Space is a popular theme in primary schools today. Some teachers focus on the Earth, Sun and Moon system, others on the Solar System. Some begin with Earth and move on out into space, while others might start with galaxies and home in on the Earth, extending the study to include solids, liquids and gases, materials, magnets, rocks and soils, habitats, adaptations and more. Exploration, transport, monsters and aliens can easily be added into the mix. However you tackle the topic, there are many ways to include mathematics.
Take a look at some of the ideas below. Most of them can be adapted for any primary year group.
- When children think of space, they usually think about stars and rockets. Use the star starter and have fun counting down to zero and shouting, 'Blast off!'
- Sing Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer.
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Key Stage 1
- Remind the children of the six-pointed star they used in the starter activities. Together, examine how the points fold in and match the interior triangles. What shape can you see when all the points are folded in? Challenge the children to make stars with 3, 4, and 5 points. You could give the children triangles, square and pentagons to draw around to get them started.
- Put the planets in our Solar System in order. Use ordinal language to describe the correct order.
- Light from the sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth. What else takes eight minutes? Set some eight-minute challenges – can you complete a snakes and ladders game (or dominoes or a card game) in eight minutes?
- Visit your local supermarket to look at food for your journey to the Moon or stars. Allocate one display stand and one 3D shape to each child. Use tally marks to help count the different packaging shapes. Collate the results in a chart back at school. Which is the most popular shape for packaging? Which is the least popular? Were there any shapes you could not find? Why? Make wanted posters for the missing or rare shapes. List the properties of the shape and what it might be needed for. Which shapes stack without leaving any spaces? You must use space wisely on your spaceship.
- Look at Captain Invincible’s control panel, found in Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes by Stuart J. Murphy (HarperCollins, ISBN 0064467317). Why are the shapes grouped into two rows? Which properties does each row of shapes have in common? Can you find more shapes to extend each row? What would each shape do?
- For a great 3D shape exploration, ask the children to design tickets to fly on a rocket to Planet Vij. Adult single tickets ‘cost’ 24 faces, children’s tickets,12 faces. Draw, stamp or stick printed shapes on the ticket to the required number of faces. Every member of a family must have a different ticket. Can the children make enough tickets to take their whole family and return home, or will they be stuck there?
- Read this article in the April 2008 issue of Child Education for some space-themed ideas on 3D shapes.
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Key Stage 2
- Remind the children of the six-pointed star they used in the number activities. Together, examine how the points fold in and match the interior triangles. What shape can you see when all the points are folded in? Challenge the children to make stars with 3, 4, and 5, 7 and 8 points. Provide regular shapes to draw around if necessary to get started.
- Make a scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope.
- Draw the planets to scale. The diameter of the Moon is 3 500 km, the Earth 13 000 km and the sun 1 400 000 km. Draw the Earth with a diameter of 13mm. What should the diameter of the moon and sun be? Use the internet to find the diameter of the planets in the solar system and draw to the same scale. The information the children are likely to find will give you the opportunity to revise rounding. They could also find the distance of each planet from the sun and draw to scale. Model the sizes and distances using The Thousand-Yard Model or The Earth as a Peppercorn from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
- Light from the sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth. If it takes three minutes for light to reach Mercury, five hours and 18 minutes to reach Pluto and the speed of light is 299 792 458 metres per second, how could you find out how long light from the sun takes to reach each of the planets?
- Use EarthTools to find the sunrise and sunset times of a chosen place. Use the data for the first of the month only to draw a bar chart or graph of daylight hours. When was the longest/shortest day? What is the average length of a day? Alternatively, allocate a month to a pair of children to work out the length of each day. Pool the information and identify days with identical lengths. What do you notice?
- Become an ‘Inbetweener’. Ask each child to choose two next-door planets and find out as much about them as possible. Use this information to design a planet that would sit ‘inbetween’ the two chosen planets. How big is it? How far from the sun is it? What other information about your planet can you provide?
- Write a travel guide to a planet – describe its position in the solar system, its weather, distance from Earth and time taken to get there, what to expect and so on.
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Further star number activities
- Number the points 1 to 6. Fold the triangles in. Explore how many different totals can be made by adding 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 numbers. Look for systematic working.
- Number the points with the even numbers 2 to 12 only. Number a second star with only odd numbers 1 to 11. Ask the children to work in pairs to explore patterns of addition: add + add = ? even + even = ? odd + even = ?
- Number the points and the interior triangles. Make the interior numbers smaller than those on the points and challenge the children to find as many different totals as they can by subtracting an interior number from a point number. Alternatively, which totals can be made by multiplying a point and an interior number? Look for patterns in the totals. Again, look for systematic working.
- Number the points and triangles as appropriate for the children. Challenge them to make a particular total in as many different ways as they can, using as many of the numbers on a particular star as they wish and any of the four operations.
- You can probably think of several more!
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Useful sources of information
Some space-themed online games
- Play Kids Games - Shuttle Launch
- Birmingham Grid for Learning - Booster Space Mission
- Count On - Shape Invaders
- ict games - space jumps
- MathsIsFun - Invaders
- Public Broadcasting Service - Mission Magnetite
- Primary Resources - Moonmaths
- Crickweb - Alien Weigh In
- Hyperstaffs - Cosmic Numbers
Mathematical stories to support a space theme
- Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes by Stuart J. Murphy (ISBN: 0064467317)
- Eric and the Red Planet by Caroline Glicksman (ISBN: 0099456400)
- Galaxy Getaway (Mathematics for Martians) by Jane Tassie (ISBN: 0753404443)
- How Big is a Million? By Anna Milbourne and Serena Riglietti (ISBN: 0794519245)
- How Much is a Million? By David M Schwartz (ISBN: 0688099335
- Planet Omicron (Mathematics for Martians) by Julie Ferris (ISBN: 0753404451)
- Space Rescue by Graham White (ISBN: 0689836546)
- Zachary Zormer Shape Transformer: A Math Adventure by Joanne A. Reisberg (ISBN: 1570918767).