Lesson of the Day: ‘Why Your Kid Likes Comparing Neptune to a Dust Mite’

Students in U.S. excessive faculties can get free digital entry to The New York Times till Sept. 1, 2021.

Lesson Overview

Featured Article: “Why Your Kid Likes Comparing Neptune to a Dust Mite” by Jenny Marder

This featured article begins with a query: “If atoms had eyes, could they see subatomic particles?” It is posed by the science journalist Jenny Marder’s 7-year-old son, and it takes Ms. Marder on a journey to perceive why questions of relative dimension and scale are so compelling to younger kids, in addition to to a new subgenre of movies on the web. Ultimately, it leads her to uncover that this sort of curiosity and comparability is perhaps at the coronary heart of the success of people as a species.

In this lesson, you’ll find out about the significance of scale and relative dimension in the universe and why movies that show these magnitudes are so fashionable. Then, in a Going Further exercise, we invite you to create your individual visible illustration illustrating a compelling comparability.


Have you ever thought of the dimension of the largest objects in the photo voltaic system? Or the universe itself? How about the tiniest creatures or subatomic particles? Does it make your head spin to even think about these immense and infinitesimal entities?

OK … pop quiz on the marvelous and mind-boggling magnitude of the universe! (Don’t fear: It’s not graded!)

1. How many micro organism can match on the head of a pin?

a) 1,000
b) 1 million
c) 1 billion
d) 1 trillion

2. How many Earths may you match inside our solar?

a) 10
b) 100
c) 1,000
d) 1 million

Three. Earth is four.5 billion years previous. Imagine you might be putting main occasions in the historical past of the planet alongside a 131-foot timeline on the ground, reminiscent of the first proof of multicellular life and the look of dinosaurs. If the earliest micro organism seem roughly 16 ft from the beginning line, the place would the emergence of fashionable people seem on the timeline?

a) 30 ft
b) midway
c) 120 ft
d) one-eighth of an inch from the finish of the timeline, which is current day

If you guessed D for every query, the largest or smallest quantity for every query, you might be proper. The relative dimension and scale of the universe are sometimes so inconceivably giant or small that they boggle the thoughts!

To assist us perceive and admire the significance of scale and dimension, a new style of video has emerged. Watch the YouTube video beneath, “Universe Size Comparison 3D” by Harry Evett, which has over 78 million views. Then reply to the following prompts:

What did you discover?

What did you surprise?

Why do you suppose the video is so fashionable?

Questions for Writing and Discussion

Read the featured article, then reply the following questions:

1. What are dimension comparability movies and why are they so fashionable on the web, in accordance to Ms. Marder?

2. How does Ms. Marder clarify her 7-year-old son’s curiosity in movies evaluating such numerous issues as an atom, a mud mite and protons or galaxies, black holes and supergiant stars? Do you share a comparable curiosity and awe?

Three. Who was Jean Piaget and the way do his theories assist to clarify the rising video style? Why is it necessary for younger kids to learn the way to order issues by dimension or amount, what psychologists name seriation?

four. Why does Dedre Gentner, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, imagine that seeing patterns is a key to our success as a species? Do you agree? What examples out of your remark of the human species or your individual life assist this declare?

four. Why are conventional depictions in textbooks of the photo voltaic system and the planets’ relative sizes and distances typically insufficient? Why does Matthew Schneps, a former senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, imagine that digital Three-D simulations of the photo voltaic system, like the one in the warm-up, drastically improve college students’ understanding of spatial scale and clear up deep-seated misconceptions? How did you find out about ideas of dimension and scale? Do you suppose they have been successfully taught?

5. Many college students (and adults) will ask, dismissively: “How is math going to help me in my life? In the real world?” How would you reply the query “How do you use size and scale in your own life?” What distinction do they make? Why is discerning patterns, in addition to the immensities and trivialities of the universe, necessary?

6. In your individual phrases, clarify the reply to Ms. Marder’s son’s query: “If atoms had eyes, could they see subatomic particles?” Were you stunned by the decision to his question? What questions of your individual do you might have about relative sizes? What elements of the universe would you want to see visually in contrast?

Going Further

Option 1: Watch some relative dimension movies.

Want to be taught extra about relative sizes in the universe — huge and small?

Many dimension comparability movies are cited in the article, reminiscent of these created by Alvaro Gracia, an animator from Spain, who has made almost 100 dimension comparability movies, together with ones evaluating Pokemon, microorganisms, the quantity of home animals and fictional starships. Matthew Lawrence creates dimension comparisons focused to kids on his channel, Kids Learning Tube.

Select at the least one video to watch after which share along with your class your discoveries: What did you be taught from the video? Why did you select it? How did it change your understanding and perspective on the scale and sizes of its topic? What epiphanies did you might have about the universe and its vastness? What side of the cosmos would you want to see in a relative dimension video and why?

Option 2: Create your individual demonstration of relative dimension and scale.

Now it’s your flip: Create a drawing, diagram, diorama, video and even real-life scale mannequin to show one thing cool, odd or fascinating in the world — whether or not to clarify some side of geologic time, the dimension and age of the universe, organic evolution, the dimension and velocity of atomic and subatomic particles, or simply the dimension relationships between motion figures.

You would possibly begin with a easy query like Ms. Marder’s son or give you one based mostly on analysis. For inspiration, you would possibly watch this video of a group of buddies who constructed a scale photo voltaic system throughout seven miles of a dry lake mattress in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert — though you shouldn’t really feel any stress to go to the similar extraordinary lengths.

Afterward, share your creation along with your class and have a gallery stroll of all of your work.

About Lesson of the Day

Find all our Lessons of the Day on this column.
Teachers, watch our on-demand webinar to learn the way to use this function in your classroom.