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The Big Bang – Lesson Plan (grades 4-6) - Science A 2 Z - 6th commandment for kids

The Big Bang – Lesson Plan
(grades 4-6)
Libby Black

Concepts Addressed: The Big Bang, the Universe, history of cosmology, scientific theories, relative size of things, expansion of the universe

Lesson Goals: The students will understand the origin and basis of the Big Bang theory and become familiar with the relative size of things, the age of the known universe, the expansion of the universe, and the idea of accepted scientific theories in general.

Lesson Objectives:
Students will
▪ simulate the distribution of matter and energy from the Big Bang
▪ graph the distribution
▪ compare other student results with their own

Benchmarks Addressed:
Grade 4:
4.1P.1 Describe the properties of forms of energy and how objects vary in the extent to which they absorb, reflect, and conduct energy.
4.2P.1 Describe physical changes in matter and explain how they occur.
4.3S.3 Explain that scientific claims about the natural world use evidence that can be confirmed and support a logical argument.
Grade 5:
5.2P.1 Describe how friction, gravity, and magnetic forces affect objects on or near Earth.
5.3S.2 Identify patterns in data that support a reasonable explanation for the results of an investigation or experiment and communicate findings using graphs, charts, maps, models, and oral and written reports.
Grade 6:
6.1P.1 Describe physical and chemical properties of matter and how they can be measured.
6.1P.2 Compare and contrast the characteristic properties of forms of energy.
6.1E.2 Describe the properties of objects in the solar system. Describe and compare the position of the sun within the solar system, galaxy, and universe.

Materials and Costs:
List the equipment and non-consumable material and estimated cost of each
Item $
Broom and dustpan available from school

Estimated total, one-time, start-up cost: $0.00

List the consumable supplies and estimated cost for presenting to a class of 30 students
Item $
Balloons (6/package @ $1.00 x 1) 1.00
Push Pins (50/package @ .99 each x 1) 0.99
Masking tape ($1.99/roll x 2) 3.98
Markers (8/package @ $3.29 each x 5) 16.45
construction paper in multi-colors, including white available from recycling
butcher paper available from school

Estimated annual expense: $22.42

▪ Preparation
o 1 hour (stuffing the balloons with scraps of paper takes longer than you would think)
▪ Lesson
o 10 minutes classroom instruction
o 30-45 minutes creating the Big Bang and graphing it
o 2 hours on the art project (to be spaced out over a few days)
▪ Clean-up
o 20 minutes


What is the Universe?
The universe is defined as everything that physically exists throughout all of space and time. We know that this is very, very big. Current evidence states that the known universe is about 14 billion years old and about 93 billion light years in any direction. When we say "known universe," we are referring to what we have been able to observe from our vantage point on Earth. It is uncertain whether the universe is finite or infinite, therefore when we discuss the universe we are usually referring to the observable universe, which is finite.

What is it made out of?
The universe is made up of space and matter. Just like this room is made up of objects, people, and empty space, the universe is made up of planets, galaxies, stars, particles, atoms, and empty space. There are a few important chemicals and elements in the universe that make it such an exciting place to be. Current observations suggest that the universe is made up of almost entirely of dark matter and dark energy. About 4% of the universe is made up of visible energy, the sort of energy that we are familiar with and can see with our own eyes, like stars and planets and all of the energy on our own planet. Dark matter and dark energy are much more dense forms of energy and have many special properties that are largely unknown. Dark matter is incredibly dense, so its gravity is very strong. Of the visible energy in the universe, the most common elements are hydrogen and helium, elements that are also very important in our own atmosphere.

How did it come to be?
The Big Bang is the most widely understood and accepted theory of the beginning of the universe. Even though it sounds like it was a big explosion, the Big Bang actually refers to the cosmological model that the universe started at a particular point in time as a very small, very dense, very hot state. In fact, when the idea was originally introduced, it was called the "hypothesis of a primeval atom." (The term "Big Bang" was later coined by a journalist who did not think highly of the theory, though it came to serve as a very descriptive and catchy phrase.)

So, the universe started out as a very small, intense, and incredibly dense hot ball of energy that was very rapidly expanding and cooling. So the Big Bang was not so much a big explosion, but a state of very primitive and intense energy and matter that was always moving outward and continually cooling down. As this was occurring in the beginning stages of the Big Bang, energy and matter was composed of the basic building blocks that make up all things. As matter continued to expand and cool down, chemical reactions caused certain regions to be denser than other regions. The regions that were denser attracted more particles and as a result became even denser, and denser, eventually forming the stars, planets, and galaxies that we observe today.

Why do we know this?
There are a few main people responsible for developing the Big Bang theory.

▪ Albert Einstein - Developed the theory of general relativity, which describes gravity as a property of space and time, outlining an accepted theory of the geometry of spaces.
▪ Georges Lemaître - A scientist and Roman Catholic priest who came up with the "hypothesis of a primeval atom." He noticed that galaxies in space can be observed moving farther away from our position on Earth, in any direction. Lemaître wrote an article in 1927 explaining this phenomenon and deduced that the universe is expanding.
▪ Edwin Hubble - He was a very influential astronomer who wrote in 1929 about the same phenomenon that Lemaître had, but he found specific evidence through his direct observations that gave the claim validity. This became known as Hubble's Law: an equation which states that galaxies are moving away from us proportionally to their distance from us.

These important scientists made observations about objects in space and were able to use their observations to come up with this important theory. Essentially, if everything in the universe is moving farther away from us in every direction, then everything is moving out in every direction from any vantage point in the universe. If everything is moving outward in every direction, then it was formerly clustered closer together. Tracing this movement back through time, the universe started out as being infinitely small.

What is a scientific theory?
A scientific theory is a collection of direct observations that explains a general phenomenon. The Big Bang is a theory because it is not a direct observation, but is based on direct observations that point to this theory as a plausible, likely scenario as to how the universe began. As we have no other observable basis for the beginning of the universe, it is accepted as a general theory. In the scientific community, to say something is a theory is to say that the scientific community accepts it as an explanation for how something happened.

Atom a basic unit of matter
Big Bang the theory of the beginning stage of our universe
Cosmology the study of the universe, and humanity's place in it
Dark Energy a form of energy found throughout space that is responsible for the expansion of the universe
Dark Matter dense matter that exists only in space
Density mass per a unit's volume
Energy an attribute of matter that takes many different forms. All forms of energy are responsible for every kind of natural phenomena.
Expansion growing outwards of
Finite anything that has a beginning or end
Gravity the natural phenomenon by which massive objects attract one another
Infinite anything that is without beginning or end
Hubble's Law an equation that the recession velocity between galaxies and Earth is proportional to their distance away
Light year the distance that light could travel in one year at its speed of 299,792,458 meters per second
Matter anything that has both mass and volume; that is, anything that takes up space, or anything that is not space
Observable universe the universe that humans are able to observe from Earth, approximately 93 billion light years
Phenomenon any observable occurrence, usually an extraordinary event
Space anything that is not defined as matter, especially vast in outer space
Universe everything that physically exists through space and time
Vantage Point a specific place or position with a view

Before the lesson, the teacher will:
▪ Prepare balloons filled with hole punched scraps of paper. Make enough balloons for the students to work in 5 groups. Make the paper in each balloon a different color. Be sure to include white as one of the colors.
▪ Have graph paper and large poster boards or butcher paper ready for each group
▪ Have paint, markers, glitter, glue, and other art supplies ready.
▪ Prepare a ten minute introductory lesson to teach students about the Big Bang (see Background Material)

After the students hear the lecture and have a chance to ask questions, they will be told that they are now going to simulate their own Big Bang.
▪ Move all the desks and chairs to the side of the room
▪ Break the students into 5 groups
▪ Ask for a student from each group. They will use masking tape to make an x and y axis on the floor. (If the room has tiles or tiled carpet, they can use that instead as built-in graph paper)
o Instruct them to make their axes about six feet in length, and make sure that each group has plenty of room around them.
▪ Once the axes ready (make sure they are straight, at right angles) ask each group to designate a student.
▪ Give the designated person in each group a balloon filled with paper scraps. The balloons all have paper of a different color so that the students will know which one was theirs.
▪ Instruct the designated student to blow up the balloon as big as they can make it and tie off the stem.
▪ Instruct each group to designate two students. One group at a time, ask the two designated students stands in the middle of the area of the floor designated as “Big Bang.” One student holds the balloon about shoulder height, and the second student pops the balloon.
▪ Continue with each group until all groups have popped their balloon in the designated Big Bang area.
▪ In groups, have the students write down as many observations as they can about the way the paper landed.
▪ -Go around and talk to each group individually about their observations. Ask leading questions like:
o -How did the paper fall?
o -Is it evenly dispersed?
o -Is it clustered in some areas?
o -What might these clustered areas become over time, if this were a real universe? (A galaxy? A planet? A star? A solar system?)
o -Where are the farthest reaches of this universe?
o -In this Big Bang, where is the known universe?
▪ Once the students seem to be able to answer these questions and understand what this simulation represents, hand out graph paper and instruct them to chart their universe.
▪ Instruct the students to plot all of the scraps of paper onto their graph paper
▪ If the Big Bang fell outside of their axes, instruct them to lengthen the axes so that the entire known universe is within the plot-able area
▪ Have each student be in charge of plotting a specific fifth of the universe
▪ Once the universe is plotted on the graph paper, the students can clean up their area
o Option: students can copy their scraps of paper on a transparency (with the grid lines photocopied). Using the overhead projector, you can overlay each color, one at a time, look at different combinations, etc. after students have completed their graphing.)
▪ With the plotted points from their Big Bangs, the students will decide where they think galaxies and such would form
▪ Looking at pictures of our universe from the Hubble space telescope, they will create an image of what their new universe would look like
▪ Instruct the students to use their graph as a guideline for the basic shape and location of the universe (draw an x and y axis on the poster board too, so they can practice drawing to scale) but use the art supplies to create an imaginative image of the universe (the art project can be completed over several days during class)
▪ Afterward, display the artistic versions of the universe with their graph counterparts in the hallway

▪ Instead of a group “Big Bang,” each team of students makes their own Universe. The balloons, instead of having just one color, have all the colors.
▪ Students plot their universes (either with graph paper or with transparencies).
▪ After their area is swept, each group shares the universe.
▪ Students compare and contrast each universe. How are they different? How are they similar?
Discussion or Assessment Questions
▪ In our simulation of the Big Bang, do the scraps of paper represent?
▪ What is a scientific theory and how is it different from other uses of the word "theory"?
▪ Why do we say that the universe is expanding now?
▪ In science, why are observations so important?
▪ Even though we know that everything can be observed as moving outward from us on Earth, how do we know that everything is moving outward from everywhere in the universe?
▪ What reason is there to think that the universe is finite? What reason is there to think that the universe is infinite?
▪ Scientists have been able to make direct observations that the universe is expanding. How does this help us to understand the beginning of the universe?
▪ Nobody was there during the Big Bang. How do we know it happened?
▪ If the universe began with the Big Bang, what could have been before the Big Bang?
▪ Are time and space two separate ideas, or are they connected?

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