Underneath the Stars

Science Unit
Our Place in Space

This unit builds on pupils’ curiosity about space and leads them through a closer look at the stars. It explores how the stars have impacted on societies over time and how light pollution affects our view of them.

Key Questions:

  1. Why study space?
  2. Where are we in space?
  3. What do you see in the sky at night?
  4. How have the stars helped us over time?
  5. How can you tell which star is which?
  6. How can we save the night sky?
  7. Will the stars always shine?
  8. So, what do we know about the stars?

Developing Pupils’ Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities

Developing Pupils’ Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

Managing Information:

  • selecting, classifying, comparing and evaluating information from sources

Working with Others:

  • Agreeing how to work collaboratively
  • Taking personal responsibility for work in groups


  • Reviewing performance and being aware of own strengths, limitations and interests.

Research scientific information from a range of sources


Learn about Earth and Universe –
The Solar System and Universe


Why study space?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities






…to give reasons to support opinions.





Maybe I’m amazed
Pupils are given time to think and complete the statements below:

“What amazes me most about space is…”
“What I really want to know about space is…”

They share their statements and decide which ones are the most interesting, unusual, etc. These statements can be displayed prominently for reference.

Pupils work in pairs to discuss the question,
“Why should humankind continue to explore space?”
They share their answers, using evidence and examples to support their reasons. Answers may be classified under headings such as:

  1. reasons for/reasons against;
  2. impacts on individuals/society/economy/environment etc.

How can science help us understand space?
Class discussion about the role of science and technology in space exploration and discovery.

Where are we in space?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities

…to find, evaluate, select and summarise significant information.
Managing Information



…about the relationships between the solar system, Milky Way and Universe.

Our local neighbourhood
What do we know about our nearest neighbours in space?
The class share what they already know about the solar system and identify what they still want to find out. Pupils work in groups to research planets, asteroids and comets. (Teachers may set up information corners to support this research.). Each group summarises their research into 5 key facts and presents these to the class. The class agree a number of conclusions based on all the information, for example, similarities and differences, relationship to the sun etc.


Pupils may discuss the analogy of the solar sytem as “our local neighbourhood” and think of how they could extend this analogy to describe the Milky Way and the Universe.
Pupils could write their addresses beginning with their unique house number, street and post code and ending with The Universe to convey their sense of belonging at a range of scales.

What do you see in the sky at night?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities

…about the characteristics of stars.

…to find information independently from different sources.
Managing Information



 What are stars?
Pupils describe what they can see in the sky at night, for example, stars, moon, satellites and other objects.
They consider the range of questions below or come up with some of their own. They select ones to investigate, for example:

  • What are stars?
    What makes them shine?
    Why are there stars?
    Is our sun a star?
    Why does a star twinkle?
    Do stars move around the sky?


How have the stars helped us over time?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities


…to identify well known constellations.

…about how the constellations inspired and influenced different cultures.



Making sense of the stars (links with Mathematics and English)
Why did different cultures read the stars?
Pupils generate ideas/find out about how the stars were used by different cultures, for example:

  1. the early mariners and explorers used the North Star for navigation;
  2. the ancient Egyptians prepared for the flooding of the Nile when they saw Sirius rise with the sun;
  3. in South Africa  the reappearance of the Pleiades star cluster (the ‘digging stars’) in the early morning sky, signalled that it was time to start digging the ground to plant crops;
  4. during World War 2, stars were important navigation aids for pilots flying long distance night patrols.

How can you tell which star is which?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities




…to work effectively as part of a small team.
Working with Others

…to use the internet to find information.
…to select, classify, compare and evaluate information.
…to organise and present findings.
Managing Information

The explorers, farmers and poets of the past made sense of the stars by making patterns from clusters of stars. By breaking the sky into shapes they were able to identify particular stars. The shapes or constellations were like memory aids.

The constellations
Pupils work in small groups to conduct a Webquest (an enquiry-based activity requiring pupils to interact with information from the Internet) in order to make a presentation (electronic/poster/oral, etc.) about a chosen constellation.
Opportunity to assess Using ICT

  1. Pupils are introduced to a well known constellation and the stories behind it.
  2. Set task – pupils have to select another constellation, research it from the internet and present their finding to the class. They must include:
    • a diagram or model of its star pattern and shape (for example, a kitchen-roll telescope can be made by piercing a black page with the star pattern and attaching it to one end of a kitchen roll tube);
    •  the story behind it and what it tells us about the people that looked at them, for example, the Ancient Greeks; and
    • their own modern day picture based on the constellation along with a modern day story.
  3. Planning – the pupils discuss and agree how to plan and organise the task. 

…to review their performance
…to identify their own strengths, limitations and interests.







…about the use of artificial satellites.




  1. Resources – appropriate web-links are given (see at end of unit).
  2. Evaluation – for example, self evaluation questionnaire:
  • What did I learn about the constellations and their importance?
  • How effective was my contribution to the group?
  • What did I learn about using the internet?
  1. Conclusions – to identify key aspects of the learning and pose significant questions that arise from their findings.


Constellation choice could be explored further in Mathematics (angles).

Using a star-finder or Planisphere, pupils are able to find out when these constellations can be located in the skies over Northern Ireland.
Children's University of Manchester

The “new stars”
Pupils generate examples about how satellites have impacted on their everyday lives, for example, different types of communications, navigation, weather forecasting etc. They evaluate the impact of satellites on their everyday lives and consider how their daily lives would change without them.

They consider how satellites can help improve quality of life for people in different countries across the world (GEONETcast system).
They may also consider ethical issues arising from the use of satellites (for example warfare, spy satellites etc.) and give their own reasoned opinions.

How can we save the night sky?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities


…to make links between ideas.


…to interpret images.



…to be aware of how others viewed the night sky.



… to think about a range of consequences.
Thinking, Problem-Solving, Decision-Making

Looking up
"The night sky is the world's largest national park…. “Geoff Chester ,US Naval Observatory
The pupils explore this analogy and list what national parks and the night sky have in common.

Looking down;
They view images of the earth from space at night, for example, Space.com.
They discuss these images and attempt to agree on 3 general observations, 2 conclusions and 1 key question.

They could explore what Robert Frost said about light pollution and the electrification of rural America in his poem ‘The Literate Farmer and the Planet Venus’. They could suggest when the poem was published (1942!) and think about what he might have to say about the situation today.
They could look for references in the same poem to find out about Frost’s sense of spiritual awareness. How did the night sky inspire him? How did it make him feel and think, etc?
See the extract using this link: Sky This Week

They use a flow diagram or consequence wheel to help identify first order and second order consequences of light pollution for:

  • the local and global environment;
  • astronomy.






…to classify into appropriate categories.




Place an image on the desk and a naked bulb beside it. Pupils have to design an appropriate mechanism for lighting up only the image. They consider the best way to do this using the least amount of energy. They consider materials, reflectors, angles, power, colours etc. They share their solutions and consider the implications for external lighting.
They come up with a set of general recommendations for reducing light pollution.

Pupils work in groups to identify and define specific categories of light pollution, for example glare, sky glow, light trespass etc. They summarise the characteristics of each category and classify different examples of lighting (for example, stadium floodlighting, supermarket lighting, street lighting, garden lighting etc.) into the appropriate categories. Are they easy to classify? Do some examples belong to more that one category?



…to think creatively to generate and evaluate possible solutions.







Audit and action
Pupils plan and carry out an audit of lighting in the school grounds, inside and out. They consider the purpose of the lighting and how the design of the light source contributes to light pollution by glare, sky glow and/or light trespass. They identify possible improvements in terms of reducing light pollution and energy consumption and consider how to communicate their findings to a particular audience such as the school council, school management team, school decision makers, for example, by awareness raising, lobbying, meetings etc. (Possible links with Citizehship)


Pupils find out about and evaluate other ways of reducing light pollution, including town charters and innovative products, for example:

Useful resource: Caspian Learning Application on Light Pollution.

Will the stars always shine?

Learning Intentions
Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities

…to  sequence and justify their choice.
Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making




…to use research grade technology to investigate the universe.

Life cycle of a star
Pupils use cards to attempt to sequence the main stages of the life cycle of a star from birth to destruction, justifying their choice. 
Using this information, they suggest what stage the sun is at.
Teachers can lead discussion about the lifecycle of a star and invite analogies from pupils about other lifecycles in nature that they know about.

Can we identify stars at different stages of their life cycle?
Pupils can use the Faulkes telescopes and The Lifecycle of the Star poster to demonstrate their understanding.

The Faulkes Telescope Project operates two 2-metre optical telescopes, located in Hawaii and Australia. These telescopes are used by school students in the UK and other areas of the EU. Faulkes Telescope users from across the world can take beautiful images of objects in the night sky, live from their classrooms, and participate in international research programmes with astronomers from around the world.

There may be opportunity for pupils to also work collaboratively on a ‘stellar lifecycle’ project with their peers in other parts of Europe, using the Faulkes resource.
Teachers may also consider working with an astronomer mentor on the project to attain BA CREST award accreditation from SETPOINT.

So, what do we know about the stars?

Learning Intentions Pupils are learning …

Possible Learning, Teaching and Assessment Activities

…to reflect on what has been learned and how.
Self Management

Pupils agree the key points they have learned about the stars. They then consider how Science has helped them explain these points.
They list questions that are still unanswered.

Pupils discuss the activities they have been involved in during this unit.  They record their personal reflections about space and related issues into their notebooks using prompts such as:

  • “I think…”
  • “I learned …”
  • “What amazes me is …”
  • “The best part was…”
  • “What inspired me was …”
  • “I now want to find out more about …”
  • “What concerns me most is…”


Development of Learning Outcomes

  • research and manage information effectively, using Mathematics and ICT where appropriate;
  • show deeper scientific understanding by thinking critically and  flexibly, solving problems and making informed decisions, using Mathematics and ICT where appropriate;
  • demonstrate creativity and initiative when developing ideas and following them through;
  • work effectively with others;
  • demonstrate self-management by working systematically, persisting with tasks, evaluating and improving own performance;
  • communicate effectively in oral, visual, written, mathematical and ICT formats, showing clear awareness of audience and purpose.


Links with Key Elements

Links with Learning for Life & Work

Spiritual Understanding
Develop a sense of wonder about the Universe

Cultural Understanding
Consider how the development of scientific ideas or theories relate to the historical or cultural context

Local and Global Citizenship
Investigate an issue from a range of viewpoints

Investigate how technology is affecting life and work, for example, how technology developed for space has filtered down into use in everyday life.


Useful weblinks and resources

Armagh Planetarium

The official astronomy and space science centre in Northern Ireland is the Armagh Planetarium. The Planetarium has a wide range of resources and teaching materials to support teachers at all key stages including:

Digital theatre presentations
Themed exhibition areas
Inreach and outreach workshops.

Our Nearest Star

A comprehensive website devoted to solar science with ‘live’ views of the Sun from space.

British National Space Centre                                        
Excellent learning resource provided by the British National Space Centre

British National Space Centre                                         
Another BNSC link providing information about the Solar System and UK missions

NASA Solar system tour with information relating to our Star

Our Galaxy

Projects and information on how to observe galaxies ‘live’ using the Faulkes Telescope

Excellent education resource from NASA looking at the Milky Way through multi wavelengths              

Life Cycle of a Star

Good educational website that explores the various stages of a stellar lifecycle

Utilise the Faulkes Telescopes to image various stars at points in their life cycle and create a diagram.

Resource highlighting the stellar lifecycle and how initial mass defines the life and death of a star.

Making Sense of the Stars

Windows to the Universe
Excellent resource investigating mythology from all countries and celestial perceptions per region. Also available in Spanish for science, citizenship, drama and language cross-curricular links.

Well written resources discovering the stories behind the constellations.

Do Stars Move?

Excellent free Planetarium software with loads of options for viewing the Night Sky at any time from anywhere on Earth.

Another brilliant free planetarium resource allowing pupils to investigate all manner of celestial activity, the motion and detail of the planets.

The Faulkes site provides access to practical observing information, projects and useful astronomy resources.

Quickfire interactive quiz with true/false style questions regarding the Seasons and orbit of the Moon.

Very good interactive seasons simulator allowing pupils to investigate changes in temperature, light and position of the Earth relative to the Sun.