K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Related pages

  • ECSU Planetarium: The planetarium offers a variety of educational programs for students with star shows, laser shows, and a wide range of videos and laser disc presentations.
  • Robeson Planetarium/Science and Technology Center: A part of the public schools of Robeson County, this planetarium and science center specializes in programs geared to 3rd through 8th grade science.
  • Astronomy: Spark students' interest in outer space with this collection of great astronomy websites found in LEARN NC's Best of the Web.

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • convert standard measurement into scientific notation.
  • create a scale model of the solar system using metric conversions.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 hours


  • metric rulers
  • meter sticks
  • planetary signs (see web address)
  • chalk
  • white paper
  • colored pencils/markers

Technology resources

The instructor will need to access a few websites to gain the information needed for this activity.


Students should know how to scale up or down and should also be somewhat familiar with exponential notation.

Prior to having the students go outside, determine the scaled distance from the sun to Pluto (58.9 meters) and locate a place large enough for all students to recreate the model.


  1. Introduce/review scientific notation (see scientific notation worksheet attached).
  2. Review the worksheet and discuss relative sizes, distances, and metric measurement.
  3. Since metrics are base 10, creating scaled down models are simple. Students use the metric measurement given in standard form and “move the decimal.” For instance, Mercury is 58000000 km from the sun. Venus is 6100000000 km from the sun. The scale would be .58 meters for Mercury and 61 km for Venus.
  4. Complete a chart as a class or individually (but check!) of the metric conversion.
  5. Students then are assigned roles of planets and moons.
  6. Move to an outside location. Starting from the sun, each planet must be located by measuring the distance from the sun. Students stand where their measurement indicates and the “moons” orbit the planets.
  7. Once all students are in place, have them note the relative distances.
  8. Once completed, bring the students back in and discuss relative distance, placement of the planets, and metric conversions.
  9. The next step is to again change the scale, only this time in millimeters. Multiply the scaled distance by 10 — move the decimal one place to the right. On two sheets of white paper placed end to end, measure out the planet locations in millimeters. Point out that because the scale is so small, the planets cannot be drawn in scale, but they should be drawn in relative size.


Assess the students’ millimeter scales.

Supplemental information


This lesson coincides with the science lesson on the solar system and planetary bodies. My teammate and I are doing a co-unit where there is no boundary between math and science.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • Mathematics (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • Expressions & Equations
          • 8.EE.3Use numbers expressed in the form of a single digit times a whole-number power of 10 to estimate very large or very small quantities, and to express how many times as much one is than the other. For example, estimate the population of the United States...
          • 8.EE.4Perform operations with numbers expressed in scientific notation, including problems where both decimal and scientific notation are used. Use scientific notation and choose units of appropriate size for measurements of very large or very small quantities...

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 6

        • 6.E.1 Understand the earth/moon/sun system, and the properties, structures, and predictable motions of celestial bodies in the Universe. 6.E.1.1 Explain how the relative motion and relative position of the sun, Earth and moon affect the seasons, tides, phases...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Mathematics (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: Number and Operations - The learner will understand and compute with rational numbers.
    • Objective 1.06: Use exponential, scientific, and calculator notation to write very large and very small numbers.
  • Goal 2: Measurement - The learner will select and use appropriate tools to measure two- and three-dimensional figures.
    • Objective 2.01: Estimate and measure length, perimeter, area, angles, weight, and mass of two- and three-dimensional figures, using appropriate tools.

Science (2005)

Grade 6

  • Goal 5: The learner will build understanding of the Solar System.
    • Objective 5.02: Compare and contrast the Earth to other planets in terms of:
      • Size.
      • Composition.
      • Relative distance from the sun.
      • Ability to support life.