Students Plan Their Own Tour of the Cosmos

Fifth-grade students love exploring the cosmos during their astronomy unit, and their teachers take advantage of that enthusiasm by letting them guide their own learning beyond the course curriculum.

“I noticed several years ago when teaching the basics of astronomy that many kids were still curious about more complex topics such as black holes, dark matter, spacetime, etc., but these were areas we didn’t study during our unit because the concepts were well beyond what you would expect to understand in fifth grade,” said Branson Lawrence, Middle School Science Teacher.

It would be easy to dismiss questions from students by telling them that they’ll learn more later, but Lawrence and fellow Science Teacher Kelly Long saw this as an opportunity. Instead of shutting students down, they allocate extra time and encourage students to explore what interests them through a “choice board project.” Students choose their astronomy topic, have it approved by their teacher, conduct research, and then use several resources to present what they learned to their classmates in unique and creative ways.

The fifth-grade science program has included this special project for several years. “The biggest difference this year was having the makerspace at full capacity,” said Lawrence. “This allowed for more use of woodworking tools and digital fabrication equipment.” Some students used the makerspace to create models, while others made posters and videos.

Other resources at the students’ disposal include the NASA middle school website, our School’s database subscription (Gale Science in Context), and books from the Messing Library.

“It is really exciting to see what the kids come up with when they share what they’ve learned about these unique topics,” said Lawrence.