Standard Form and the Planets

I’ve put together an idea for a project to use with 9A focusing on the solar system. We’ve recently covered Standard Form and I wanted pupils to have the opportunity to work as a team on a project which would give them the opportunity to pull together lots of different Maths skills.

Joint planning with two colleagues we wanted to embrace the obvious cross-curricular links with Science. The idea: have pupils come construct a map of the solar system. The idea is that the map will basically be a “timeline” (or perhaps distance-line) is more accurate, displayed on the classroom ceiling from front to back. We sketched out a rough two-lesson plan

Lesson One Give each team a sheet showing the distance from the Sun (not in Standard Form) of the eight planets. Also tell pupils the length of the classroom so they are aware of the space available. In their teams they must come up with a suitable scale and decide how far apart each of the planets should be. Teams will then swap and peer assess each others suggestions. A class discussion will decide upon the scale to be used. At the end of the lesson each team will be assigned a planet to research further as homework along with some suggestions of information they may want to find out.

Lesson Two Construct their part of the timeline and some information posters (which we’ll mount at key points along the timeline) showing information about their planet based on their research. Pupils will be briefed to try to make the large disatnces more understandable and to use standard form as a more friendly way to represent the large numbers they’ll need. I’m envisaging links to common distances (e.g. The distance between Earth and Mars is x double decker buses)

I’m expecting a chaotic couple of lessons but I’m looking forward to an open-ended problem with lots of opportunity for creativity. I’ve printed colour photos of each planet which we’ll dangle from the ceiling at the approriate points.

I’ll update this post after the lessons, hopefully with some photos of their creations…


Lesson One went well. Most groups managed to independently come up with a suitable scale and calculate the distance between each planet. A couple of groups needed some prompts and hints to get started. We managed to cut out the planets and dangle them during the hour too. For Lesson Two I booked the pupils into our excellent library and gave them the brief that for homework each team member must create an A4 poster based on a particular feature or fact about their assigned planet. They were told to try to bring in not only Standard Form but other Mathematical skills and to perhaps think about trying to make the numbers understandable in a recognisable everyday context. They spent the lesson using the internet and books to research and decide who was taking which aspect. One of my favourite ideas was a girl in the Mars team who has calculated how many Mars bars are equivalent to the weight of Mars using Standard Form calculations…Below is a picture of the display made in Lesson One (my iPhone couldn’t get the full solar system in the picture!) It’s obviously too long since I studied any form of Science as I was quite surprised at how bunched up the planets close to the sun are and how far away Uranus and Neptune are. The display has generated lots of interest from other classes. Mainly: “Miss, what has that got to do with Maths? That’s Science” I’m also a little bored of Uranus jokes and giggles but I’m hoping the novelty of this will have worn off by next week. I’ll post pictures of the best posters created after they hand them in next week.





  1. Hi,

    I like your post but it also frustrates me because I wish I´d seen it sooner. I planned a project in which my year 9 students calculated the speeds of the planets and stumbled across standard form in the process and really wish that I´d carried the project on with your first lesson and got them to find a suitable scale for the distances between the planets.

    Did you think about incorporating a scale for the size of the planets as well? If not, was there a reason behind this?

  2. Pingback: Introducing Standard Form: How fast do the planets move? | Teaching Mathematics

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