Dancing Lights
A red, yellow and green aurora display fills the night sky

From fall to spring, people who live in the Arctic see the world’s biggest light show, the auroras. Image Credit: NASA
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Auroras are brilliant displays of light in the night sky, most often seen in the far northern and far southern parts of the planet. They are at once both science and art.

Charged particles from the sun stream through the solar system in a constant flow known as the solar wind. When the particles are trapped by Earth's magnetic field and strike atoms and molecules in the atmosphere, auroras appear.

The beauty, science and mythology of auroras are the subject of "Dancing Lights," an activity for students in grades 3-5 that combines science, art, reading and writing.

"Writing and reading are integral parts of a scientist's daily life, and that science-literacy connection is not necessarily emphasized in the elementary classroom," said Erin Wood, educational coordinator for the Dancing Lights program. "Research suggests that integrating literacy skills with science leads students to make connections, organize thoughts, retain knowledge gained and increase creativity."

"Dancing Lights" is built around five lessons that encourage students to be creative as they explore the science and history of auroras:
  • Lesson 1: Students discuss what they know about auroras and what they hope to learn. Then they read about auroras and discuss what they learned.

  • Lesson 2: Students learn about the myths that different cultures have created to explain auroras. For homework, students create their own aurora myth.

  • Lesson 3: Students study the science of auroras. They also look at pictures of auroras and write down descriptions of what they see.

  • Lesson 4: Students make a travel brochure or poster inviting people to visit a place where auroras are visible.

  • Lesson 5: Students demonstrate their understanding of auroras by writing their own poems.
A teachers guide includes detailed procedures for each activity, worksheet, and reading material, plus information on national education standards. Users may download the guide (PDF) from the "Dancing Lights" Web site. Aurora photos, a list of recommended books about auroras, and other resources for teachers are also available there.

"Dancing Lights" was funded by NASA and developed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.

View site: http://lasp.colorado.edu/education/dancinglights/   →

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies