Astronomy Project: Telescope Build

Astronomy Project: Telescope Build

Confession Time

It’s time for a little confession.  I’m not that into outer space.  (I can hear the science teacher gasps from here!)  I know, I know.  It’s cool and all, but I’m just more into things I can experience firsthand.  So an astronomy project is not (I should say was not) my cup of tea.

However, my science teacher husband is waaaaaay into the waaaaaay out there.  He loves all things space (especially if you add in a little UFO chat).  It’s one of his favorite subjects to teach, too.      

Teaching NGSS MS-ESS1-3

A few years back, he was teaching the NGSS MS-ESS1-3 standard, “Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system”.  He was lamenting that his usual bag of tricks was getting a little tired, and he needed a new “hook.”  The astronomy project he came up with was kind of brilliant… a telescope build!

Have kids build telescopes!

When he first told me his idea, I had to be convinced that it was a good project for students.  Isn’t building a telescope a little complicated?  How would kids get lenses?  Would today’s kids, distracted by Snapchat and YouTube, even think it was “cool”?

Turns out… 

  • It’s not that complicated.  It’s challenging, but just the right amount of challenging. The process of making the telescope is relatively simple.  Upper middle school kids can easily follow the step-by-step directions.  Younger kids may need some guidance, but not more than any other project. The finesse of making the lenses work at the end is where kids will have to experiment a bit.
  • The supplies for this project are cheaper than a poster board!  Each project needs two paper towel rolls and two lenses.  The lenses from cheap reading glasses work very well.  Students can get reading glasses at the Dollar Store for $1-3.  (One pair of glasses supplies the two lenses needed.)  Of course, always have extras on hand for kids who just won’t be able to get the supplies.  My husband bought a bulk set of reading glasses on Amazon for less than $2 each for this purpose.    
Reading Glasses are Cheap in Bulk
  • Kids LOOOVED this project!  They got super invested in personalizing their projects.  Each telescope was decorated uniquely, showing the kids’ individual personalities. And, because it was made into a competition, even the most distracted kids’ paid close attention on telescope testing day!  
astronomy telescope build project
Student Projects

Introduction to the Telescope Build

(For a more detailed description PLUS the student pages, go download this project for FREE!)  

A fun way to introduce this astronomy project is to present it as a competition.  Let the students know that they will be building and testing their own telescopes.  Their goal is to be able to use their telescope to identify a playing card placed 75 feet away.  But… there’ll also be a competition for whose telescope can see the farthest! 

After the kids understand the mission, explain how the build process works.  (Be sure to explain where cheap reading glasses can be found in your area.)  It’s a good idea to make an example telescope so that students can visualize the project, but there is also a helpful diagram in the student document.

astronomy telescope build project

Astronomy Project Testing Day

To make the testing field, mark a starting point on the ground, then mark at the 50-foot mark and every 5 feet until the 100-foot mark.  The first year he assigned this, my husband set up a testing site in the longest hallway of his building.  Amazingly, this wasn’t long enough!  He was astonished that some of the telescopes could identify a playing card more than 100 feet away!  So, he had to take the testing outside.  (The school gym might be another option.)  

To begin testing the telescopes, stand at the 75-foot mark and hold up a random playing card from a deck of cards.  Have each student use the telescope to determine the identity of the card being held up.  If they cannot identify the card after slight adjustments to the focus, stand 5 feet closer at a time until the student can identify the card.  

After everyone has tested the effectiveness of their telescope, have a “75 Plus See-Off” to see which telescope can see the farthest.  Fall 2020 had the best-ever record – a student telescope that correctly identified a playing card from 290 feet!

astronomy activity
astronomy activity

I have a video of testing day on my Instagram page – check it out!  And don’t forget to grab the free resource about this project!

If you do try this astronomy project – please let me know.  Even better – send pics! 

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