Curricular Unit: Solar System!

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

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


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 meets 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.

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Students learn about the physical properties of the Moon. They compare these to the properties of the Earth to determine how life would be different for people living on the Moon.

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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 (

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.

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

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.



See individual lessons and activities.


© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado

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: September 25, 2018