Given the fascination with the heavens above us and the movement of the plants, as well as their respective positions in the solar system – and the excitement that is today building as private companies such as SpaceX perfect their launch vehicles as a firsts towards exploring the wonders of the planets which make up our solar system, it is no wonder that, DIY solar system models remain one of the most popular of school projects.
However, the complexity of building such a model may be a bit too challenging for younger pupils – and some adult help might be in order.
If you are going to be lending a helping hand then here are some great ideas to make the project both educational and fun for both adults and children.
Firstly it is important to realize that your solar system model is not going to be to scale. The distances between planets and their respective sizes make this an impossibility. Care should be taken to let the learner know this. A solar system model does, however, allow the learner to get some idea of the order of the planets – and some idea of their sizes in relation to each other.
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One of the most interesting and visually appealing approaches to making the project as attractive and interesting as possible is to make use of a diorama. This will allow the ‘planets’ to be placed in a so-called ‘shadow box’. The box serves to frame the planets and give a background of the starry sky – making it an attractive presentation.
You will first need to purchase some foam balls of various sizes (and source that box). Polystyrene balls are best as they are easy to handle and will allow you to string them together using wire to represent their positions in the solar system. The first step if to paint the shadow box with black acrylic paint. This forms the backdrop of your solar system. If the learner wants to become involved at this point, a great idea is to instruct them to make stars that will be pasted to the backdrop allowing it to really represent the immensity of the galaxy.
Next, paint the planets (you polystyrene balls. The balls should be different colors to represent the atmosphere of each planet. For planets with rings such as Saturn a doughnut-shaped ring can be cut out and colored and attached to the ‘planet’ using toothpicks to rest it on – or glue.
Attaching the planets to the top of your open-sided diorama is as simple as used thin wire to create a hook shaped like an inverted ‘U’ this is inserted into the top of the planet and allows for fishing line to be used to attach the components (in the right order) to the top of the shadow box (poke holes in the top of the box, thread through the line and attach it to a toothpicks to ensure it stays in position, alternatively use tape to secure the line to the top of the box). Think of how you hang Christmas ornaments and you will have the right idea.
Next, print out some labels and glue them to the bottom of the diorama to provide names (and perhaps some more detail about size, etc) to the bottom of the shadow box under each planet.
This simple project is fun and provides the opportunity to interact with the school-goer in a way that makes the entire project more rewarding. the process also is fairly simple – and allows the child to take an active part in building the solar system.