Solar system projects offer an opportunity for students to learn about the planets, stars, moons and sun. According to research on project-based learning conducted by the University of Indianapolis, student-created projects increase learning and engagement. The projects allow children to create individual representations of the solar system based on what they have learnt.
Explore and Learn
Introduce the solar system topic enough to tempt children to want to learn more. Provide plenty of learning tools, such as books, speakers, videos, models and websites such as NASA's educational website. On the NASA site, children can find grade-appropriate resources for project inspiration based on which aspect of the solar system they wish to study. Brainstorm a project idea list with them, then let children choose a project to complete.
Discuss whether you, they or both of you jointly need to gather the project supplies. Also, discuss a rubric or expectations and decide what must be included in all projects, such as a description of each planet or detailed report on one planet, so they know what to include. At this point, have children create a sketch of their project so they understand the steps needed, the supplies needed and whether the project meets all the criteria given them by the teacher.
Posters and Books
A poster might feature a pictorial representation of the solar system along with a written description of each planet, as well as the moons, stars and sun, and information about the explorations that have taken place to or near any of these places.
A book might have similar information or be written as a make-believe story in which a character goes to each planet and sends postcards back to Earth. Be sure the planet descriptions contain facts, so the project has scientific value.
Models and Mobiles
Three-dimensional displays of the solar system might include a clay, foam or papier-mache model attached to string or craft sticks and arranged inside a large black box. Outside the box, attach descriptions of each planet, the moons, sun and stars using handwritten labels or printed text from a computer.
You can create another three-dimensional display of the solar system using a hanger, dowel or piece of wood as a mobile base and attaching paper, clay or foam planets to it. A poster displaying the written report information can be hung near the mobile.
Young elementary school children often have the ability to create technology-based projects such as computer presentations. One easy project is a slide show with pictures of the elements of the solar system the child drew that were scanned in or photographed and downloaded to a computer. Both Windows and Mac computers have programs with simple steps that allow children to create surprisingly sophisticated slide shows. Children can either include text on their slides or speak about the solar system.
Group projects often work well with older children. To create a movie that relays what they have learnt about the solar system, groups of children can create short skits about imaginary visits they made to the planets while you record them on video. Download the videos to a computer for display to groups. Be sure children include facts that demonstrate their knowledge and that teach viewers something about the solar system. For example, a skit might show how special suits had to be worn on Jupiter because there was no solid surface.