Bronxville High School students in Stephen Kovari’s Core Earth Science class have been learning about the Earth’s place in the solar system. To demonstrate their knowledge and appreciation for the vastness of the solar system, they created scientific models that proportionally showed the size and location of different objects in the solar system.
As part of the assignment, the students picked seven objects in the solar system and an area in the Village of Bronxville where they would build their models. Then, they scaled down the distances between the objects they chose and the objects themselves by a scale factor. Then, they were challenged to get creative and visually portray their model in a video. Throughout the process, the students created objects to represent the various planets, moons or dwarf planets they chose and walked around town to demonstrate the scaled-down distances between the objects.
“It is important for students to understand the vastness of space,” Kovari said. “When we look at models, or diagrams, of the solar system, they do not accurately portray its scale. This is because the planets are far away from each other in relation to their actual sizes. So, while on some diagrams of the solar system it may look like the distance between Jupiter and Saturn is only a few times the diameter of Jupiter, in reality, you could line up over 5,000 Jupiters and still not reach Saturn.”
Kovari said it is not practical to show up-to-scale models of the solar system because the planets would be microscopic and impossible to see and study. He said his students appreciated that even though all models are “wrong,” that’s because it is impossible to accurately portray something so vast and complicated.
For their assignment, some students focused on closer solar system objects, using a smaller scale factor, and portraying the size differences between objects more carefully. Another group of students included the sun in their models to show how large it was compared to planets, while others studied individual planets by creating models of Jupiter and several of its moons, and Saturn and its rings.
“This creativity helped students realize that they were making tradeoffs to better convey some aspect of the solar system, because it was impossible to convey it all,” Kovari said. “This is an important concept in science, where we study very complicated things that are challenging to portray.”
As a conclusion to the assignment, the students wrote a reflection describing the limits of their model and the process by which they made tradeoffs.