Strand V
Use Scientific Knowledge from the Earth and Space Sciences in Real-World Contexts


Science/Strand V
Content Standard 4
All students will compare and contrast our planet and Sun to other planets and star systems; describe and explain how objects in the solar system move; explain scientific theories as to the origin of the solar system; and explain how we learn about the universe. (Solar System, Galaxy, and Universe)


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4
Middle School


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School
Benchmark 2
Describe, compare, and explain the motions of solar system objects.

Benchmark Clarification

The solar system is in constant and predictable motion and involves many different types of natural and man-made objects. Diagrams, models, and simulations can help students understand these celestial motions.

Students will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the motion of major objects in our solar system, including the rotation, orbit, and revolution of planets, moons, and asteroids.

Key Concept / Real World Context / Instructional Example / Assessment Example / Resources


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School/Benchmark 2
Key Concept

  • orbit
  • rotation (spin)
  • axis
  • gravity
  • planets
  • moons
  • rings
  • comets
  • asteroids
  • seasons

Tilt of the Earth on its axis

Direct/Indirect rays

See Force and Change in Motion (SCI.IV.3.MS.2).

See Gravity (SCI.IV.3.MS.3).


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School/Benchmark 2
Real World Context

  • observations of comet motion over days and weeks
  • length of day and year on planets
  • changes in length of daylight and height of Sun in sky
  • changes in daily temperature patterns
  • summer and winter solstices
  • spring and fall equinoxes


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School/Benchmark 2
Instructional Example

Benchmark Question: How do objects in the solar system move?

Focus Question: How does the gravitational pull of objects in the solar system affect revolution?

Students will brainstorm a list of objects in the solar system. Using this list, students will connect prior knowledge to how the objects move. Students may remember information about Halley’s Comet and how it returns to the Earth’s view every seventy-six years. This could spark a discussion on where the comet is when we can’t see it.

Students will have prior knowledge about some celestial objects; the teacher will direct discussion accordingly. By the end of the discussion, students should gain an understanding of how objects revolve around the Sun. Students will demonstrate that understanding by role-playing a solar system. Students will write a role-play in groups that demonstrate how planets, comets, and other objects revolve around the Sun.

Some natural questions will arise once students begin to write. Students will question why “moons” or natural satellites revolve around planets and not the Sun. The teacher will facilitate a discussion about gravity and get students to arrive at answers to their own questions. Students will create a relative-size model of the Sun and planets. See the chart below for the scale model.

From this model, students will be able to visualize how large the Sun is compared to the rest of the planets. Students will relate size to gravitational pull.

Constructing: (SCI.I.1.MS.1), (SCI.I.1.MS.4), (SCI.I.1.MS.5).

Reflecting: (SCI.II.1MS.1), (SCI.II.1.MS.4), (SCI.II.1.MS.5), (SCI.II.1.MS.6).


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School/Benchmark 2
Assessment Example

Students will work in pairs, taking on the identity of a particular planet, to write and perform a role-play about how (in terms of revolution duration) and why (in terms of gravitational attraction) objects move around the Sun. One student should move around the Sun as his or her partner does the following:

  • Explains where his or her “planet” (partner) is in relationship to other planets
  • Explains why his or her partner is moving in a particular path
  • Gives examples of other planets or heavenly bodies that affect his or her planet’s location in space. Gives the number of satellites (moons) and gives possible reasons for this number
  • Explains why planets or other heavenly bodies affect his or her partners’ location in space

Each pair of students will write explanations to the above considerations (These should be written prior to the role-play). Role-plays should include many different approaches so all students might fully comprehend the effect that heavenly bodies have on one another.

(Give students rubric before activity.)

Scoring Rubric






Completeness of explanation

Explains the revolution of a planet by thoroughly addressing one point.

Explains the revolution of a planet by thoroughly addressing two points.

Explains the revolution of a planet by thoroughly addressing three points.

Explains the revolution of a planet by thoroughly addressing all five points.


Science/Strand V/Content Standard 4/Middle School/Benchmark 2


Captain Comet:Stardust is the first NASA mission dedicated to exploring a comet. Geared toward a K-12 audience, this site offers images, a FAQ section, puzzles, and general information about comets.

The Nine Planets: Take Bill Arnett's multimedia tour of the Solar System. “ 'The Nine Planets' is a collection of information about our Solar System intended for a general audience with little technical background.”

Fraknoi, Andrew. The Universe at Your Fingertips. NSTA, 1995.

Lunar prospector.

Messages From Space. GEMS.


Out of This World. AIMS.

Sun/Planets. Bill Nye Video. Disney Educational. (800/295-5010).

Chart for planet scale model: 1cm = 6692km


Actual diameter in kilometers

Scale diameter in meters


1,395,161 km

2.08 meters


4,880 km

7.3 mm


12,104 km

1.8 cm


12,756 km

1.9 cm


6,787 km

1.0 cm


142,800 km

21.3 cm


120,600 km

18.0 cm


50,800 km

7.6 cm


48,600 km

7.3 cm


3,000 km

4.5 mm