Zodiac Belt – Teaching the Seasonal Appearance of Stars

Constellations in the zodiac provide a great opportunity for teaching about the seasonal appearance of stars. Furthermore, they provide insight to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Add these activities to your astronomy unit.

The Zodiac Belt and Seasonal Appearance of Stars Cover

Mr. Grow Teaches the Seasonal Stars with the Zodiac Belt

Our favorite fifth grade teacher sat at the side table with his mentor. “Okay, let’s plan some more space science activities. Next week, I’d like to hit the final part of this standard, NGSS 5-ESS1-2:

Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

“Hmm,” replied Ms. Sneed. “That’s a tricky one. Sounds like all of this builds evidence of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.”

Thoughtfully, she tapped her pencil on the table and stared into space. Then she sat up straight. “Aha! I remember a project on the zodiac belt. Yes, I think it would fit the bill.”

Quickly, she pulled out her computer. Soon she was searching away. “This astronomy activity is similar to the one I used before. However, it offers even more!”

Setting the Stage with a Story

Ms. Sneed turned her screen so Mr. Grow could look on. “You begin with a story.” As she scanned the text, she summarized. “A boy and his mom look at constellations in the night sky. They discuss the zodiac belt. Then their conversation turns toward the ecliptic. You know, the flat plane on which objects in the solar system orbit the Sun. Months later, they look at the same spot in the sky, but the constellations have changed with the seasons. This sets the stage for kids’ exploration of seasonal stars – and integrates reading with science.”

Set the stage for teaching about seasonal appearance of some stars in the sky! This read-aloud story gets kids thinking about movement of constellations in the zodiac belt.
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Building a Model of the Zodiac Belt

As Ms. Sneed scrolled through the pages, Mr. Grow noticed three pages of constellations. “Evidently, you tape these pages together to form a circle,” he said.

“Yep. The zodiac belt. Then you place cutouts of the Sun and Earth in the middle. Kids move the Earth around the Sun to explore which stars appear in which seasons.”

Kids tape three pages together in a circle. This forms the zodiac belt. Then they place a paper cutout of the sun, as well as a smaller cutout that's dark on one side (Earth), in the middle. Moving the Earth helps kids understand why some stars are seasonal.

Responding About Seasonal Stars

“Then,” Mr. Grow continued, they record it on these pages.”

Ms. Sneed grinned. “Wow, kids get the data the standard requested. Not only that, the hands-on activity helps them conceptualize the whole thing. I love it!”

As kids look at the model of the zodiac belt, they use these pages to collect data on seasonal stars.

Enjoy Teaching Space Science

With active learning about seasonal appearance of stars, kids love science. And when the kids are happy – and learning – the teacher is happy too

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