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Big Dipper Activities

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

If your class is studying space and what's in the night sky, then you can't forget the Big Dipper. Use these activities to help students explore this famous constellation and its importance.

What's the Big Deal About the Big Dipper?

When students look up into the night sky, chances are they've probably seen a collection of stars that looks like a huge spoon. However, the Big Dipper is more than just a constellation. For years, cultures have been mesmerized by it, and explorers have used it to find their way home. Let's look at some activities to help students learn about the Big Dipper, its significance to different cultures, and its importance in navigation.

Legend Skits

Have students create skits to re-enact legends about the Big Dipper from different cultures.

Materials

  • Pictures of the Big Dipper
  • Copies of legends about the Big Dipper from different cultures

Teacher Directions

  1. Show the students pictures of the Big Dipper, and discuss what they think the constellation looks like. Tell students that different cultures have observed the Big Dipper for years and sought to explain it.
  2. Divide the class into small groups.
  3. Provide each group with copies of a legend about the Big Dipper from a specific culture, such as the Iroquois tribe, Chinese, or ancient Greeks.
  4. Have each group read their cultural legend and create a skit to re-enact it.
  5. When the groups are finished, have them share their skits with the class.

Discussion Questions

  • Which legend was your favorite? Why?
  • Why do you think people created legends to explain what they saw in the night sky?

Big Dipper Map

Use this art project to help students learn about the individual stars in the constellation and map the Big Dipper in the night sky.

Materials

  • Pictures of the Big Dipper
  • Map of the constellations in the night sky
  • Access to print/online resources
  • Black poster board
  • Metallic markers

Teacher Directions

  1. Show the class pictures of the Big Dipper, and point out the seven stars that make up the constellation.
  2. Show students a map of the constellations in the night sky. Point out the Big Dipper's location, its inclusion in Ursa Major, and its proximity to the North Star (Polaris). Discuss how the Big Dipper looks different depending on the season of the year.
  3. Divide the class into pairs, and provide each pair with black poster board and metallic markers.
  4. Students will create a map of the Big Dipper, which identifies the individual stars in the constellation, shows its position in Ursa Major and its relative position to Polaris, and illustrates its position in the sky for each season of the year.
  5. Have each pair research information about the stars that make up the Big Dipper and include information about them on the poster.
  6. When the students have finished, have them share their maps with the class.

Discussion Questions

  • How can you find the Big Dipper in the night sky?
  • Why do you think the Big Dipper is such a famous constellation?

Navigation Brochure

Encourage students to learn about how to use the Big Dipper to navigate by creating this brochure.

Materials

  • Audio recording of Follow the Drinking Gourd (American folk song)
  • Map of the Big Dipper in the night sky
  • Blank paper
  • Art supplies (pencils, colored pencils, markers, etc.)
  • Access to online/print resources

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