With special thanks to the National Science Foundation, particularly award 1132227, we were able to work with an 8th grade Science teacher who said that through the course of his Earth Science class, students studied things from red blood cells, and on up to galaxies, but they just don’t seem to grasp the incredible differences in scale between these things. Scale is generally important, but in Virginia, understanding scale is also required by the standards of the commonwealth (the Virginia Standards of Learning, or “SOLs”).
Utilizing Participatory Design methods, a joint team of undergraduate and graduate Virginia Tech students worked with this teacher to develop Astronomical Proportions. Astronomical Proportions is an interactive exploration of scale and proportionality.
Students can see animations of the relative size of various objects for several of their dimensions (e.g. diameter, surface area, and volume), they can predict the relative sizes of such objects, and they can add their own objects.
Reasoning about abstract concepts like scale is an important aspect of computational thinking.