Moon graphic - upper left
Moon graphic - upper right

Adventures of the AgronautsBack to student curriculum

Moon graphic - lower left
Moon graphic - lower right
HomeAbout AgronautsInteractiveResourcesAgronauts After SchoolContact Us
Vine graphic - upper

Teacher Notes

Tracking the Sun

This activity uses shadows to show students how the position of the Sun in our sky changes over time. This change in position, caused by the Earth's tilt and revolution, affects our seasons. If possible, we suggest leaving the cardboard square in the same location at a window so that you do not have to move during the weeks you conduct this activity. That way, the marks will be more accurate.

Investigating Temperature Scales

This activity allows students to compare three different temperature scales: Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin. Students read side by side thermometers of the different scales in order to get a better understanding of how the temperature scales relate.

Making Craters

Use this activity to help students practice measuring diameters by creating impact craters and relating this data to the Moon surface. You may want to consider conducting this experiment outside or on a surface that is easily swept in case there are any spills. Students will use pebbles 1-4 cm in diameter for this activity. You could have the students practice using rulers to gather the pebbles for the activity from the school grounds.

Make an Orrery

An orrery shows relative positions and motions of bodies in the solar system using balls moved by clockwork. The orrery model found at the website below follows the illumination of the Earth as it rotates and revolves around the Sun. One variation of this orrery model is to add the Moon, which would allow you to also demonstrate phases. This could be used as a "Taking Off" assignment for a student who is particularly interested and adept at making things with his or her hands. Also, this may be a good candidate project for parent, PTSA or business partner involvement. The orrery could be placed in central display for the whole school to enjoy.

A more simple classroom orrery could be made using different sports balls (ping pong, softball, basketball) or by having the students represent the Sun/Moon/Earth and move around each other. Another idea to help students visualize the relative distance between the Sun/Moon/Earth is to calculate and construct a scale model on a football or recess area at the school.

Materials and Procedure

The materials for the orrery will cost less than $40. Plans for making the orrery can be found at


Ideas for using an orrery in classroom instruction can be found at

If the Moon were a Penny…

It is interesting to realize that we only ever see one side of the Moon from Earth. This exercise serves to help students visualize why that phenomenon occurs. This activity will be most impactful if each student has the opportunity to perform it.

How Cold is Cold?

This webquest is currently under development. The goal of the webquest is to help students become familiar with the average temperatures at locations across the Earth and relate these temperatures to the extreme temperatures on the Moon. This will help students realize that temperature is an important consideration in colonizing on the Moon or another planet.

Celestial Dome Planisphere

A planisphere, or a star chart, allows you to see which constellations are up on a given day or time. This activity, developed by Ken Wilson at the Science Museum of Virginia, is an excellent way to give each student a planisphere for home use. The other perk to this activity is that the only cost is for the CDs (~$30 for 30 disks). Most commercially available planispheres cost $6-10 each, so this is a great alternative!


Use this activity to help students examine the environmental conditions needed for germination. The activity uses 35mm film canisters that can generally be obtained free from your local film development locations. Obtain as many as you can! The great thing about using canisters is that they are small and students can test their own hypotheses about germination rather easily using the canisters. Do be aware that some experiments require that seeds be watered and placed in canisters with no holes. If these canisters containing wet seeds/seedlings are left unattended for over a week, expect a pungent odor when you open them!

Crazy Daisies

This experiment is similar to what many of us have seen with celery and food coloring, only the end result will be a colorful bouquet of daisies! You may want to start this experiment a couple of days before you talk about the parts of plants by setting a vase of daisies on your desk. Add food coloring to the water (it will take a lot to make a significant difference in color) and see if the students notice a change in the daisies. This experiment is also a good opportunity to talk to students about the impact that our decisions make on the environment. They can see firsthand that the plant does take in not only the water but what is dissolved in the water as well.

Build a Light Box

A light box is a wonderful way to enhance your classroom environment to keep your students' interest in plants. You could build one light box for your room, or have teams of students build light boxes for their experiments. We suggest that you build the light boxes (see link below for a photo) before you begin work on Mission 2, as you may want to go ahead and have some plants growing inside to peak student interest in the lessons ahead. This experiment gives instruction on how to make a light box, but if you desire a larger display, there are also instructions (and photos) on how to make a light bank system at - A light bank system could also be set up in the school lobby to attract school-wide interest. This project is a good candidate for parent, PTSA and community involvement. If you have a budget allowance, plant light houses are also commercially available from Carolina Biological, Inc. for $74.95 (Catalog # WW-15-8994).

Do Plants really need Soil? (I)

This activity introduces students to hydroponics, a special way to grow plants without soil. Hydroponic systems have been tested in space because they offer a soil-free way of delivering nutrients to plants in space. In some designs, the plant roots wrap around porous ceramic tubes that continuously deliver water and nutrients to the plants. Hydroponic garden activities have a great deal of potential. Students can grow the same plants in soil and in the hydroponic system and compare certain characteristics or features of the plants that result. They could even grow vegetables and have a tasting party to determine if they detect a difference in taste! Students can be assigned sides of a debate - growing plants in soil vs. growing plants with hydroponics - what are the pros and cons? They will find that there are some strong opinions out there! And of course, anything grown in your classroom hydroponically could be used as part of a service or beautification project that allows students to share their plants with others and teach them about what they have learned.

When examining the procedure for growing plants hydroponically, you may notice that floral foam is required. Why? The seeds need some type of inert structure for support and for water transport but as the source of nutrients, like soil. The nutrients will come from the fertilizer that is dissolved in the water. You may want to test the floral foam that you obtain to see how well it absorbs water.

An easy hydroponic system for beginners can be found at the Donna's Day website,
. You will need a container that holds at least 6" of water, a Styrofoam sheet, floral foam, hydroponic nutrient solution, and seeds.

Do Plants really need Soil? (II)

In this activity, students will observe the growth of a tuber using only a jar of water. It will also reinforce what students learned in Mission 2 about the different ways to propagate a new plant. Students will be able to see that "eyes" are used to begin new plants in this case. The roots will appear first, and sprouting takes about 7-14 days. Once growth has reached 6-8" high, transplant into a larger container. Fill a third of the pot with potting mix and place the potato on top of the mix. Pack added mix around the tuber. Cover the potato with potting mix, if possible, to prevent rotting. Water as needed to keep the soil mix moist.

Though this experiment uses a tuber, tubers are not the only plants that will root in water. Many houseplants can be rooted in water. Wandering dew is particularly easy to root in water.

Build a Compost Pile

Sound smelly and messy? It's not, and kids will love it! Composting will be important for space travel for many reasons. It will help to cut down on waste (which takes up valuable space!) and also ensure that we are good environmental stewards of the Moon or other planets we may colonize one day. The following website from NC Cooperative Extension Service provides detailed information on how to start and maintain a compost pile: This online article includes important information on structure design and on the types of items to include and not to include in a compost pile. For example, meat scraps and greasy scraps will make your compost smile have a foul odor. Students can participate by bringing items from home for the pile. Or, you may want to grow a variety of vegetables in your plant light box, have a tasting party in class, and then put the scraps in the compost pile.

This activity is another good opportunity for parent and community involvement in gathering materials for and constructing a structure to house the compost pile. Also, the compost pile may be placed in a location where it can serve as an interesting display and educational tool for all students.

Once you have a viable compost pile, you can use the compost as part of a potting mixture or in compost tea. This could become a school or neighborhood beautification project where students teach others about the benefits of composting while sharing their homemade compost. Be sure to take temperature readings on the pile to show students that it generates heat as it is breaking down the components.

Before beginning the activity, ask the students if any of them have a compost pile at home or know of someone who does? Consider these individuals as potential guests in your classroom to help you get started. Discuss the advantages of composting on Earth and in space.

You may also want to consider vermicomposting, or making compost with the help of worms. See the web resources for Mission 3 for a guide to vermicomposting.

Investigating Types of Soil

This activity allows students to handle different types of soil and closely examine their physical characteristics. For the various soil samples, use sand, clay, silt, humus, loam and potting soil. Students can bring soil from their own homes or obtain a sample of soil from various locations on the school grounds. For instance, if your school has a nature trail or stream nearby, the soil from a moist, forested area will be different from the soil on the recess field. If you have trouble locating different soil samples, contact your county Soil and Water Conservation agent. The students will grow seeds in each soil type. A variation of this activity is to allow the students to make hypotheses about what ratios of soil composition would be the best for plant growth. Then, they could test their ratios as well. The students would have to determine what they want to track as the measures of good plant growth - germination rate? Do the seedlings appear healthy? This is another good opportunity to have the students practice rigor in scientific experimentation.

Creating a Soil Map

This activity is from Case 2 of The Great Plant Escape, ( and focuses on soils. In the activity, students go to the school grounds, grid out 2'x2' squares and investigate the soil in the different squares. This affords practice in measurement, in ratio of soil types, and general practice in observation skills. Then, the students can compare the results from each grid and discuss any variations they find in soil composition within their test area.

Slip Slidin' Away

This activity is posted with permission from NC Ag in the Classroom. The lesson is from resources developed specifically for NC third graders and sponsored by NC Farm Bureau Federation, Inc. Students will see how much time it takes for 2 cups of water to run through soil samples of varied composition. Then, students relate their results to optimization of soil for crop growth.

Pick a Path

This activity is posted with permission from NC Ag in the Classroom. The lesson is from resources developed specifically for NC third graders and sponsored by NC Farm Bureau Federation, Inc. This is a great activity to perform in conjunction with a physical education teacher, as students actively play the parts of soil components and flowing water.

Vegetables and the Weather

This activity is posted with permission from NC Ag in the Classroom. The lesson is from resources developed specifically for NC third graders and sponsored by NC Farm Bureau Federation, Inc. Students look at the life of a potato, from harvesting to the dinner table and talk about the ways farmers are dependent on the weather and other environmental factors when they grow crops. Then students examine different crops and discover that crops are grown at different times of the year, depending on the temperatures that the crop prefers.

Classifying Materials using Light

This activity, probably best used as a demonstration or as a rotation activity, introduces students to the terms transparent, translucent, and opaque. Take 5 empty shoe boxes and cut the bottom from each box. Tape across the bottom of each box one of the following materials: a piece of clear cellophane or plastic wrap, a piece of sheer fabric (e.g., curtain lining), a piece of medium-weight fabric (like a white pillowcase), a blank sheet of printer paper, a piece of poster board. Make the classroom slightly dark. Stand the boxes on edge on a table, and place a flashlight inside each box, shining outward through the material.

What Color is Light (I)

This activity will show students that white light is actually made up of many colors. You may want to use this demonstration before you introduce students to concepts of light and the visible spectrum. We suggest that you try this experiment before showing it to the students. Determine the best position for the glass and the best time of the day to use this demonstration depending on your light availability. Make sure you can find the location of the spectrum pattern on the floor. Also, you may want to leave the glass of water in this position all day and have the students observe how the pattern changes throughout the day.

What Color is Light (II)

This experiment re-emphasizes the relationship between white light and the colors of the visible spectrum. This may be an excellent activity to use in coordination with your art teacher. As students spin their color disc, the disc will appear pale gray instead of white. Explain to the students that they probably will not be able to achieve a white disc because the colors in the crayons, paint or markers are not pure enough.

Ice Melting Race

This activity combines two concepts: 1) black objects absorb all colors (light energy) and therefore heat up faster than white objects and 2) light energy can be transformed to heat energy. If you feel comfortable doing so, this activity could be given to students as an introduction to Mission 4. The ice cube under the black piece of paper will melt at a faster rate than the ice cube under the white piece of paper. You can use their observations to guide the students to discovery of the two concepts mentioned above. They may need to design and set up some additional experiments in order to test the hypotheses they generate about heat and light from this initial experiment.


This activity can help you to show the process of conduction, where heat moves from particle to particle within the same material. The students may see this experiment and focus on the transfer of heat from the water to the butter and miss the conduction that goes on in the knife itself. The molecules sitting in the cup of warm water heat up and start moving. That motion causes the neighboring molecules to start moving, which starts a chain reaction. This motion transfers energy up the knife until it reaches the top, where the butter is located. The butter melting is the result of the conduction of heat through the molecules in the knife. If you have time, ask your students to redesign this experiment and test some other materials like pencils, wire coat hangers, or a glass rod. Construct a graph to show which materials conduct heat faster than others. This will allow the students to consider variables that lead to the design of a good experiment.

Which Lights do Plants Like?

This activity relates light, color, plants and space travel. The activity uses 35mm film canisters that can generally be obtained free from your local film development locations. Obtain as many as you can! Seedlings will be exposed to red, green and blue light. The seedlings will grow towards the blue and red lights. Why? Plants are green because they reflect green wavelengths of light. This means that plants do not absorb and use green wavelengths of light. So, plants will grow towards red or blue light that they can use to make food. What does this mean for space travel? One goal in space travel is to use minimal amounts of energy to accomplish tasks. So, instead of shining white light (all wavelengths of visible light) onto plants, scientists are studying the growth of plants under red and blue lights to reduce the amount of light energy that might be required for long duration space travel.

Plants in Space

This activity demonstrates a unique challenge of studying and growing plants in space: different parts of the plant respond to gravity in different ways, and scientists are not yet sure why. Roots grow down, and shoots grow up. The activity uses 35mm film canisters that can generally be obtained free from your local film development locations. Obtain as many as you can! In this canister experiment, students attach a seedling to a canister lid so that the shoot sticks straight out into the canister. They are asked to predict how the shoot will grow and check it in three days. Some students predict that the shoot will grow roots and move downward…you will get all kinds of predictions! However, the shoot will turn to grow upward. This may surprise many students, but this shows how shoots respond to gravity. Shoots are negatively gravitropic, meaning they grow away from the direction of the force of gravity. In space, the limited effect of gravity makes plant roots and shoots grow in random directions. Though gravity is not one of the 7 things that plants need to live, students may want to consider this factor as they think about the design of their chamber on the Moon, which has 1/6 Earth's gravity.

Puffy Face Syndrome

This activity simulates one effect of spaceflight on the human body, the cephalad fluid shift. On Earth, our heart pumps blood upward towards the head, but gravity pulls it back down through our body and extremities. In microgravity, the heart still pumps the blood towards the head, but there is too little gravity to pull it downward. This causes astronaut faces to look puffy or swollen for a couple of days. At the same time, their leg circumference shrinks. This all evens out eventually. When we wake up in the morning, our heads are slightly larger than they will be at any other time of the day. Why? Because we have been lying down and gravity does not work on our body the same way when we lie down as it does when we stand upright. The puffy face syndrome astronauts experience can be simulated by having one student in a team of two lie down for several minutes (at least 10, and it helps if their feet are up in a chair). When the student measures the head of the "astronaut" after lying down for several minutes, it should be larger in circumference. Be aware that data will vary. You may have heads that do not change or that even get smaller! This is a great opportunity to talk about scientific experiments. Ask students to come up with reasons why their hypothesis may not have been proven with this experiment. Ask them to consider the processes of doing good science.


Vine graphic - left
career corner
Educators Survey
teacher resources