This post is by Kellie Taylor, Ed.D., the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.
How do we view our planet Earth? What do elementary or middle school students understand about what it was like for people who saw Earth for the first time from Apollo 8, the first crewed mission to the moon? On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit as part of the United States’ commitment to landing a person on the moon. Astronauts aboard the spacecraft held a live broadcast, allowing the public to see pictures of the Earth and moon from a previously unavailable beyond-bird’s-eye perspective. Comparing primary sources about Earth from the early 1900s to late 1900s can highlight how perspectives on this planet changed as available information changed.
The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon, 1918?
Show students The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon and ask what they notice. Many will notice that the Earth is big – ask them why they think the artist made that choice. Answers might include because that’s the world we know best or to indicate belief in the planet’s place in the solar system. After ideas have been shared as a class, provide students with materials to create a painting or picture that reflects the perspective of “The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon.”
Next, play the first 1:32 of “The Pale Blue Dot,” asking students to listen for what Carl Sagan says about why it is important to view Earth from a distance. What perspective does viewing Earth as a pale blue dot provide those of us living on this planet? Why would it be worthwhile to see Earth from millions of miles away? How does seeing Earth from a different perspective than with our feet on its surface allow people to develop a new perspective? After students have shared their thoughts and ideas, provide them with materials to create a new painting or picture that reflects the perspective voiced in “The Pale Blue Dot.”
Combine students’ pictures in an accordion art project to reflect both perspectives. Examples can be found on the Internet. Conduct a gallery walk with the class of the art collection to highlight how perspectives can be viewed differently.
Additional primary sources for further exploration:
- 7:32 – 7:54 Science is to inspire and serve
- 8:05 – 8:52 Looking at Earthrise
- 8:55 – 9:43 Carl Sagan’s quote
- 12:09 – 14:39 Perspective changed
Seeing the Earthrise from above the moon was a momentous moment, helping viewers develop a different perspective about our planet. Astronaut Jim Lovell said, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” Subsequent views of Earth from space such as Apollo 11, Apollo 17, space shuttle missions, and the International Space Station offer additional perspectives of our planet.
Let us know in the comments what your students discovered by comparing primary sources from different eras!