Star Lab: A Myth Making Activity

This year, Star Lab visited our school.  Unfortunately, it came during the holiday season, and with everything else going on (and already being in the middle of another unit), I didn’t have the time to devote four or five classes to an introduction to astronomy.  Even so, I still wanted to utilize the resource and give my fifth graders the opportunity to see the “night sky” in school. I ended up creating the activity below as a fun way to end the week, while still giving the students a little dose of starry skies.

I started the lesson by asking my students to imagine they lived a long time ago.  Every night the sun disappeared, and millions of tiny sparkly dots filled the sky.  Not really understanding what these tiny dots were, they created myths to explain their presence.  That was what we were going to be doing today.

Students then picked a constellation at random from the pile.  I had printed the constellation picture, star information, and legend from the Star Lab website.  They provide curriculum for the different “layers” you can use (which is not limited to astronomy — they have shells for plate tectonics, the cell, and weather too!).  I cut the constellations into strips and folded them so that only the picture was visible.  I then stapled the folded paper shut, so no one would cheat during the activity.  After our activity, I encouraged them to pull out the staple and read the real myth associated with their constellation.

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We then entered the Lab, and I asked students to take a few minutes to silently look at the stars, find their constellation, and construct a myth based on their impressions.  After a few minutes (they actually did a great job during this reflection time!), one by one, students shared the myths they had created.

Looking back, I wish I had recorded them.  While many students simply told stories about the star (it looks like a waiter at a coffee shop, it looks like a dog…), a few of my students really got the idea of this myth-making.  According to one boy, one constellation depicted an ax that had been taken away from the people by God after they had destroyed the environment by overharvesting their resources…. Another depicted a one-armed man (Lucky Lefty) who had lost his arm and life in a fight with Right Hand Rick, but instead of death, God placed him in the stars in honor of his bravery, or something along those lines… They not only had neat story lines, but they had a real knack for storytelling. I was impressed!

After we left the Lab, I listened to them telling each other the Greek myth associated with their constellation, as they finally unstapled their papers and found the information inside.  Even though it wasn’t particularly “sciencey,” the kids had a good time, and it had definitely piqued their interest in stars and myths.

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