All links open the
document in a new window, which you may then resize. PDF documents
require an Adobe Acrobat reader.
Sheets to print:
- Predict a
Comet's Return: HTML or
answer key: HTML or
- Student writing activity
(Students tell what they know about comets: what comets are, where
they come from, and what they are made of): HTML or
key: HTML or
Are/Aren't: HTML or
- Student Reader: Access and
print out copies of NASA News stories on comets, meteors, and
asteroids for supplemental student reading. Links to year
2000 comet news (HTML).
NOTE: This page contains links to the NASA science news site.
Extra on Math:
- How Long is a Long Period? With
HTML or PDF.
- Tests comet knowledge and
attitudes towards astronomy and the Internet. HTML
Comets Vocabulary Puzzles and Game
I: Search for listed words in a matrix
II: Solve clues, then search for words
Solve word clues:
Word answer key:
Search answer key:
for this lesson:
*loads a new page into this window; use
your "back" button to return. PDF files require an Adobe Acrobat
The background reading pages aim to help instructors who may be new
to teaching about comets, or who would like a better grasp of some underlying
concepts. They also include some links to other Web materials that focus on specific
sub-topics, so you
may want to plan to read them on the computer before printing. These pages do not constitute a thorough or quantitative treatment of the
subject, but are intended to place comets in the broader field of solar system
astronomy, which is a very lively area of current research. We hope they will
also help prepare you to help your students investigate answers to their questions.
- From NASA:
2000 comet news* (Search
other years by keywords, like those in red on
this page) These stories can also be printed out to make a great Student
Reader for supplemental study. Many are available as sound files for
comet and related sites: Comet Links
Preparation: It is recommended that educators go through all relevant areas of "The Comet's Tale" prior to presenting them to the class. The Background
Reading pages were written with this lesson in mind, and are recommended also. The additional sites in the Comet Links
Pages* can help expand knowledge in various sub-areas. An extensive
comet-related terms is accessible from every page on the student site.
Frames and Tables capable browser such
as Netscape Navigator 3.0 or Internet
Explorer recommended. See Plug-in help for links to
download sites. If Internet connection time is a problem, it is advisable to load the entire site either onto the presenting computer (if using a projector) or onto a local server site, if possible. If your school has a Web page of its own, then you have a local server. Ask your technical assistant for help. This enables Web browsers to access images from a local hard disk, instead of relying on a school district network, which may be carrying a lot of traffic.
Students should be familiar with basic layout of the solar system and names of
planets. Although the student pages are
self-contained and simple to navigate, remember that novice Web users will
need more time.
non-astronomy vocabulary of this lesson should be appropriate to 6th grade.
However, work with a group of 6th grade English Language
Learners indicates some common words will probably be new to some students. Instructors may want to do "vocabulary
forecasting" by putting up a list of the new words students may encounter
in each part of the lesson. Some of these words also appear in the Astronomer
Review worksheets, Homework Tasks, and flash cards.
List of Challenging Words: HTML*
The site has been
organized to progress from engaging images to the what, how and why of comets.
- The Gallery will introduce students to stunning comet images from recent years,
many within their lifetimes. Its purpose is to engage students, and help
comets as a subject of current interest. Items of current interest
are also interspersed in other sections: the end of History, Origins, and Orbits.
- The History section is meant to alert students to some
of the important questions about comets--what are they, where do they come
from, what are they made of, and how do they behave?--and the working of
the scientific process. Encourage students to examine their own existing ideas
as they read the embedded questions in the History pages.
They may find some of their own notions are more sophisticated than ideas
from earlier centuries, or that they have big gaps of gray uncertainty.
Self-awareness is the first goal, but they may need to be reassured they
are not expected to have the "answers."
- The order of the main sections can be
discretionary to some degree. The Orbits section relies on the concepts
of the Origins section. The Characteristics section benefits from considering
comet composition in the comet-making activity and the game beforehand.
These two caveats suggest at least two other ways to organize the
- Gallery, History, Origins, Orbits, Make a
Comet, Play the Game, Their Place in Space
- Gallery, History, Make a Comet, Play the
Game, Their Place in Space, Origins, Orbits
- The worksheets for the
text sections are tools for students to continue identifying and recording their mental images
(models) and understandings of text. The material in the worksheet answer
keys consists mostly of concept statements, not accurate examples of how
students may be able to express these ideas, or rigid requirements for
everything they should write.
- Material in the background
reading, such as how
comet orbits are believed to evolve can be shared with more advanced classes, depending
on the time available.
- The Killer Comets section may be
too advanced in concept and vocabulary for some students. It assumes
some acquaintance with geologic dating from strata, and some physical and
While students can do
a self-paced tour of the lesson and answer the "Astronomer Review" worksheet questions, small group work or peer
evaluation of some tasks can give students exposure to each others'
sectional organization of the site may also lend itself well to the jigsaw
peer-instruction technique; have each of several small groups become experts
on one section, then present to the class. Use a computer projection
system, if one is available, for group work.
Students can do extra activities while
waiting for computers to become available, but the comet-making should be done
by the entire class. It can be accomplished in an hour, with the right
preparation. See the tips in the narration sheet.
- The "extra task"
worksheets may be assigned for at-home study as they do not require use of the
- Do the "Comets are/Comets
aren't" exercise after the history section, to record students
existing knowledge and beliefs. Then repeat after the "Place in Space"
section for review or assessment. You can use it for homework by having students make their own
lists at home, then
bring them in to share.
When discussing what comets are
and aren't, review more material by allowing lots of facts and ideas
rather than just nouns. For example, Comets Are: made mostly of frozen gas, like
big dirty snowballs, orbiting the Sun, very old. Comets Aren't: made of
rock, always on fire, orbiting the earth, still being created, or mostly in the Oort
- This page of links to recent
news about NASA comet research can provide background on what is
happening with recent comet and asteroid observations and space
- Vocabulary drill puzzles can be used for at-home,
or quiet self-study. Puzzle II has two stages: first, students use clues
and the number of letters to figure out the list of terms. Then they
search for these words in a letter matrix, as with Puzzle
I. Teachers may assign all or part of this puzzle, which can be
completed in stages by students, according to time and pace of the lesson.
- The flash card set can be used for a
participatory "Jeopardy" game (see instructions). When playing
in class, many of the "answer" cards interlink with the content of
others, so students may be able to get more of the questions and
assimilate more material the second
time through the deck.
- Meteorites in the rain barrel: In
Guide to Micrometeorites*, the solar system experts at NASA's JPL
laboratory share an easy method for collecting meteorites that anyone can
use. Your students might like to collect some and look at them under a
microscope. Do they look the same as specimens from Earth?