Lawrence High School science classes create a city-scale solar system

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Allie Lippe-Mackey likes her Lawrence High School students to learn by doing. 

Her approach to teaching astronomy, geology, and biology is inquiry-based; rather than giving students answers to memorize, she likes to let students problem-solve and actively figure things out.


When a friend and fellow teacher in Basehor had her students create a Basehor-scaled solar system, Lippe-Mackey thought this seemed like a great way to do that. 

A month and plenty of calculations later, students from three of Lippe-Mackey’s astronomy classes had built a solar system in their own back yard. 

“I really wanted to get the community involved,” Lippe-Mackey said. “If we do the city scale, the planets are just large enough that you can see them, and you can understand the actual size and scale of our solar system.”

Students worked in small groups to mathematically scale the solar system and create visuals of each planet, including models and posters. With Lawrence High School posing as the sun at 1901 Louisiana St., planets found their scaled homes across town, with some as close as the school’s football field and some as far as Clinton Lake

Allie Lippe-Mackey/Contributed Photo Students in Allie Lippe-Mackey’s science classes at Lawrence High School have created a solar system scaled to the size of the city of Lawrence.
Allie Lippe-Mackey/Contributed Photo
Allie Lippe-Mackey/Contributed Photo

Although the project involved some crafting and some math, it was more than physically putting the planets together, Lippe-Mackey said. Students learned a lot about each planet, from how it got its name to what its rotation and atmosphere looked like. 

“Every day we focused on a different aspect of the planet,” she said. “Between all of that, it took about a month for them to learn the information and figure out what they needed to convey and understand.” 

The planets can be found in their respective spots in the local solar system until Friday. Each display includes the scaled model and an informational poster, some of which include a QR code that accesses the map of where the community can track down the rest of the planets when they visit one. Some planets appear more than once on the map to show different orbits, and some displays feature more than one planet due to overlapping orbits. Check out the whole map at this link.

Creating a Lawrence-based solar system served multiple purposes, Lippe-Mackey said. Linking the planets to familiar places would help students remember the distances, but it also put their work out there for the community to see. 


Going forward, Lippe-Mackey said her classes will have more interactive projects like this one in store. They’ll soon be working on children’s books, which will be passed along to local elementary schools for teachers to use in their classrooms. 

“A lot of times, you make a project and the only people that really see it are maybe a couple of classmates and your teacher,” she said. “Learning is just more fun when you get to share what you’re learning with other people.”  

For more about the LHS solar system, check out #LHSsolarsystem on Twitter.

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