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Evolving Universe Overview

The Evolving Universe materials are part of the Adaptive Curriculum Enhancement (ACE) program developed by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). These materials have been adapted from the Genesis Cosmic Chemistry: Cosmogony module for use by visually impaired students.

Cosmologists study the present universe; cosmogonists study the origin of the universe. Observations about our present universe not only allow us to make predictions about the future, but also they provide clues to events that happened long ago, when the evolution of the cosmos began. Throughout this Evolving Universe module, students act as scientists as they study tactile models of specific features of the present universe. They will develop an understanding of the difficulties of conducting science on very large time and distance scales by indirect observation and inference. Students involved in the Evolving Universe classroom activities use the strategy of working backward from contemporary models of the universe to envision a reasonable initial state of the cosmos.

The activities in Evolving Universe are organized using a learning cycle and are intended to be used sequentially in the order they are presented, but they have been designed to be self-contained activities that could be used to emphasize specific scientific concepts or to address specific National Science Education Standards. ACE learning

Spongy Universe
In the first part of the “Spongy Universe” engagement activity, students develop observation and inference skills using a sponge that models the universe. The second part of the activity emphasizes how distance affects perspective. In the culminating session, they must then decide whether the precepts of the Standard Cosmological Model that describe the universe as being homogenous and isotropic are valid.

Our Dynamic Universe
In “Our Dynamic Universe,” students explore two more basic precepts of the Standard Cosmological Model—our expanding universe and gravitational effects in the universe today. Students experience the Doppler Effect, a simple technique that has been a mainstay of cosmological science since the early part of the 20th century. They learn that the same kinds of changes in wave frequency that cause changes in the pitch of sound can give us clues to what is happening in our dynamic universe. The observation of red and blue Doppler shifts in stars and other galactic objects leads very naturally into a discussion of the expansion of the universe and the gravitational force that oppose this expansion.

Tracing Origins Thought Experiments
This Tracing Origins concept development activity is actually a series of three “Thought Experiments.”

  1. Tracing the Origins of Pizza Ingredients

  2. This activity introduces students to thought experiment techniques that scientists use when it is not possible to actually conduct real experiments with real equipment. Students are encouraged to act both as cosmologists and cosmogonists as they make observations regarding the structure of a pizza and trace the origins of the pizza ingredients back to atoms, the building blocks of matter. But atoms have their own building blocks—protons, neutrons, and electrons.

  3. Fundamentals of Our Universe

  4. In this activity, students will continue concept development as they discover the combinations of “up” and “down” quarks, the fundamental particles that form protons and neutrons. Quarks and electrons may have been among the first stable particles formed in the early universe. In the final session of this activity, we pose the question, “If electrons exist as free particles in the universe today, why aren’t quarks free particles today?” This will lead into a discussion of the energy (temperature) changes that have occurred from the beginning of the cosmos until now.

  5. Tracing the Origins of Our Universe

  6. In this culminating concept expansion activity, students combine their experiences in inference and tracing origins and their knowledge of fundamental particles to trace the quarks and electrons backwards in time to discover what important role they may have played in those early cosmic periods.

When students have completed this series of Evolving Universe activities, they will have had modeling and inference experiences relating to the following basic precepts of the Standard Cosmological Model.

  • The universe is homogeneous and isotropic on a cosmic scale.
  • The universe is expanding.
  • The early universe was in a state of high density and high energy.
  • These experiences should lead them to an understanding of the final and basic precept.
  • The universe is evolving.

National Science Education Standards

Content Content StandardsStandards

Science As Inquiry (5-12)
Earth and Space Science (9-12)
Physical Science (5-12)
Science and Technology (5-12)
History and Nature of Science (5-12)

Teaching Standard B

Recognize and respond to student diversity and encourage all students to participate fully in science learning

Spongy Universe
  Dynamic Universe
  Tracing Origins Thought Experiments
  Tracing the Origins of Pizza Ingredients
  Fundamentals of Our Universe
  Tracing the Origins of Our Universe
  Tactile Card Instructions and Templates
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