Introduction and Overview

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. The alignments of stone circles and ceremonial buildings in the Americas, and monuments like Stonehenge in Europe show the importance of what was happening in the skies to our ancestors. But it's also one of the most current sciences, with new discoveries and amazing images appearing almost every day. Similarly, understanding the solar system provides ways of illuminating timeless and important scientific principles while transforming the latest headlines into teachable moments for today's students.

PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM is designed to be a powerful but easy-to-implement package of materials and resources for teaching and learning key Space, Earth and Physical science content. It provides more than enough information and activities to cover "the planets" as a 6-8 week replacement unit. Or it can be used to supplement existing general science texts with current and engaging experiences that will enliven core instructional content, such as light and the spectrum, convection, conduction and radiation, or electricity and magnetism, usually thought of as "Physical" rather than "Space" science. The PTSS Implementation Guide (see EDUCATORS for Ordering Information) is your roadmap to the project, showing how to get the most out of the integrated, multiple media resources at your disposal.

Here's an introduction to the integrated, multiple media components that make up PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM (PTSOLAR):

Eight 15 minute Classroom videos, enlivened with images and animations from NASA and leading research institutes, show students the real places we now know planets and moons to be, and the processes which shape them. Two 30 minute Educator programs introduce key science concepts, and show master teachers demonstrating important Hands-On Activities.

85 field-tested Hands-On Activities, in 4 printed Teacher's Guides, put essential science content in context. The Module provides an educator with a broad menu of choices through which to connect the principles encountered in real world research settings to project-based discovery activities which students can experience for themselves in the classroom.

The PTSOLAR website provides essential background on this Module for both you and your students. It also serves as a portal to the best of NASA and other resources, and offers learning opportunities unique to PTSOLAR, such as:
* BIOgraphies telling how our presenter-Mentors began their careers
* behind the scenes JOURNALS introducing researchers participating in some of NASA's recent missions
* DISCUSS, a moderated forum delivered via e-mail, specifically for teachers, and
* RESEARCHER Q&A, a way for students to interact directly with some of America's leading space scientists.

THE IMPLEMENTATION GUIDE The Implementation Guide (IG) is organized around the 2 "Educator" and 8 "Classroom" videos. Each section provides:
* 3-4 achievable student learning objectives aligned with the NAS/NRC "National Science Education Standards" and the AAAS/Project 2061 "Benchmarks"
* Background on the content of the videos
* Vocabulary words (many found in the Glossaries of the printed Teacher's Guides and all defined online, in student-friendly, interactive "WordSearch" puzzles) UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
* Pre-Viewing Questions to help you manage students' anticipatory set
* Post-Viewing / Quiz Questions and Discussion Starters to use after the programs
* Suggested URLs, selected and reviewed by fellow teachers
* Science standards met by each program and set of Hands-On Activities and online resources.

While the IG suggests what we believe are the most appropriate Activities, you'll find many others in the Teacher's Guides that may also suit your own particular instructional goals and local circumstances.

PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM presents new information and current perspectives on our cosmic neighborhood unlike those found in most textbooks. It re-visits concepts such as gravity, the electromagnetic spectrum, or the interaction of a planet's size and atmosphere, several times throughout the series, resulting in a comprehensive and comprehensible portrait of Earth and its neighbors. It offers secondary school teachers and students a view of the solar system as a place of dynamic change. The Sun varies over its 11-year cycle. A moon like Jupiter's Io has a surface more volcanically active than anywhere else we know. And our home planet Earth is also beginning to be understood as a place of global change, with many of its features and processes (NSES standards 1 and 2) best understood by comparing it with its neighbors. By including information about organisms which live in extreme environments on Earth, such as in hot vents at the bottom of the ocean or in the cold ice of the South Pole, PTSOLAR broadens the definition of what may prove to be habitable zones on other worlds. Such discoveries, made only in the past decade or two, show students that science is very much an ongoing process, not something which stopped with Einstein or even Neal Armstrong.

In the videos, students see recent imagery from the NEAR mission to asteroid 433 Eros, new pictures from Mars Global Surveyor showing signs of possible liquid water on the Red Planet, some of the latest data on the search for solar systems beyond our own, detailed and dynamic close-ups of the Sun's visible surface, and computer animation of new missions set to return even more astonishing information in coming years. You'll not find information and imagery as fresh as this in any other package of learning materials. (Speaking of which, 4 new moons of Saturn have recently been announced, reminding us that this PTSOLAR website is the place to see how this IG, the videos and other materials can be updated in the coming months and years!)

To put a human face on the science and to help students appreciate the essential concepts and the latest data, we're very pleased to have had the cooperation of some of America's leading space scientists, many of whom were taped on location at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA (managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology), and other observatories and research institutes. Several participants serve as Project Scientists for the missions which have revolutionized our understanding of the solar system. Torrence Johnson is Project Scientist for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and its moons, Matt Golombek for the Pathfinder mission to Mars, and Andy Cheng holds the same position on the NEAR asteroid mission. Others, such as JPL's Claudia Alexander, are Project Scientists for future missions, such as the international Rosetta comet mission. Together with Mars mission designer Wayne Lee and SETI Institute and Stanford University professor, Chris Chyba, these scientists function as on-camera Mentors, trusted voices who reappear throughout the series. (You can learn more about them online.)

The new science and the enthusiastic scientists all serve to illuminate key science principles which every student must learn. The spectrum, convection and radiation, the interplay of electricity and magnetism, and important principles of engineering and design become real, both on screen and in applications, through Hands-On Activities. (See the chart which follows for a summary of some the most important principles which this Module will help you cover.)

Program 1
Solar Systems
  • Relative sizes, surface features, composition and motions of the planets, moons and small bodies of the solar system
  • Place of Earth and our solar system in the Universe
Program 2
Our Star, the Sun
  • The Sun as a dynamic, variable, magnetic star
  • Nuclear fusion powers the Sun through the conversion of hydrogen into helium
  • Sun-Earth connections via radiation (light), solar wind and auroras
Program 3
Four Rocks near the Sun
  • Earth's features and processes in comparison to the other terrestrial planets
  • Similarities and differences of the terrestrial planets in terms of craters, volcanism, atmosphere, temperature and planetary greenhouse effects
Program 4
Missions to Mars
  • Progress in the technology of exploration (telescopes and rocketry) and human science support teams
  • Importance of evidence of liquid water in the search for life beyond Earth
Program 5
Gas Giants
  • Relative sizes, surface features, composition and motions of the gas giant planets of our solar system, and their moons
  • Gravity can create heat energy far from the Sun, through friction and tidal effects
Program 6
Small Bodies and Cosmic Collisions
  • Characteristics of and differences between comets, asteroids, meteors and meteorites: composition and motion through the solar system
  • Role of collisions and impacts in destroying and enabling life
Program 7
Looking for Life
  • Definition of life in temperate and "extreme" environments, and characteristic signatures of past (fossil) and present life
  • Role of abiotic factors such as light, water and temperature in creating habitable environments
Program 8
Exploring the Solar System and Beyond
  • Role of mathematics, physical principles and technology in exploration of the solar system
  • The scientific enterprise requires a diversity of human talents and qualities of mind, deployed in a variety of settings

As we said, studying the solar system is an ongoing process of discovery. Information changes very quickly: please use this PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM website as your one-click source for all the latest news. Please also ignore all URLs, phone numbers and addresses you may find in the four printed Teacher's Guides. Many of them are no longer current.

If you have questions, submit them to or subscribe, via the website, to the DISCUSS-SOLARSYSTEM mail list. An experienced classroom educator will get right back to you with answers.

Good luck with implementing this project. We hope to hear of your success in exciting students about concepts that will help them academically, and with exposing them to the ongoing adventure that is our exploration of the solar system.

Geoff Haines-Stiles, Project Director
Erna Akuginow, Executive in Charge
Tim McCollum, Activities Consultant
Eileen Bendixsen, P2K Online Moderator
Winter 2001

If your local public television station or educational network has not broadcast the programs, you may obtain videocassettes of individual programs, or the entire 10 program series. To inquire about educational audiovisual rights (which can include school- and/or district-wide broadcast, video-streaming or broadband hosting via "video jukebox") please contact PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE via e-mail, or by calling 973.656.9403.

The four printed LIVE FROM Teacher's Guides, worksheets and posters are also available: please contact P2K as above for availability and pricing.