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Lesson Plan #8 - Estimation of Destination
Herman Pipe
Poplar Middle School
Grade Level: 4-6
Links: Language Arts, Social Studies, and Physics


This lesson can be used along with a solar system unit or when the earth's rotation is being taught.

Time Required:

30 - 45 minute lesson

Teacher Preparation:

Before beginning this lesson, the teacher needs to read the following Native American Stories: "Her Seven Brothers", a Cheyenne legend retold by Paul Goble and "How the Big Dipper and North Star came to be", an Assiniboine legend retold by Jerome Fourstar. This can be done by reading the stories to the students or by having the students read the stories for themselves. My suggestion is the teacher read the story to the students regardless of grade level.

Student Preparation:

Students would have to have some background knowledge of the earth's orbit in our solar system.

Materials for the Classroom:

Globe toy top, paper towel rolls, black construction paper.

National Standards:

Science - Earth in the Solar System; Science as a Human Endeavor, Nature of Science
Math - Standard 7 computation and estimation


Student's will learn about the precession of earth's as it rotates about it's axis.


This lesson is a good example of how Native American culture incorporated earth science principles in their oral tradition.

Procedures for the Classroom:

  1. Read "Her Seven brothers" or "How the Big Dipper and North Star Came to Be", orally to the class.
  2. Use a globe to provide a visual aid to point out where the earth's axis is located. Then spin the globe to show how the earth is rotating.
  3. Explain that as the earth is spinning on it's axis and the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun cause the earth to move like a spinning toy top. The North Pole axis is like the topside of a top and the South Pole axis like the bottom of a top.
  4. Spin a top to illustrate this, if you don't have a top any other object may work to illustrate that the North Pole axis will point in different directions. A football spun on it's end will even work.
  5. Began a classroom discussion on how the Native Americans might have known the North Star could be used to help travelers find their way.
  6. Students can cover one end of their paper towel, toilet paper, or gift wrapping paper rolls with black construction paper and with a push pin create the Big Dipper and North Star.

Facts and Concepts:

Astronomers have been able to prove that the star is called the "North Star" because it lines up with the North Pole and this changes approximately every 26,000 years. In 3000, B. C., the North Star was Thuban, a star in the constellation of Draco. Presently the North Star is Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor. In the year 15,000, the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra, will be the North Star.

Follow-Up Activities:

Students at a more advanced level can learn about how a Gyroscope works.

Evaluation Suggestions:

The evaluation will be from the classroom discussion, and their model of the Big Dipper and North Star.

"Her Seven Brothers", illustrated by Paul Goble
"How the Big Dipper and North Star came to Be", Indian Reader Series, Northwest Labs.

Illustration 1.
The precession of the earth shows first where the North pole presently aligns with Polaris, the middle pole is where the earth axis will be in 15,000 A.D. when the North Star will be Vega, The pole at the left is where the earth's axis' was 3, 000 B.C. when the North Star was Thuban.


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