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    Earth's Place in the Universe

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

Performance Expectations

  1. Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. MS-ESS1-1

    Clarification Statement and Assessment Boundary
  2. Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system. MS-ESS1-2

    Clarification Statement and Assessment Boundary
  3. Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system. MS-ESS1-3

    Clarification Statement and Assessment Boundary
  4. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth's 4.6-billion-year-old history. MS-ESS1-4

    Clarification Statement and Assessment Boundary

A Peformance Expectation (PE) is what a student should be able to do to show mastery of a concept. Some PEs include a Clarification Statement and/or an Assessment Boundary. These can be found by clicking the PE for "More Info." By hovering over a PE, its corresponding pieces from the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts will be highlighted.

Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models

Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories.

By clicking on a specific Science and Engineering Practice, Disciplinary Core Idea, or Crosscutting Concept, you can find out more information on it. By hovering over one you can find its corresponding elements in the PEs.

Planning Curriculum

Common Core State Standards Connections


  • RST.6-8.1 - Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts. (MS-ESS1-3), (MS-ESS1-4)
  • RST.6-8.7 - Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table). (MS-ESS1-3)
  • SL.8.5 - Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest. (MS-ESS1-1)
  • WHST.6-8.2 - Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes. (MS-ESS1-4)


  • 6.EE.B.6 - Use variables to represent numbers and write expressions when solving a real-world or mathematical problem; understand that a variable can represent an unknown number, or, depending on the purpose at hand, any number in a specified set. (MS-ESS1-2), (MS-ESS1-4)
  • 6.RP.A.1 - Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities. (MS-ESS1-1), (MS-ESS1-2), (MS-ESS1-3)
  • 7.EE.B.4 - Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities. (MS-ESS1-2), (MS-ESS1-4)
  • 7.RP.A.2 - Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities. (MS-ESS1-1), (MS-ESS1-2), (MS-ESS1-3)
  • MP.2 - Reason abstractly and quantitatively. (MS-ESS1-3)
  • MP.4 - Model with mathematics. (MS-ESS1-1), (MS-ESS1-2)

Model Course Mapping

First Time Visitors

Resources & Lesson Plans

  • More resources added each week!
    A team of teacher curators is working to find, review, and vet online resources that support the standards. Check back often, as NSTA continues to add more targeted resources.
  • Deep Thinking Over Geologic Time is a seven-part unit consisting of hands on activities and graphical analysis designed to investigate the role of fossils and rock layers in determining the Earth’s age and geologic history. Individual lessons b ...

  • The Great Gravity Escape is an outdoor based, kinesthetic activity designed to illustrate the role of gravity and velocity in orbital interactions by calculating the escape velocity for a water balloon “spacecraft” orbiting a student. The ...

  • Who’s on First? A Relative Dating Activity is a hands on exercise which introduces students to the concepts of sequencing and using fossils to establish relative dates for rock strata.  In the first part of the activity, students are asked ...

  • My Solar System is an orbital simulator which students use to investigate how mass, position and velocity affect gravitational forces.  Students can either select from ten preset scenarios, ranging from simple sun-planet-moon simulations to more ...

  • Exploring Lunar and Solar Eclipses via a 3-D Modeling Design Task is a detailed lesson plan published in the October 2016 issue of NSTA’s Science Scope journal.  It is free to NSTA members but can be purchased for a nominal fee by non-memb ...

  • Including Students presents a single, kinesthetic model that can be used to explain such varied concepts as rotation, revolution, phases of the Moon and seasons. The outlined activities are meant to be used throughout an entire Astronomy unit.   ...

  • The NASA Eclipse Web Site contains multiple pages of data which students can explore, analyze and use to explain phenomena.  The site contains data on solar and lunar eclipses and on the transits of Venus and Mars.  On the solar eclipse pag ...

  • Toilet Paper Solar System is a high-interest, kinesthetic group activity in which students create a scalar model of distances in the solar system using a single roll of toilet paper.  This activity can be conducted in either a long hallway or, a ...

  • Seasons Interactive provides students an opportunity to investigate the existence of seasons.  In this simulation, users cause the Earth to revolve around the Sun by toggling through a calendar year. Users can compare daylight duration (in hours ...

  • Gravity and Orbits is an interactive simulation that investigates the effect of gravity on orbital paths. Users are given the option of investigating four scenarios: 1. star and planet, 2. star, planet and moon, 3. planet and moon, and, finally, 4. p ...

  • The Pull of the Planets is part of a thematic series of lessons highlighting the Juno mission to Jupiter. It is a traditional hands on activity that models how gravitational forces can keep planets and asteroids in orbit within the Solar System. Usi ...

  • Lunar Phases is an interactive simulation consisting of three scaffolding activities. In Activity One, students are tasked with determining which half of the Earth and Moon is lit as the Moon revolves around the Earth. The directions state that use ...

  • In Eclipse Interactive, students investigate both lunar and solar eclipses by manipulating up to three independent variables: Moon's tilt from orbit, Earth-Moon distance and size of the Moon. By viewing the effects of changes to these variables, stud ...

  • Solar System Scale and Size is a two-part activity that explores relative distances and sizes of objects in our Solar System using the 5E Instructional Model. In Activity 1, students are tasked with calculating relative distances to the Sun for the p ...

  • Seasons Interactive provides students with the opportunity to investigate how Earth's angle of inclination affects three factors: the angle of incoming sunlight, average daily temperatures and the Sun’s ecliptic path. Three preset values fo ...

  • Do you have a great resource to share with the community? Click here.
  • This is a set of multiple choice items developed by AAAS Project 2061 focused on the topic of the seasons. The items are different from many multiple choice science test items in that they assess students’ conceptual understanding (not just facts ...

  • The activity is similar to the traditional activity where there is a bright light source in the classroom and students place a Styrofoam ball on a pencil. However, rather than having the teacher explain the model, students are instead asked to use a ...

  • This simulation by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln demonstrates the correspondence between the moon's position in its orbit, its phase, and its position in an observer's sky at different times of day.

  • This vocabulary matching engagement includes terms for tides and lunar phases and can be used as a formative assessment with middle school students.

  • This activity description provides a kinesthetic model of tides: high and low, as well as spring and neap.

  • This activity is designed to show students the relationship between ocean tides and the lunar movements by creating and examining graphs of the tides over months and comparing the lunar phases to the pattern.

  • Complete Description of project and files for your use shared in an easy to navigate website.

  • Best science video I've ever seen. Turn up your speakers and shake the windows with the sound of planets colliding to create the earth and moon, and ice sheets three miles thick covering the earth and crushing the continents.

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the Earth’s rotation and the resulting “migrations” of celestial bodies. The Sun, Moon, and Stars: Patterns of Apparent Motion learning objective — based on NGSS and state standards — delivers i...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the what, how, and why of the Moon and its cycles. The Lunar Phases learning objective — based on NGSS and state standards — delivers improved student engagement and academic performance in your...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the components and characteristics of galaxies and how scientists study them. The Milky Way and Other Galaxies learning objective — based on NGSS and state standards — delivers improved student ...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about all kinds of celestial objects within Earth’s immediate surroundings — from the Sun all the way down to meteoroids — and their size, composition, internal layering, and surface features. The Our...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the major phenomena caused by the sun, earth, and moon’s relative positions: solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, and the four seasons. The Eclipses and Seasons learning objective — based on NGSS and...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn the story of our solar system — specifically the Nebular Theory — including the time frame of the birth of the solar system, how the sun and planets were each formed, and what will become of the solar...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the accumulation of rock strata and other geologic features, and how scientists study them along with the fossil record to shed light on the Earth’s natural history. The Fossil Record learning o...

  • In this series of games, your students will learn about the earth’s geologic timeline and how scientists find and use clues to color in the details of our planet’s history. The Geologic Time learning objective — based on NGSS and state standards — de...

  • From Space to Earth: Meteor Craters turns students into experimenters in the investigation of the scientific processes of impact cratering.

  • To assess students' three dimensional learning it's necessary to have a task that will enable you to see what they can do.

  • STEAM PBL learning at the intersection of place-knowing, critical thinking, and creative making

  • In this activity, students investigate what causes the seasons by doing a series of kinesthetic modeling activities and readings.

  • This activity engages learners to investigate the impact of Earth's tilt and the angle of solar insolation as the reason for seasons by doing a series of hands-on activities that include scale models. Students plot the path of the Sun's apparent move...

  • This teaching activity is an introduction to how ice cores from the cryosphere are used as indicators and record-keepers of climate change as well as how climate change will affect the cryosphere.

  • A computer animation on the reason for the seasons. Voice-over describes the motion of Earth around the sun to show how the sun's light impacts the tilted Earth at different times of the year, causing seasonal changes.

  • This activity supports educators in the use of the activities that accompany the GLOBE Program's Earth System Poster 'Exploring Connections in Year 2007'. Students identify global patterns and connections in environmental data that include soil moist...

  • An applet about the Milankovitch cycle that relates temperature over the last 400,000 years to changes in the eccentricity, precession, and orbital tilt of Earth's orbit.

  • In this activity, students reconstruct past climates using lake varves as a proxy to interpret long-term climate patterns. Students use data from sediment cores to understand annual sediment deposition and how it relates to weather and climate patter...

  • This animated visualization of precession, eccentricity, and obliquity is simple and straightforward and provides text explanations. It is a good starting place to show Milankovitch cycles.

  • An interactive that illustrates the relationships between the axial tilt of the Earth, latitude, and temperature. Several data sets (including temperature, Sun-Earth distance, daylight hours) can be generated.

  • This animation demonstrates the changing declination of the sun with a time-lapse animation. It shows how the shadow of a building changes over the course of a year as the declination of the sun changes.

  • This Motions of the Sun Lab is an interactive applet from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Astronomy Applet project.

  • This three-part, hands-on investigation explores how sunlight's angle of incidence at Earth’s surface impacts the amount of solar radiation received in a given area. The activity is supported by PowerPoint slides and background information.

  • This interactive activity, in applet form, guides students through the motion of the sun and how they relate to seasons.

  • A phenomenon-based unit driven by student questions about Earth and space that builds toward MS-ESS1-1, MS-ESS1-2, MS-ESS1-3, and MS-PS2-4. This Google folder contains all documents needed for this 5 week unit. This unit has been submitted to Achie...

  • Moon Phases

  • Seasons

  • Gravity and Orbits

  • Habitable Worlds

  • Geologic Time and the Fossil Record

  • Solar Activity and Space Weather

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data Part, Part 1 -- Graphing

Planning Curriculum gives connections to other areas of study for easier curriculum creation.