Our third grade solar system unit is more than just another teacher-made, elementary school science unit – it is learning at its best. Why? Because it is a whole child approach to education. This unit does not just address the academic needs of our students. It presents students with a variety of opportunities to develop and succeed, with the collaborative efforts of educators, families, community members, and local organizations.
There are five main characteristics of this unit that make it so successful:
- Interdisciplinary Teaching
- Utilizing Local Resources
- Collaborating with the School Community
- Character Building
- Culminating Event
Our outer space unit is a prime example of interdisciplinary teaching. We take our science theme and spread it throughout multiple academic disciplines. We read, write, explore data, study historical figures, create artwork, utilize a variety of technological devices and programs – all involving outer space.
The culminating event of this unit (which will be described soon) requires accessing amazing local resources. One of them is the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. This fabulous organization is dedicated to providing valuable learning opportunities to visiting schools. More recently we have had the privilege of securing the services of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society (NHAS). One of their volunteers, Steve Rand, has visited our school on multiple occasions to provide wonderful presentations and assist us with stargazing experiences.
This unit would not be possible without the collaboration of many school community members. The long list of people that help make this incredible unit a reality include: the principal, several teachers and paraprofessionals, the nurse, the secretary, the media specialist, the bus driver, the janitors, the kitchen staff, the technology integrator, the art teacher, and more! And last but certainly not least – we are extremely grateful to the abundant amount of family members of our students who volunteer their time and resources to make this unit and its culminating event a success.
How does character building come into existence when students are learning about outer space? In many ways. First off, students are often working in pairs and groups to accomplish various tasks during this unit. The ability to work well together is often discussed, practiced, and reflected upon. Also, the topic of space exploration inevitably covers many facets of building character such as teamwork, courage, perseverance, and grit. Lastly, when preparing for an entire day of different educational experiences, our students are consistently reminded of their school’s code of honor, and how this code still applies outside school walls.
Thankfully, as our solar system unit comes to a close, it is not met with sadness but extreme excitement instead. The “24 Hours of Space” is this unit’s famous culminating event. Students get to experience an entire day, from Friday morning to Saturday morning, of outer space learning and fun. The day’s itinerary includes a field trip, crafts and games, presenting three completed projects, a potluck dinner, an NHAS presentation, stargazing, and a space-themed movie and school sleepover. One of the most important aspects of this event is that it presents several opportunities for students to show off, and be proud of, what they have learned throughout the unit. In many ways during this day their learning becomes much more valid; meaningful.
This year I received an email the day after our “24 Hours of Space” from the mother of one of my students. She wrote that as her son was leaving the school on Saturday morning, he remarked that our “24 Hours of Space” was “the best day of my life.” I have received numerous emails and cards that include similar sentiments over the last decade I have helped lead this event. Comments like these are proof of this unit’s success and importance. It truly is learning at its best.