One Small Step: A Multi-Sensory Tour of Our Solar System

By Sandra Craig on Apr 01, 2015

For the majority of us Earthlings, the closest we will ever come to experiencing outer space will be through television and pictures.  What if that wasn’t an option?   How else could you get a sense of our solar system and its members?  For students with visual impairments, tactile graphics are one way to show the relative sizes and distances of the planets.  However, tactile graphics do not exhibit the physical presence that models provide.  In an attempt to give greater sense of the environment of space, we created a 3-dimensional mural of the solar system.  

Our models of the celestial bodies had to meet three criteria: in order to adhere it to the wall one side must be flat; the rounded side must accept tempera paint; and to maintain its shape, the interior needs to be filled with a light weight material. A variety of inexpensive plastic bowls were used to cast the models. The largest bowl represented the Sun, the next for Jupiter and Saturn, the third for Uranus and Neptune, and the smallest for Earth and Venus.  Different sized plastic Easter eggs were used for Mars, Mercury and Pluto. 

Next was the casting process.  Three layers of paper mache were used to line the inside of the containers.  Floam* (reconstituted Styrofoam) was poured into the paper mache lined bowls as a filler.  Once the floam set, the hemispheres were removed from the molds and the finishing touches were added.  The paper mache was trimmed and another layer was added to smooth the surface.  A piece of cardboard was taped onto the back, and again paper mache was used to smooth the edges.  The Earth Science students painted their selected planet. To represent their gaseous surfaces, foam sheeting was used to give a different texture to the Sun and the gas giants. Coiled chenille stems were inserted on Jupiter and Neptune to represent their ever present storms. 

The celestial bodies were attached to the wall by using several small sections doubled up high-grade duct tape. For the listening portion of the tour, students read the reports for their selected planets into a digital recording device.  

*Floam recipe can be found at
the Sun and the inner planetsThe outer planets
Entire solar system
points of interestThe asteroids are small balls of black construction paper glued to adding machine tape.

NGSS Standards:

MS-ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. (MS-ESS1-2),(MS-ESS1-3)
one small step collage



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