Up above the world so high, like an RV in the sky

First-graders dream up their own constellations and creation myths

First-graders Ella Rogalski, Sammy Messina and Olivia Brundin are first-grade astronomers

When it comes to the night sky, the constellations we already have are pretty good. The myths of their creation are decent, too.

But imagine if people — first-grade people, even — could conceive of their own group of stars that form imaginary animals and beings, then develop a legend about their origins.

As part of their six-week solar system unit, Kailey Faris’ first-graders at Lakeside Elementary did just that. The results were on display in the hallway outside their classroom: posters on black paper with sticky gold stars that formed their namesake constellations.

“They’re all fabulous,” Faris said.

Consider Salvatore “Sammy” Messina. His constellation is a camper, he explained. As in recreational vehicle. “It’s one of my favorite kinds of vehicles,” he said.

Best viewed at sundown in the month of November, Ella Rogalski’s ice cream cone with legs constellation is always running across the sky. Come sunrise, rather than melt, it “finds a shady tree and climbs into it for the day,” Ella said.

Added Sammy: “Or it finds a snowy mountain to rest in, or goes to Michigan.”

And in a nod to the history of constellations as written by astronomers in Greece and other civilizations, Olivia Brundin came up with a group of stars that featured a braggart rabbit, a poisonous carrot and a rich, drama-filled legend.

“It’s related to Orion,” Olivia told a visitor. “We also studied the Earth’s orbit, the moon and comets.”

First-grade Space Force

The unit is part of Next Generation Science Standards, which charge students to practice an integrated understanding of core ideas in science and engineering. In exploring the patterns and cycles of space systems and learning about constellations and their creation myths, the unit also integrated writing, reading and art.

As a result, Faris said, her students understand:

  • How the sun and moon appear to move across the sky
  • That stars other than the sun are visible only at night
  • That the sun and moon rise in the eastern sky and set in the west
  • How the moon appears to change shape during its phases
  • That the amount of daylight in a day changes throughout the year.

For the constellations project, students were asked to create their own, and write a story to explain how the constellation was placed into the sky and what time of year it can be viewed.

William Cherveny’s constellation was the numeral 5, after a boy who always forgot his age, so decided to put it into the sky.

Hank Darr wrote about a ball that bounced into the air and never came down. And William Kemppainen drew a flag, which he wrote is visible at 2:21 a.m. in the fall “because an earthquake destroyed the flag, and now Mother Earth placed the flag in the sky for everyone to see.”

“They let their imaginations run wild,” Faris said. “I was very impressed by their elaboration and creativity.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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