayton did not go into space.

The Mercury spacecraft

The Mercury capsule was launched by the Redstone Rocket. It was small and it wasn't until the second flight that a window was added so the astronauts could look out

Ham the chimpanzee

The first passenger in the U. S. Space mission in 1960. His flight lasted 18 minutes. He did very well and landed safely.

Alan B. Sheppard and Virgil Grissom.

The first two Americans to go into space. They did not orbit the Earth, but remained high in the Earth's atmosphere where they experienced weightlessness for about 5 minutes

John Glenn

The first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in 1962. He made three orbits and stayed in space for 5 hours.

Scott Carpenter and Walter Schirra.

The next two astronauts to orbit the Earth just three months after John Glenn.

Gordon Cooper

The last Mercury astronaut to go into space in 1963. He stayed in space for a whole day. He orbited the Earth 19 times. Gordon had to land the spacecraft all by himself when his control system failed.

Set 5: Space Exploration

(Gemini Book)

Project Gemini

This project had the goal of proving that humans could spend more time in space.

The Gemini Spacecraft

This spacecraft could hold two astronauts. The Titan II launched it into space. The doors could now be opened so that the astronauts could work outside the spacecraft in space.

The Gemini astronauts

White and McDivitt, Cooper and Conrad, Armstrong and Scott, Cernan and Stafford, and Stafford and Schirra.

Gemini 3

Grissom and Young from the Mercury Project were the first to be launched in 1965. They changed the path of the orbit and tested the controls for 5 hours and then returned to Earth.

Gemini IV

In 1965 McDivitt and White went on a 4 day mission. They tried to catch a piece of the Titan rocket that had launched them, but were unsuccessful. They did learn a lot about how to pilot a spacecraft. White took the first spacewalk. He had a tether and drifted around the spacecraft for 21 minutes.

Gemini V

Conrad and Cooper spent 8 days in space and orbited the Earth 120 times. This trip proved that humans could stay in space long enough to go to the moon.

Gemini VI and VII

Schirra and Staffor had the job of finding and docking with Borman and Lovell on Gemini VII. They came within 1 foot of each other.

Gemini missions VIII, IX, X, XI and XII

These missions all had problems, but the astronauts showed they were ready to go to the moon. They had practiced docking, spacewalks and changing orbits.

Project Apollo

The Apollo spacecraft

The Saturn V rocket was made up of three stages: the first and second stage launched the spacecraft into space and the third stage put the spacecraft into orbit and then on its course to the moon.

Set 6: Space Exploration (Apollo book)

Apollo I

This mission was the first tragedy of the Apollo mission. A spark inside the spacecraft caused a fire during training . Astronauts White, Grissom and Chaffee were killed in the fire.

Apollo 7

The mission stayed in space for 10 days. Schirra, Cunningham and Eisele went through every procedure that would be needed to go to the moon. Their mission was so successful that it was decided to send Apollo 8 to the moon.

Apollo 8

Apollo 8 was launched on December 24, 1968 with Borman, Lovell and Anders on board. It reached the moon three days later and orbited the moon for 20 hours before safely returning on December 27. The dark side of the moon was finally observed.

Apollo 9 and 10

These missions tested the lunar module first in orbit around Earth and then while in orbit around the moon. The lunar module separated successfully from the command module and flew to within 10 miles of the moon's surface. Then they had to return.

Apollo 11

On July 16, 1969 Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin left Earth for the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin rode the lunar module to the moon's surface. When Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the moon he said, " That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." They spent 2 ½ hours on the moon.

Apollo 12

Conrad, Gordon and Bean were on the next mission. Their job was to find the Surveyor 3 spacecraft that had been landed on the moon 2 years earlier and see how it had survived being on the moon. They also collected 74 pounds of moon rocks.

Apollo 13

Lovell, Swigert and Haise were on their way to the moon when an explosion shook their spacecraft. The astronauts had to abandon their command module and move into the lunar module which still had oxygen. They were very lucky to survive and get back to Earth safely.

Apollo 14

Six months later, Shepard, Roosa and Mitchell were on the moon. Shepard was the first person in space during Project Mercury and now he was the first person to hit a golf ball on the moon.

Apollo 15 and 16

On these missions astronauts used a lunar rover to explore the moon further away from their lunar module. They traveled to the moon's mountains to gather old rocks. A top speed of 11 miles an hour was reached with this rover.

Apollo 17

This was the last mission to the moon. Cernan was the last astronaut to walk on the moon. The Apollo astronauts had collected more than 800 pounds of moon rocks and taught scientists a lot about the origins of the moon.

The Apollo-Soyuz mission

In this mission the Apollo 18 spacecraft linked up with a Russian spacecraft, the Soyuz 19. The Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts shook hands.

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There are so many books out there for children I hesitate to even include a list, but these are a few of our favorites:

Big Picture Science
Priscilla Spears

Our Universe: A Guide to What's Out There
Russel Stannard
ISBN 1 - 85697 - 551 - 7

Star Factories: The Birth of Stars and Planets
Ray Jayawardhana
Raintree Steck-Vaugn
ISBN 0 7398 2222 5

The Stars
Cynthia Pratt Nicolson
Kids Can Press
ISBN 1 55074 659 6

The Stars: Lights in the Night Sky
Jeanne Bendick
The Millbrook Press Inc
ISBN 1878841 48 3

Hubble Space Telecope
Mark Voit
Harry N Abrams Inc.
ISBN 0 8109293 6

The Universe is My Home
Bill and Sally Fletcher
Science & Art Publishing
ISBN 0 9634622 02

The Birth of the Earth
The Dawn of Life
ISBN 1 55337 081 3

The Stick and Stone Age
Jacqui Bailey & Matthew Lilly
Kids Can Press

Born with a Bang
Jennifer Morgan
Dawn Publications
ISBN 1 584690 32 1

The Horse and the Iron Ball Jerry Georgiana Allen
Lerner Publications
0 822521 56X

Our Amazing Planet Earth Science Book ( Black masters for models)
Caleb Crowell
Educational Design Company

The Amazing Earth Model Book
Came with a kit on the Earth - great model of the 3 kinds of volcanoes
Donald M. Silver & Patricia J. Wynne
Scholastic Professional Books ISBN 0-590-93089-3

Geology Demonstration Kit (mountains)
You can make cards so the students can form fault and folded mountains
Jubbard Scientific

Earthquake and Volcanoes (Blacken Master: flip Books)
Ruth Deery
Good Apple Inc. ISBN 0-86653-272-2

Planet Origami
Steve & Megumi Biddle
Barron's ISBN 0 53 05859-X

My Place in Space Great incentive to learn about our full address
Robin & Sally Hirst
Orchard Books ISBN 0 531 05859-X

Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea and Sky
Vivian L. Thompson
University of Hawaii Press ISBN 0 8248 1171 2

Pele: Goddess of Hawaii's Volcanoes - adult reading, but good for making up stories
Herb Kawainui Kane
Kawainui Press ISBN 0 943357 00 4

Pompeii...Buried Alive
Edith Kunhardt
Random House ISBN 0 394 88866 9

Black Holes and other Phenomena
Philip Steele
Scholastic Books ISBN 0 590 63254 X

Stars ISBN 0 688 09237 3
Comets Meteors and Asteroids ISBN 0 688 12709 6
Seymore Simon
Mulberry Books

First on the Moon
Barbara Herner
Madison Press Books ISBN 0 7868 1407 1

Moonwalk: First Trip to the Moon
Judy Donnelly
Random House ISBN 0 394 82457 1

Atlas of the Earth: First Discovery Book
Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0 590 96211 6

How Mountains are Made
Kathleen Weidner Zoehfield
Harper Collins ISBN 0 06 02509 3

Project Mercury ISBN 0 516 20443 2
Project Gemini ISBN 0 516 20441 6
Project Apollo ISBN 0 516 20435 1
Diane & Paul P. Sipera
Children's Press


Kileuea (Video of Volcanoes) I also do plate tectonics and planet videos
John I Kjargaard
KAIO Productions
PO Box 909
Volcano, Hawaii 06785

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The child should have to gather the materials for each experiment.

The materials, however, should be available and in good condition.

Possible ideas for presentation:

  1. Laminated cards with different categories of experiments on different colors.
  2. Rotate experiment cards through the year.
  3. Have an experiment day with a parent rotating students through particular lessons. I've done this for four years.
  4. Give lessons to capable students and then let them give lessons to groups.
  5. Two sets of cards: One with experiment - child writes up what they observed and learned. The second has experiment with written explanation - they compare and write true explanation for their experiment if they were incorrect.
  6. Laminated card has explanation on back - student records their steps and explanation as their work.
  7. Students have experiment folders to record experiments in.
  8. Students just do experiments as a kind of practical life.

Terms you must learn & define:

Liquids: Suspensions, Solutions, Emulsions, Saturated, Supersaturated

Solids: Plastic, (eraser, rubber ball), Rigid, (steel rod), Elastic (plasticene)

The following experiments are basic steps to explore some of the properties of liquids, solids and air. I would advise you to buy a few books of your own and see what works for you. Students also like to find their own experiments and explore. There are also great experiments to go with the lessons on the movement of air and water in Janet Van Cleave's book on Earth Science and great experiments to go with the planet research in her Astronomy book.

Topics to be Explored

Copy into your word processor and
enlarge into matching cards.

Attraction & Gravity:

Magnets: Buy a set with experiment cards. This is a favorite and a good choice for first year students in the first few weeks.

Great Lesson Experiment: Water with bits of paper available - a slotted spoon helps remove the paper

Balance Beam to explore weight vs. Mass - be sure to have kilogram and gram weights

Experiments: Gravity, Shake, Sand, Paper

Gravity (From the Great Lesson)

Add some water to a small test tube. Add some oil and then some honey. Observe.

Result: The honey goes to the bottom and the oil goes to the top.

Why: Gravity will always pull heavier particles to the bottom. The lightest particles will always float to the top.

Shake (From the Great Lesson)

Add some water to a small test tube. Add some oil and then some honey. Shake vigorously. Set the tube down and observe.

Result: The particles mix together. If left alone the particles will settle with the heaviest on the bottom and the lightest on the top.

Why: Energy will cause the particles to mix for a while, but after they sit, gravity will pull the heavier particles to the bottom.

Sand (do this one outside)

Put some ping pong balls on the bottom of a large container. Fill it almost to the top with sand. Add some heavy objects to the top of the sand. Shake the container.

Result: The ping pong balls will rise to the top and the heavy objects sink.

Why: When the sand particles and shaken, they move apart enough to allow gravity to pull the heavier object down while allowing the lighter objects to rise to the top.


Get two pieces of paper the same size. Crumple one up into a ball. Stand on a chair, holding one piece of paper in each hand. Drop them at the same time.

Result: The crumpled paper hits the ground first.

Why: Gravity pulls all objects with the same force. Air pressure, however, can hold up the flat paper as it has more surface area.

Three States of Matter

Liquid - Gas - Liquid: boil water - plate forms vapor - liquid drops back

Solid - Gas: dry ice

All need adult supervision - try small groups one day

Three States of Matter 1

Heat wax in a container over a burner or flame.

The wax starts as a solid. As the wax melts, it becomes a liquid. When it gets very hot, it gives off bubbles becoming a gas.

Now drop the wax into a bowl of water. As it gets cold, it becomes a solid again.

Statement: There are three states of matter. They behave in different ways, depending on whether they are hot or cold.

Three States of Matter 2

Heat an ice cube, a crayon and a nail on a burner. The ice will melt, then become a gas. The crayon will melt, becoming a liquid. The nail will remain a solid.

Statement: Matter behaves in different ways depending on temperature.

The Three States of Matter 3

Find a solid, fill a glass with water, and place an empty glass on the table.

Place the labels solid, liquid and gas on the correct items.

Why: The particles of solids hold together tightly. The particles of liquids will let you pass through. The particles of gasses push in all directions.

The Three States of Matter 4

Have small arrows cut out in a different color than an available piece of paper. Label one paper liquid, one solid, one gas. Paste the arrows on the paper to show how molecules push. I have laminated masters of each.

Look for some experiments with dry ice.

Particles that Like & Dislike

Mixtures: Sand and iron mixed in a bag - magnet separates them

Emulsions: Make a salad dressing

Suspension: grate chalk into water

Solution: mix salt into water

Take a plastic bottle that has holes in the sides and fill it with water.

Result: The water comes out the holes in the sides.

Why: Water particles push down and out.


Fill up a variety of containers with water.

Result: Water takes the shape of the container. It fills every nook and cranny.

Why: Water particles do not have a shape of their own. They take the shape of the container.

Solution and Saturated Solution

Fill two glasses of water halfway with water. Add one tablespoon of salt to one glass and stir until it disappears. Add two tablespoons of slat to the second glass and stir. If it all disappears, add 2 tablespoons more and stir. Keep adding salt to the second glass until the salt will no longer dissolve.

Why: Salt and water particles like each other very much. Salt particles are easily dissolved into the water particles. If, however, too many slat particles are added, the water cannot hold any more and they will no longer disappear. This is called the saturation point.


Place an ice cube in a bowl of water. Observe.

Result: The ice floats.

Why: Most substances contract as they cool. If water contracted as it cooled, great ice blocks would sink to the bottom of the ocean. Water expands as it cools and therefore the organism of the seas are safe.


Fill two bowls halfway with water. Add a few ice cubes into each bowl. Add three tablespoons of salt into one bowl. Put thermometers into the water and observe the temperature for ten minutes.

Result: The bowl with the salt will be colder than the bowl with just water.

Why: Salt crystals make the temperature of water get even colder. This is why the fresh water that makes icebergs does not melt in the ocean.

Air Pressure

Fill a glass up to the very top. Cover it with a small piece of paper. Turn the glass over quickly while holding the paper in place. Let go of the paper.

Result: The paper holds the water in.

Why: Gases push up against the water. The upwards pressure of the gas is stronger than the downwards pressure of the liquid.

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Upper Elementary

I have not taught Upper Elementary (ages 9 - 12), but have gathered some ideas through the years on the Montessori Educational Listserv, my Montessori training and reading. I do not know how these ideas would work with students who had not worked with the material of the Great Lessons during their Lower Elementary years or who had not yet learned how to research.

I think I would begin the year asking what the First Great Lesson was about and write all their thoughts down. If any important ideas are left out, then try to draw these out through conversation. Then I would ask everyone to choose a topic from the list and go find out everything you can. This would include visual props, perhaps videos and certainly experiments. Come back together and write the Great Lesson from their knowledge and then everyone could give their part of the lesson. It would probably be in great detail and take a few days to present, but what a fun way to start the year.

Of course the study of the periodic table and molecules, including their history - I mean of their discovery as well as of their evolution through stars - would follow.. Priscilla Spears Ph.D. who I found on the Montessori Educational List has wonderful, concise, inexpensive materials for teacher preparation on difficult subjects. Go to

Big Picture Science P.O. Box 717 Conifer, CO 80433

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If you have any advice, experiences to share, or items you might like to post on this page please contact me via e-mail at:

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Dubinsky