Friday, August 25, 2006

How many planets are there?

Many of you know that I promote Wikipedia as a useful resource for staff and students. Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia in electronic, online or print form.

There are several advantages to using Wikipedia ( in the classroom.

1) It is available anywhere you have an Internet connection. You are not limited to a few sets of encyclopedias located around the school building.

2) It has a lot of information that you would not find in a print version such as World Book. Ex: information about Zip to Zap (North Dakota) on May 10, 1969.

3) It has current information.

Below is information taken from Wikipedia about Pluto. This is accurate information based on a decision made yesterday and reported in the newspaper this morning. This information will not be found in a print version of an encyclopedia for many years.

Pluto is a dwarf planet (once classified as a true planet) in the solar system and the prototype of a yet to be named family of Trans-Neptunian objects.[1][2] From its discovery in 1930 to 2006, it was considered the ninth and smallest of the planets of the Solar System by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). However, after contemporary observations, recent discoveries and currently available scientific information were evaluated and debated, the IAU decided, on August 24, 2006, to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet, requiring that a planet must “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.”[3] It had qualified as a planet under a draft definition[4] that had been proposed by a committee of the IAU, but which was not accepted by the IAU General Assembly.

Under Planets:

Officially, as of 2006, there are eight planets in our solar system. In increasing distance from the Sun they are (with the astronomical symbol in brackets and their natural satellites):

1. Mercury with no confirmed natural satellites
2. Venus with no confirmed natural satellites
3. Earth with one confirmed natural satellite, the Moon
4. Mars with two confirmed natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos
5. Jupiter with sixty-three confirmed natural satellites
6. Saturn with fifty-six confirmed natural satellites
7. Uranus with twenty-seven confirmed natural satellites
8. Neptune with thirteen confirmed natural satellites

Please note that the main advantage of Wikipedia is also it’s disadvantage. Anyone can contribute information to Wikipedia, which accounts for the large amount of information. But this information is being contributed by non academic researchers and sometimes the information is inaccurate and/or biased  Students should be made aware of this and encouraged to check the information they find on Wikipedia with other resources.

Wikipedia is peer reviewed, and if there is inaccurate or biased information it is often corrected by others. People who have proved themselves as reliable, accurate researchers have been given editing privileges in Wikipedia that allows them to remove questionable information.

I encourage you to use Wikipedia in your classroom as an inital source of information.

CNN Student News is a 10 minute news program designed for schools and is broadcast every weekday morning at 3:12 am EST. They also put a video of the broadcast on their website so that you can watch it (and even project it for your classroom to see) if you didn’t get it recorded.

Today’s broadcast, which includes a segment on Pluto, can be found at It is found in the green box under “Watch and Learn” on the right hand side of the page.

The transcript of the broadcast can be found at You can subscribe to the CNN Student News update and get an e-mail each morning describing the content of the day’s broadcast.

From their web site: CNN Student News is a 10-minute, commercial-free news program that airs on CNN Headline News at 3:12 a.m. EST as well as on Created by a team of journalists and educators, the program provides the top stories of the day, segments that encourage student participation, and in-depth special reports. In addition, CNN Student News provides free curriculum at to accompany each program’s content. CNN Student News, along with CNN Presents: Classroom Edition, is Turner’s contribution to Cable in the Classroom.

Another resource to follow up on this topic is United Streaming. Search on Pluto or Planets to find streaming video clips that you might want to use in class. This is truly “video on demand.”