Light-Up LED Constellations Lesson

This lesson is presented as part of a fantastic class I took, CreateMakeLearn. You can find out more about my experiences at this awesome program at this link.

This lesson is intended to be a collaboration between an art teacher, a librarian, and a homeroom teacher, and is designed to enrich the study of mythology and objects of the solar system through an integrated arts experience.

Light-up LED Constellations with Grades 4&5

Recognize a few well-known constellations
Explore myths behind constellations
Create constellations and simple stories about them
Learn basic circuitry
Work as a team 

Misconceptions to anticipate:
Students may think that constellations are real astronomical groups of stars.
Students may think that all stars in a single constellations are the same type.

Questions to ask students: 
1. What is a constellation? Can you name some constellations? Which ones have you seen?
2. What is a myth? Does anyone know any myths attached to these constellations?
Copper tape
Soldering iron and solder
Awl and xacto knives
Button-cell batteries
Star confetti
Black paper
White crayons

Brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.

 Combine ideas to generate an innovative idea for art-making.

Experiment and develop skills in multiple art-making techniques and approaches through practice.

When making works of art, utilize and care for materials, tools, and equipment in a manner that prevents danger to oneself and others.

Demonstrate quality craftsmanship through care for and use of materials, tools, and equipment.


Class #1:
Show students pictures of Taurus. Use a real photo, not an illustration. Ask them to identify the horns and head of the bull. Point out and discuss different stars of Taurus, observe how some look brighter than others.  Share story of Taurus from mythology:

Give students constellation maps and access to books/online resources, ask them to repeat the same process with a second constellation of their choice. Students will work in pairs.  Share out their constellation and myth with another partnership. Example text: Zoo In the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton.

The pair will select 4-7 stars (confetti) and will drop them into the black paper. Trace connections between the stars in white crayon. Students will discuss together what the image appears to be. They can choose to repeat this step multiple time, and select the one that most inspires them.  

Pairs select their favorite, and begin to make up a story about it- who is the hero being honored, how did they get into the sky.

After class #1: Outside of art, students continue to work on research and myth writing with homeroom teacher and librarian.

Class #2: 
Students are introduced to circuitry. Prototype constellation board by teacher shown. Example below is of two real, not imaginary, constellations with preexisting mythology.  I would resist the urge to impose your own ideas about imagined story and image, and leave that the creative teamwork of student pairs. This is intended only to be an example of a parallel circuit, not to be an answer to the project question.

My official helper was delighted to light it up for me to show you.
As a group, students make observations about the circuits, make notes on board, e.g. the LED legs are soldered to tape, there is a battery/power source, there are two strips of copper tape that never cross, like train tracks, etc.

This is the view of the whole back of my project. There are two separate circuits.
Here is a closer view of the circuitry of Orion:

Students are given materials and a lesson in soldering. Students spend remainder of class trying to light up a simple circuit.

Class #3-6:
Students use cardboard and paints to create a night sky, and transfer their constellation design to it.  Use awl to puncture holes in the cardboard backing to place LEDs. 

Teacher introduces parallel circuits formally (here is a useful resource), and answers the many questions/trouble shooting that will come up as students work. Teacher functions as a facilitator, reflecting questions back to student pairs to consider and solve. 

Students create an illuminated LED constellation with a pressure switch, presented with their finished myth. 

To demonstrate distance and brightness in their invented constellations, students can alter the LED itself (instead of using resistors) to change the brightness. Possibilities to explore could include covering/altering the LEDs with materials such as hot glue, plastic wrap, foil with small pinpricks, colored tissue paper dots, sanding the surface with sandpaper, and dispersing light with scrunched up packing tape.

Evaluation of student success should be based on achievement of stated goals. I use a cooperative rubric students complete themselves alongside my feedback. Style of assessment can be tailored to specific school practices.

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