Idaho 2nd and 5th Graders Enact Planetary Rotation Using Indoor/Outdoor Solar Systems They Built to Scale

Tuesday, December 1 2009

Written by Donna Emert

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – Seltice Elementary School children, working with University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene teacher education students and their own classroom teachers, have done the math, science, engineering and artwork necessary to construct two, scale-model solar systems.

They built a big one for use in the school gym, and a bigger one that can only be deployed in the wide open space of the playground.

The solar system project allowed students to explore the properties of individual planets, learn how their solar system works, mathematically calculate distances and rotational patterns of the planets within the solar system, and build two working, scale-model solar systems – ultimately combining math, science, art and engineering.

The solar systems project is one of several interdisciplinary, full-immersion education collaborations resulting from a formal partnership between Seltice Elementary School and the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene teacher education program.

The Partner School Initiative allows University of Idaho teacher education students to learn and begin to teach under the roofs of local public schools. This year, the university is collaborating with Seltice students, teachers and administrators to support existing elementary school curricula by delivering hands-on lessons and providing other needed services to the school, while simultaneously allowing University of Idaho pre-service teachers to develop their skills under the supervision of university faculty.

This highly successful partnership approach to teacher education gives University of Idaho students unique experiences in service learning and costs taxpayers nothing.

The impact of the University of Idaho program can be measured in rising standardized tests scores of participating grade school students, and the insights of University of Idaho students who journal about their experience.

One participating University of Idaho student wrote: “Teaching is like kickball. You just need to get out there and play… As I found out today anything can happen, depending on who’s pitching toward you, but if you concentrate, something good can happen from even the bounciest of pitches. Standing in left field, on the teacher’s team, I realize I’m on the teacher’s team. I feel like a teacher, most days I look like a teacher, and most importantly my students see me as a teacher.”

Another student wrote, “You lose touch with your goals when you’re only doing this on paper,” said Assistant Professor of Education Emily Duvall, who initiated the University of Idaho/Seltice Elementary School partnership. “We really do underestimate the capabilities of our children. I am surprised at how fast they learn, and how much my students learn in the process.”

Duvall works with University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene Education professors Cherie Major and Anne Kern; Idaho graduate students Monica Hansen and Debbie Muthersbaugh; fourth grade teacher Marie Hammon from Ponderosa Elementary (Post Falls School District); principals Kathy Baker (Ponderosa Elementary, PFSD), Joel Palmer (Bryan Elementary, CDA SD) and Mike Uphus (Seltice Elementary, PFSD); and Post Falls District Elementary Curriculum Director Barney Brewton. The collaboration also has resulted in a research paper on the impacts and implications of this education partnership, recently accepted for presentation by the American Education Research Association in Denver, Colo.

The paper outlines the Partner School Initiative – beginning with Ponderosa Elementary and Bryan Elementary Schools, but focusing on the Post Falls model – to illustrate the benefits of teaching pre-service teacher courses under a partner school’s roof. The arrangement creates an unprecedented degree of collaboration between the university and local public schools, to the mutual benefit of all their students.
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit