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In this lesson, students will analyze an intended to support reading in the content area. The article showcases the recent discovery of a planet orbiting our nearest star that may have the necessary ingredients to harbor life. The possibly Earth-like planet is 4 light years away, however. How might we explore it in greater detail? The lesson plan includes a note-taking guide, text-dependent questions, a writing prompt, answer keys, and a writing rubric. Numerous options to extend the lesson are also included.
Learning Objectives: What should students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
Explain the difficulty of examining an exoplanet orbiting a nearby star given the incredible distances involved.
Explain how scientists identified a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri using our current technology and our understanding of astronomical bodies.
Explain how technology is vital to our discovery of new exoplanets.
Cite specific and relevant text evidence to support analysis of the text.
Use various vocabulary strategies to define academic and domain-specific words in the text.
Construct a written response that clearly establishes a main point(s), contains relevant textual evidence to support the main point, utilizes transitions to maintain flow, effectively uses domain-specific vocabulary, and provides an appropriate conclusion.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
Students need to know and describe the relationship of planets to stars—that planets get their needed energy from nearby stars.
In addition, planets orbit stars because of the larger mass of the stars. This is explained through Newton's law of universal gravitation: a particle attracts every other particle in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This means that the sum of the two masses (star and planet) equals a large force of attraction keeping the planet orbiting the star. The closer the object gets to the other, the greater the force also. For more information see .
Students need to know the requirements for planets to perhaps harbor life: the right distance from a star (or from a moon to a planet), the regular orbit, the temperature range. This is referred to as a Goldilocks zone or the habitable zone.
Students should know that we have only sent humans to the moon and into orbit around Earth. We have never gone beyond that. Investigation of a planet more than 4 light years away is only ever going to be done by robotic probes, at least in our near future. We just don't have the technology or knowledge to go any further at this point.
This short video titled "Exoplanets Explained" (6:50, uploaded by YouTube user Piled Higher and Deeper PhD Comics) does an excellent job of explaining how scientists use evidence to find and explore exoplanets.
Students should have prior experience utilizing various vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words in a text. For this lesson, prior experience in using context clues to determine the meaning of words in a text would be beneficial. In addition, students should have some dictionary skills that will enable them to look up words with multiple meanings and determine the most appropriate meaning based on how a word is used in a text.
Students should be able to respond to a writing prompt in a clear, organized manner that includes use of an introduction to establish the main point(s), a body paragraph(s) that support the main point(s) and includes relevant and specific textual evidence, and a conclusion that supports the main point(s).
Students should have some awareness that use of transition words or phrases can help a piece of writing flow smoothly from one point or idea to the next.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
We have discovered many new planets orbiting stars in the past decade, so why is this planet so much more intriguing?
Response: This planet falls in the "Goldilocks zone" that makes it likely life might exist there.
How do scientists identify planets even when the distances are so vast?
Response: Telescopes provide scientists with data they can then interpret to detect planets.
How is technology essential to learn more about other planets and stars?
Response: We would never know of the existence of planets like Proxima b if not for technologies like the telescopes described above.
Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
Use the attached PowerPoint as you lead students through this discussion.
Ask students: Do you think there is life outside of Earth? Where do you think we could find it?
Students might only think about nearby planets such as Mars, and perhaps even talk about nearby moons of Jupiter or Saturn.
What about outside of our solar system? Do you think there is life beyond our solar system? If so, would there be a way to contact it? How could we visit them or communicate with life forms there? How far away is the nearest star?
Students may know that the star, Proxima Centauri, is 4 light years away.
What does that mean? How far away is 4 light years?
Students may or may not know that it is the distance light travels in 4 years. That is a huge distance! We only use light years when we talk about incredibly long distances, so 4 light years is actually quite a huge distance related to distances here on Earth. 2.35 x 1013 miles from Earth written out it is 2,350,000,000,000 miles away!
Tell students that interestingly enough, we have found a planet orbiting our nearest star. The planet, Proxima b, could be our nearest exoplanet that is similar to Earth.
Show students the video.
Tell students they will be reading an article about the recent discovery of this Earth-like planet just outside our solar system.
Guided Practice: What activities or exercises will the students complete with teacher guidance?
Provide each student with a copy of the . For class discussions that will follow, it might be helpful to have students number each paragraph within each section. They can also number the sections (for example, Section 1 follows the subtitle, section 2 begins with "How they found the new planet," section 3 begins with "Planning a visit to the new world," and section 4 begins with "Scouting for alien life.")
Before students begin reading, direct them to pay attention to the text features of the article to help them learn and locate information:
Title: Sun's Nearest Stellar Neighbor May Have Earth-like Planet
Subtitle: Its solar system is only 4.2 light-years from ours
Headings: How they found the new planet, Planning a visit to the new world, Scouting for alien life
Captions: Located under each illustration, and under the graph (the graph is small so teachers may want to enlarge the graph by displaying it on a document camera)
Have students fill out the note-taking guide as they read the text. This can be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups. The teacher should monitor students as they work and provide support and guidance as needed. Also ask students to notice the glossary of "Power Words" at the end of the text. Teachers can encourage students to highlight the vocabulary on their copy of the article, and then highlight or underline key parts of the definitions when looking up vocabulary in the "Power Words" section. Students can answer the questions in the reading guide during their reading of the article or after. The teacher should monitor students as they work and provide support and guidance as needed.
Formative Assessment (How will you check for understanding?):
Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' completed note-taking guides, checking their work, providing written feedback, or grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
For discussion of students' answers to the defined vocabulary words, teachers are encouraged to not only ask students to explain the meaning they determined for a word, but the strategy they used to arrive at that meaning. This will allow the teacher to provide alternative suggestions as to how the student could have arrived at the correct meaning of the word.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond:
Students may assume we have traveled all over the universe/galaxy. We have only sent probes through the solar system. The only way we can study objects outside of our solar system is with our telescopes. Everything is based on our understanding of the movement of stars and their planets based on what is happening in our own solar system.
Students assume we can see an exoplanet with a telescope. This is nearly impossible. We can detect their presence only by the light from the star or from the movement of the star. We don't yet have the technology to see details that could help us answer the questions we have about exoplanets.
If we can send probes to planets such as Saturn or dwarf planets such as Pluto, we should be able to do the same with these exoplanets. But with our current technology it would take thousands of years to visit them and to get a message back. It is not possible at this point.
Independent Practice: What activities or exercises will students complete to reinforce the concepts and skills developed in the lesson?
Provide each student with a copy of the text-dependent questions to complete. Students should be reminded to continually refer back to the text and to use relevant and specific evidence from the text to support their answers.
Formative Assessment (How will teachers check for understanding?):
Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' answers to the text-dependent questions, checking their work, providing written feedback, and maybe grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
Teachers can use this sample answer key to help them assess students' answers (scroll down in the document).
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond: Please see the text-dependent questions sample answer key.
Closure: How will the teacher assist students in organizing the knowledge gained in the lesson?
Before students complete the writing prompt, be sure to review responses to the text-dependent questions as a class, including covering the misconceptions and key points described in the sample answer key.
After students' written responses for the summative assessment have been graded and returned with feedback, teachers might wish to use the provided sample response with the class. The teacher could show the sample response on an overhead or with anLCD projector and discuss the following:
How the writer introduced the topic
What the main point is (underline)
How the writer used topic sentences to introduce and connect the paragraphs
Where text evidence is used
Where transition words/phrases are used
How academic vocabulary from the text is used (underline)
How the writer wrapped up the piece
To close out the lesson, the teacher may ask students to go back to the original questions we discussed before we read this article. What do you think? Do you think that we might be able to find life on these planets? Why or why not? Have a discussion about what they read about and what they learned. If they have further questions, move onto the extension activities.
Students will individually respond to the writing prompt. They should be directed to respond with a multi-paragraph response, with a clear introduction, body section, and conclusion. They can refer back to the text as they construct their response.
2. Provide students with a copy of the rubric and go over it with them so they will know how their written responses will be assessed.
Go over the writing prompt with students and make sure students understand what the prompt is asking them to address. Encourage students to underline key parts of the prompt as the teacher goes over it so they will remember to answer all the required parts:
According to the article, scientists know little about the newly discovered planet Proxima b. Explain how scientists were able to identify this planet to begin with and what difficulties they face in finding out more about it. Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.
Teachers will use the rubric to assess students' written responses.
Specific suggestions for conducting Formative Assessment can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "How will you check for student understanding?"
Feedback to Students
Specific suggestions for conducting Feedback to Students can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "How will you check for student understanding?"
Accommodations & Recommendations
For students struggling with the science content:
There are extra links connected to the article that you may want to refer to including the actual and the definition of an exoplanet.
For students having difficulties understanding the complex issues of space travel, this video titled "Space Travel and Technology of Interstellar Exploration" (00:30, uploaded by YouTube user Discovery channel) does a good job of covering the most important points of the issue.
For readers struggling with the text:
It might benefit students to chunk the text. Have students independently read section one, then have several strong readers read section one aloud.
Then, have students highlight the selected vocabulary for section one on their copy of the article. Then have students take turns reading aloud the definitions for these words from the "Power Words" section at the end of the article. Students can discuss and highlight the most important information in each definition.
Students can then answer the questions in section one of the reading guide, share out their answers, and receive feedback from the teacher, allowing them to correct their work if needed. This process could be repeated for the additional sections in the text.
For struggling writers:
It might help struggling writers to provide them with an outline to help them structure their response. The outline might include places for them to record:
Ideas on how to introduce the topic
A place to write down their main point(s)
Topic sentences (the first sentence of each body paragraph that will reveal the point of the paragraph and will connect to the paper's overall main point)
Specific evidence from the text for support in each body paragraph
Ideas for transition words
Ideas for use of selected vocabulary
Ideas on how to wrap up their piece and connect back to the main point(s)
Explore more about exoplanets at this
The Kepler Mission is a science mission in the search for exoplanets. Go to this site to look up some of their findings and note the number of exoplanets discovered so far. Search for Earth-sized planets and look at their compositions (if available). Ask students if this changes their view on whether there is life outside of earth.
Detecting planet transits: Explore how scientists may find planets through exploration of their transits, or paths they take as they orbit their star, at this site.
Have students create their own travel posters from the perspective of the "aliens" of that planet. NASA created their own travel posters for planets and other objects that may be suitable for life.
Students could research each body found on the poster and give a short presentation on what characteristics that body has for life.
What are the limitations for space travel? Students could probably identify most of them, but this site lists information about each.
If possible, invite a local amateur astronomer. Contact your local planetarium for a referral if needed. They might like to come in and talk about this latest discovery with your students.
Suggested Technology: Document Camera, Computer for Presenter, Internet Connection, LCD Projector, Speakers/Headphones, Microsoft Office
For teachers who would like more support in understanding and implementing Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects into their science curriculum, please see the teacher tutorials featured in the section of this lesson's CPALMS resource page labeled "Attached Resources."
The text's grade band recommendation reflects the shifts inherent in the standards and is based on a text complexity analysis of a quantitative measure, qualitative rubric, and reader and task considerations.
identify and compare characteristics of the electromagnetic spectrum such as wavelength, frequency, and energy.
understand the benefits of studying astronomy using the electromagnetic spectrum and appreciate the amount of knowledge available through data and observations such as planetary images and satellite photographs.
assess the value of technology in science for such purposes as access to outer space and other remote locations, sample collection, measurement, data collection and storage, computation, and communication of information.
be able to describe the vast distances between objects in space using an understanding of light and how it travels.
be able to analyze scientific texts and support their findings with textual evidence.
This informational text resource is intended to support reading in the content area. The text describes NASA's "Kepler" mission, which uses a photometer telescope to examine our region of the Milky Way Galaxy for habitable planets similar to Earth.
Click "View Site" to open a full-screen version. This tutorial is designed to help secondary science teachers learn how to integrate literacy skills within their science curriculum. This tutorial focuses on using specific textual evidence to support students' responses as they analyze science texts. The focus on literacy across content areas is designed to help students independently build knowledge in different disciplines through reading and writing.
Click "View Site" to open a full-screen version. This tutorial is designed to help secondary science teachers learn how to integrate literacy skills into their science curriculum. This tutorial will demonstrate a number of strategies teachers can impart to students to help them use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words within science texts. It will also help them teach students how to select the appropriate definition from reference materials. The focus on literacy across content areas is intended to help foster students' reading, writing, and thinking skills in multiple disciplines.
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