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Madison Metropolitan School District

Nightwatchers: Teacher's Guide

Outline of concepts to be presented

Expanded description: As the planetarium sky slowly changes from day to night, delve into the night-life as we explore the daytime sky, the concepts of day and night, the night-time sky, and nocturnal animals. This program fits well with an interdisciplinary "nighttime" unit.

This program exposes K-1 students to some of the sights and sounds of nighttime. The time and content in the program are divided between (approximately) 65% astronomy-related concepts, and 35% other nighttime related concepts such as insects, nocturnal animals, and more.

Sequence: The sequence of the program begins by showing the daytime sky. We introduce them to the Sun as a star to show them that stars are round like a ball. We "fast-forward" through the daytime to show the Sun's apparent path across the sky.  Then we transition from day to night, using the planetarium's audio and visual effects to simulate the change. We talk about sunset, and about the shape of the Earth. Then, to see the Earth looking round like a ball, we blast-off in our imaginary rocket to move far away from the Earth. We "fast-forward" the Earth's rotation (spin) to introduce the students to the fact that the Earth does spin, and that this spinning causes the change from day to night, but we don't actually expect most K-1 students to be able to fully grasp this concept yet.

Back on Earth, we help the students to find a few star patterns and constellations (Big Dipper in Ursa Major the Big Bear, Little Dipper in Ursa Minor the Little Bear, and one seasonal constellation). As we introduce them to the imaginary Big Bear in the sky, we sometimes share a myth about how the bear's tale got so long.

Then we introduce them to some nocturnal animals with photos and sound effects. In some cases, we encourage the students to identify the animal by sight, and in other cases by the sound they make. Animals and insects we include are mosquito, cricket, firefly (lightning bug), bat, frog, Whippoorwill, loon, fox, coyote, wolf, rabbit, flying squirrel, owl, opossum, porcupine, raccoon, skunk, and badger. We encourage reading interest by mentioning The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle, While the World is Sleeping, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, and Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon.

As we summarize the things we can see in the night sky, we add the moon, planets, and comets. We end the program by talking about sunrise and encourage them to go out and explore the real nighttime.

General Concepts

  • introduction to day and night
  • star patterns and constellations
  • other objects they can see in the night sky (moon, planets, comets, meteors, aurora)
  • nocturnal animals

Connecting to the Classroom

This is a very popular program for K-1 teachers and students who participate in an interdisciplinary unit about nighttime. There are many activities which can be done in the classroom which connect with this program. Due to the fact that some young children don't have positive associations with nighttime, preparation in the form of discussion about the program, and what they can expect at the planetarium are a minimum. We rarely have a student who needs to leave the planetarium because they are afraid of the dark -- possibly, partly because we make the transition from day to night slowly and we try to make it fun. But we want the children's early experiences in the planetarium to be especially positive.

Activities you might consider doing in the classroom :

  • Read the books which are mentioned in the program: The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle, While the World is Sleeping, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, and Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon.
  • Read other books about night, astronomy, or about nocturnal animals. The book Nightprowlers, by Jerry Emory, is an excellent resource for information on nocturnal animals.
  • Do connect-the-dot constellations and color them.
  • Learn about the nocturnal animals covered in the program. If you'd like to explore more video clips like the ones we include in the program, check out on the Internet.

Vocabulary: some of the words the students will likely encounter

  • sunset
  • sunrise
  • the animals that are covered in the program
  • nocturnal
  • constellations
  • star
  • planet
  • comet
  • Big Dipper and Little Dipper as star patterns
  • Earth
  • Sun
  • Moon
  • rocket (spacecraft)
  • spin or rotate
  • "fast-forward" (like when you are watching a movie)
  • Compass directions: north, south, east, west (we don't always address these, but it's good for the students to be familiar with them, and to be able to identify the letter that each of them starts with)