Learning from home? Find hands-on activities perfect for distance learning. Browse now!

Curricular Unit: Solar System!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Choose From: 9 lessons and 17 activities

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

Two images: Graphic shows our solar system— a huge, glowing orange orb surrounded by concentric rings, each containing a smaller, colored orb. Two female astronauts in orange spacesuits.
Students explore the solar system
Copyright © NASA http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-121/html/jsc2006e09832.html


An introduction to our solar system—the planets, our Sun and Moon. To begin, students learn about the history and engineering of space travel. They make simple rockets to acquire a basic understanding of Newton's third law of motion. They explore energy transfer concepts and use renewable solar energy for cooking. They see how engineers design tools, equipment and spacecraft to go where it is too far and too dangerous for humans. They explore the Earth's water cycle, and gravity as applied to orbiting bodies. They learn the steps of the design process as they create their own models of planetary rovers made of edible parts. Students conduct experiments to examine soil for signs of life, and explore orbit transfers. While studying about the International Space Station, they investigate the realities of living in space. Activities explore low gravity on human muscles, eating in microgravity, and satellite tracking. Finally, students learn about the context of our solar system—the universe—as they learn about the Hubble Space Telescope, celestial navigation and spectroscopy.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers apply their understanding of science (laws of motion, energy transfer, solar energy, water cycle, moon phases, gravity, spectroscopy, materials science, human body, chemical analysis) and math (geometry, data collection, velocity calculations, navigation, satellite tracking, fuel efficiency, calculating spacecraft maneuvers) to creating the spacecraft vehicles, equipment, tools and methods to explore our solar system.

If students are interested in astronauts, space walks, rockets, rockets and images of the distant universe, they might want to pursue their dreams and become engineers. More than just aerospace engineers work in the space industry. Biomedical, chemical, mechanical, electrical and computer (and other) engineers work together to make spacesuits, design life support systems, create new materials for spacecraft, and design control systems, cameras, communications, etc. The space industry provides endless opportunities—requiring a wide range and depth of study and expertise. Teams of engineers follow the steps of the engineering design process to create telescopes, deep space antennas, spacecraft, planetary rovers and even how to eat in microgravity, as well as conduct research and cultivate international cooperation.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/curricularunits/view/cub_solar_curricularunit] to print or download.

More Curriculum Like This

Destination Outer Space

Students acquire a basic understanding of the science and engineering of space travel as well as a brief history of space exploration. They learn about the scientists and engineers who made space travel possible and briefly examine some famous space missions.

preview of 'Destination Outer Space' Lesson
Elementary Lesson
Solar Sails: The Future of Space Travel

Working as if they were engineers, students design and construct model solar sails made of aluminum foil to move cardboard tube satellites through “space” on a string. Working in teams, they follow the engineering design thinking steps—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, redesign—to design a...

Slingshot to the Outer Planets

Students learn about the gravity assist or "slingshot" maneuver often used by engineers to send spacecraft to the outer planets. Using magnets and ball bearings to simulate a planetary flyby, students investigate what factors influence the deflection angle of a gravity assist maneuver.

preview of 'Slingshot to the Outer Planets' Activity
Elementary Activity

Unit Schedule

The following schedule provides a suggested order of the lessons and activities. However, you may choose to only teach some of the activities – as your time and priorities permit.


© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado


See individual lessons and activities.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder


This digital library content was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 12, 2020

User Comments & Tips

Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
Find more at TeachEngineering.org