Earth in space


Ideas about Earth’s place in space have interested people since ancient times. Children love to learn about space, so motivating students should not be a problem for the teacher. However, while there is plenty of scope for children to engage in library research and Internet activities, this should not be overdone. This topic provides a range of hands-on activities that focus on key concepts to do with Earth in space.

Key concepts of Earth in space

The activities in this topic are designed to explore the following key concepts:

Early years

  • Earth is the shape of a ball.
  • ‘Down’ refers to the centre of Earth (in relation to gravity).
  • Earth spins, or rotates, to cause day and night.
  • The Moon changes shape over a month.
  • Planets go around the Sun.
  • Stars have different brightness and colour.
  • Humans group stars into constellations.
  • The planets in the solar system differ in size.

Middle years

  • The universe is extremely large.
  • Instruments such as telescopes and binoculars can be used to view objects in the universe.
  • There are many different types of objects in the universe.
  • The Moon appears in the sky due to reflected light from the Sun.
  • The position of the Sun with respect to Earth gives us night and day.
  • Stars are still there during daylight.
  • Earth rotates, which makes the Moon, Sun and stars appear to move.
  • Earth’s tilt in orbit causes seasons.
  • The Sun is higher in the sky in summer at midday, than at the same time in winter.
  • The Sun rises and sets at different places and at different times in summer compared to winter.
  • The solar system is a big place.
  • Space travel is very difficult.

Students’ alternative conceptions of Earth in space

Research into students’ ideas about this topic has identified the following non-scientific conceptions:

  • The Earth we live on is flat, not round like a ball.
  • The Sun moves to cause day and night.
  • The Moon emits its own light.
  • The phases of the Moon are caused by Earth’s shadow.
  • There is no connection between mass and gravity.
  • Stars and constellations appear in the same place in the sky all the time.
  • The Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west everyday.
  • The Sun is directly overhead at 12 midday (even taking into account daylight saving!).
  • We experience seasons because of Earth’s changing distance from the Sun: closer in summer, farther in winter.
  • Earth is the centre of our solar system.
  • The Moon is only visible at night.
  • The Moon does not rotate on its axis as it revolves around Earth.
  • The phases of the Moon are caused by other things in the solar system either getting in the way or casting a shadow on it.
  • The phases of the Moon are caused by Earth’s shadow.
  • Earth is the largest object in the solar system.
  • The solar system is crowded.
  • Meteors are falling stars.
  • All the stars in a constellation are near each other.
  • Stars are evenly distributed throughout the universe.