6.1 Strand

The solar system consists of the Sun, planets, and other objects within Sun’s gravitational influence. Gravity is the force of attraction between masses. The Sun-Earth-Moon system pro- vides an opportunity to study interactions between objects in the solar system that influence phenomena observed from Earth. Scientists use data from many sources to determine the scale and properties of objects in our solar system.

STORYLINE: 6.1.1 Patterns of the Sun-Earth-Moon System

Standard(s) 6.1.1:  Develop and use a model of the Sun-Earth-Moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the Sun and Moon, and seasons. Examples of models could be physical, graphical, or conceptual. (ESS1.A, ESS1.B)


Developing and Using Models: Students develop and use a model to illustrate and describe lunar phases, eclipses, and seasons.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

(ESS1.A): The Universe and Its Stars

(ESS1.B): Earth and The Solar System

 The Universe and Its Stars in their thinking and reasoning to communicate that:

  • Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models.

Cross Cutting Concepts

Patterns: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data related to phenomena of the sun-earth-moon system.

Storyline Narrative

SEEd Standard 6.1.1 asks students to develop and use a model of the Sun-Earth-Moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the Sun and Moon, and seasons. This standard suggests developing physical, graphical, and conceptual models. 


To begin our storyline, students are presented with the phenomena, does the moon change shape in a pattern? To obtain information, students will engage in an observation of the moon’s changing appearance. Through observation, students will argue from evidence to discover that the moon changes in a cyclical pattern that takes approximately 28 days. This will lead them to question the cause of the pattern. Students will then explore by gathering more information from Universe Sandbox to reason about the cause of the patterns by developing their models of the Sun-Earth-Moon system, leading them to question why the pattern recycles approximately every 28 days. Students will explain their understanding of the lunar patterns by creating a physical representation that simulates what they have observed. They will discover that the lunar patterns recycle after a full rotation around the earth. They will connect this information to their previous understanding that the cyclical pattern takes approximately 28 days to repeat. Students will use their models to expand their understanding by arguing from evidence why their models are correct and adding the scientific names that scientists use for the different phases in the pattern. Finally, students will evaluate their understanding by using their conceptual models to predict and explain how specific phases of the moon fit in a certain time frame. 


Students will take the models of the Sun-Earth-Moon system that they have used to explain lunar patterns and apply their understanding to a new phenomena. The new phenomena will be introduced when students watch a video of a midday solar eclipse. Students will engage in discussion to explain the pattern. Students will further their exploration of this phenomena by obtaining information from an article about eclipses. Students will question why these eclipses don’t happen every month. To construct an explanation, students will develop models to explain their understanding and simulate the Sun-Earth-Moon system. Through discussion they will discover that the moon’s orbit must be different from Earth’s or else there would be two eclipses each month. Students will evaluate their understanding by constructing an explanation to be shared with a younger 5th grader. 


Students will develop their models of the Sun-Earth-Moon system further by observing the phenomena, different locations experience different length of days.  Students will engage in analysis of this pattern by looking at data of length of days throughout the world. As they explore this information, students will discuss other patterns that would follow this trend. Students will specifically observe the patterns between length of day and temperatures to determine that seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are opposite from those in the Southern Hemisphere. This will lead students to ask why they are seeing this pattern. Students will then add to their models by reading an article about how the tilt of the earth causes the seasons. Students will take this information and explain what they have read using their models. They will expand their understanding by investigating how direct and indirect sunlight works using a computer simulator. Students will then evaluate their understanding by preparing a presentation to communicate to an outside audience how the pattern of seasons are caused by the Sun-Earth-Moon system.

Phenomena Statement

 A volcano rapidly formed in a field in Paricutin.

STORYLINE: 6.1.2 Gravity and Inertia

Standard(s) 6.1.2: Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity and inertia in orbital motions of objects in our solar system. (ESS1.B) 


Developing and Using Models: Students will develop, use, and revise a model to show orbital motion of objects in our solar system.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

(ESS1.B): Earth and the Solar System

Students know and apply the 


Earth and The Solar System in their thinking and reasoning to communicate that:

  • The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. 

  • This model of the solar system can explain tides, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and the motion of the planets in the sky relative to the stars. Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. 

  • The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year.

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Models can be used to explain the parameters and relationships that describe complex systems.

Storyline Narrative

SEEd Standard 6.1.2 asks students to develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity and inertia in orbital motions of objects in our solar system. 

Students will begin this storyline engaging in asking questions about why the planets orbit the sun. Students will observe the solar system using Universe Sandbox and use the patterns they observe to generate questions that will help them answer why planets orbit the sun. Students are left asking the question, what are the forces that keep the planets from floating away?


Students will create a model to explain that the planets revolve and stay in an orbital pattern around the sun. Students will discuss what forces keep the planets from floating away. Students will explore by investigating how gravity is affected by different properties as they adjust mass and distance. Students will use this understanding of gravity to develop a model of what is happening in our solar system. Students will discover that gravity is a force that is increased as mass increases or as the distance decreases. Gravity decreases as mass decreases or as distance increases. This leaves students questioning why the planets don’t get pulled into the sun by gravity. 


Students will discuss the patterns they see and predict what would happen to the planets if the sun’s gravity were taken away. Students will develop their models of the system further as they investigate with a marble and a hoop to explain the phenomena. Students will communicate that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside source, also known as inertia. Students will then ask the question, how do planets gain inertia? 


Students will investigate how magnets, which exhibit characteristics similar to gravity, come together. Students will observe that as magnets come together, the system begins to spin. Students will elaborate by developing and using a model of the solar system to construct an explanation of how gravity and inertia work together to form systems. Students will further their models by using a chain to observe that as matter circulates in space around an axis, it causes the matter to move outward from the center, compressing and forming a disk-like shape. Students will observe this pattern on various scales, including sun-planets and planets-moons. 

To evaluate students’ proficiency, students will be assessed on their use of evidence in their constructed explanations of the phenomena.

Phenomena Statement

Animals gather at lakes to drink water, but you don’t see animals drinking from the Great Salt Lake.


Standard(s) 5.1.3: Ask questions to plan and carry out investigations that provide evidence for the effects of weathering and the rate of erosion on the geosphere. Emphasize weathering and erosion by water, ice, wind, gravity, or vegetation. Examples could include observing the effects of cycles of freezing and thawing of water on rock or changing the slope in the downhill movement of water. (ESS2.A, ESS2.E)


Asking Questions and Defining Problems in grades 3–5 builds on grades K–2 experiences and progresses to specifying qualitative relationships.

  • Ask questions that can be investigated based on patterns such as cause and effect relationships.


Planning and Carrying Out Investigations to answer questions or test solutions to problems in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to include investigations that control variables and provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions. 

  • Make observations and/or measurements to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence for an explanation of a phenomenon.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems

Rainfall helps to shape the land and affects the types of living things found in a region. Water, ice, wind, living organisms, and gravity break rocks, soils, and sediments into smaller particles and move them around. ESS2.E: Biogeology ∙ Living things affect the physical characteristics of their regions.

Cross Cutting Concepts

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified, tested, and used to explain change.


Storyline Narrative

SEEd Standard 6.1.3 asks students to use computational thinking to analyze and determine the scale and properties of objects in the solar system. Examples of scale could include size and distances. Examples of properties could include layers, temperature, surface features, and orbital radius. Data source could include Earth and space-based instruments such as telescopes and satellites. Types of data could include graphs, data tables, drawings, photographs, and models. 


In this storyline, students engage in observing patterns and making predictions about Galileo’s work on the moons of Jupiter. Students interpret patterns to determine the motion of Jupiter’s moons. Students make sense of and interpret data by formatting it in different ways, such as charts and graphs. 


Students explore by using computational thinking and  analyzing multiple sets of data from NASA’s Planet Profiles into tables and charts based on patterns they can observe. Students take a close look at the different properties of each of the planets, including mass, distance from the sun, temperature, revolution period etc. and determine where there are patterns and correlations between the different planets. Students will argue about correlations found among different properties of the planets based on evidence from the data. Students argue that the scale and properties of objects in the solar system correlate with other properties within the solar system. 


Students explain using the data and arguments to construct explanations for how different properties affect celestial objects in the solar system. Students elaborate that distance from the sun, diameter, density, surface features, structure, scale,  and composition often follow trends we can observe through data. 


Students research the different types of technology being used to learn about space. Different types of technology including, photographs from the the space based telescopes, space probes, and other technologies. Students will communicate that technology is vastly different from Galileo’s time and even from ten years ago.  

To evaluate student’s proficiency students are assessed on their use of evidence in their constructed explanations of the phenomena.

Phenomena Statement

Flash floods can move dirt and rocks quickly.