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Lesson Overview
Background Information
Developing the Lesson

Module 6 - Lesson 3

Formation of the Universe: Theories and Evidence


Module 6: The Milky Way and Beyond



This activity requires approximately three class periods (~50 minutes each)

  1. One period for Big Bang demonstration and activity
  2. One period for researching other formation theories
  3. One period for presentations



Pan-Canadian Curriculum Objectives:

explain the need for new evidence in order to continually test Existing theories (e.g., explain the need for new evidence obtained from space-based telescopes and close-up observations by satellites, which can reinforce, adjust, or reject Existing inferences based on observations from Earth)

describe possible positive and negative effects of a particular scientific or technological development, and explain why a practical solution requires a compromise between competing priorities (e.g., describe effects such as the spinoffs from space technologies to everyday usage and the potential military use of space exploration, and recognize the need to evaluate these objectives)

identify new questions and problems that arise from what was learned (e.g., identify questions such as the following: "What are the limits of space travel?" "How old is the Universe?" "Is Earth the only suitable home for humans?")

describe theories on the formation of the solar system


Lesson Overview:

This activity involves having students analyze the results of a Big Bang demonstration. The teacher will use the explosion of a balloon filled with coloured confetti to model the results of the Big Bang.


Materials and Resources:

  1. History of the Big Bang Theory
  2. Cosmic Microwave Background - COBE image
  3. balloons of various sizes
  4. coloured confetti
  5. graph paper
  6. masking tape



    • galaxy
    • elliptical
    • spiral
    • barred spiral
    • Hubble Deep Field
    • Hubble Space Telescope


Background Information:

Formation of the Universe

* Cosmic Microwave Background as seen from the COBE Satellite

The formation of the universe is difficult, if not impossible, to understand completely because humans simply do not know what the conditions of the early universe were like. Because of this fact, the science of cosmology was developed as a means of studying the origins of our universe. Although it is unlikely that cosmologists will ever fully comprehend the exact process from which our universe was born, there are numerous theories as to how it may have happened. The most widely accepted theory in the field of astronomy today is the Big Bang Theory, first proposed in the 1920s and 1930s. By observing physical properties of the universe, proponents of this theory speculate that time began about 12 to 15 billion years ago when all of the matter within the universe exploded from a singularity, a dense point with an infinitely small volume. The Big Bang theory is based upon three main supporting observations.

The first of these observations is that the universe appears to be expanding. By observing light from distant galaxies, it was discovered in the 1920s that this light is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum, implying that galaxies are receding from the Earth. The Big Bang theory states that this recession is not due to the movement of the galaxies through space, but instead is an expansion of space itself. Assuming that the universe is expanding as a whole and that it has been since the beginning of time, cosmologists extrapolate back in time to when the universe was a small point.

The second observation relates to the relative abundance of chemical elements within the universe. The Big Bang model predicts that the universe should be composed of approximately 75% hydrogen, 25% helium, and small amounts of heavier elements. Although these predictions depend on the initial conditions of the early universe, which are nearly impossible to know accurately, the observable universe is nonetheless composed of about three-quarters hydrogen and one-quarter helium, along with small amounts of heavier elements.

The third observation concerns cosmic radiation. In 1948, a Russian astronomer named George Gamow speculated that the initial fireball of the Big Bang explosion should have left behind a uniformly distributed radiation which would fill the universe and cool as the universe expanded, and be visible in every direction of the sky. The Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR), as this radiation is called, was first detected in 1965 in the form of radio waves, and has a uniform temperature of 2.7K. The discovery of this radiation swayed many astronomers in favour of the Big Bang theory.

Every theory involves assumptions, and the Big Bang is no exception; however, despite being proposed in the 1920s, the model has survived the scrutiny of 80 years of technological advancements and competing theories, contributing to its credibility.

History of the Big Bang Theory


Developing the Lesson:

Activity 1 - Big Bang demonstration and activity

Anticipatory Set

Before letting students into the classroom, the teacher should move all the desks to provide a large open area at the center of the class. The teacher should then use masking tape to divide the open space into four quadrants. Students should then be allowed to enter the class and to form a line at the back of the class. Without saying a word, the teacher produces a blown up balloon filled with confetti. The teacher will then pop the balloon, still not saying a word. The balloon should be held high enough for all students to clearly see the results.


Once the pieces of confetti have all had a chance to fall, the teacher will then begin with the following focus questions.

  1. What just happend?
  2. Did you notice anything about where the pieces of confetti flew?
  3. What event in the history of the universe could this demostration be used to model?

Hands-on Activity

The teacher will then explain that there were relatively the same number of each colored pieces in the balloon and will begin to lay out the task for the students.

  1. Students are to be divided into four groups, one for each quardrant.
  2. Students within the group must decide on one recorder to begin recording the results.
  3. Students should then work in their groups to formulate an explanation of what they observed from the demonstration.
  4. Students will then begin analyzing their assigned quadrant.
  5. Students must decide what they will focus on:
    • location of the confetti
    • colour distribution
    • clumping of confetti
  6. Students will continue their analysis until a specified amount of time has passed.
  7. Students will then be required to represent their results on the graph paper provided.
  8. Students might choose any of the following, or perhaps other ways:
    • mapping the locations of the pieces
    • frequency chart indicating the colour distribution
    • a paragraph describing the confetti in their quardrant
  9. Students should then be asked to clean up their quardrant and to reassemble in a line at the back of the class

Independent Practice

For homework, students will be asked to write a short paragraph describing the events of the class. Students should be encouraged to comment on the accuracy of the model to describe the Big Bang and how this may conflict with or reaffirm their personal convictions about the formation of the universe.

Activity 2 - Researching other formation theories

Anticipatory Set

Begin this activity by asking students to vote on the plausibility of the Big Bang Theory.

The voting must be done as a secret ballot so as not to cause any conflicts. The teacher will count the votes for and against, jotting the final numbers down on the blackboard.


The teacher will initiate a short discussion helping students understand, that although the Big Bang Theory is currently the most widely accepted theory amoung scientists, there are also several other theories that in their own right offer explanations as to the formation of the Universe.

The teacher will make it very clear that this will just be a research adventure, personal beliefs and opinions should be left aside.

Hands-on Activity

Students will work with a partner to research two formation theories of their choosing. Students may use either Internet or library resources materials to complete their task.

Students will spend 10 minutes planning their research strategy and will OK their ideas with the teacher before commencing their formal research. The teacher will offer suggestions to the students based on the theories they have selected.

Students will have approximately 30 minutes for research. Students should be reminded that they are not to be persuading the class towards the theories they researched; rather they will simply present the theory.

Activity 3 - Class presentations


At the start of the third class, students will have approximately 10 minutes to assemble their presentations.

Hands-on Activity

The groups will then have about 5 minutes each to make their presentations to the class.



Activity 1

As a closure activity, the teacher may want to repeat the popping of the balloon with balloons blown to different sizes. Although it is not necessary to have students repeat the entire activity, they can simply observe and comment on similarities and differences they observed compared to the original event.

Activity 3

After all groups have had the opportunity to present, the teacher will conduct another secret ballot vote, this time enabling students to select from all of the theories presented. The teacher will tally the results and will share the results with the class.






The key to this activity is having students look at essentially raw data in order to formulate a working explanation for the Big Bang based on the model they observed. Students should be evaluated on the rationale they include for their analysis of their quardrant, their choice of data representation, and also on their ability to work within their groups.

The following rubric may be helpful for evaluations.

Cooperative Learning Rubric
Needs Improvement

Contribution to Group

Regularly provides useful ideas to group; contributes a strong effort

Often provides useful ideas to group; tries hard

Sometimes provides useful ideas to group; does what is required

Rarely provides useful ideas to group; may refuse to participate

Quality of Work

Highest quality work

High quality work

Work sometimes needs monitoring or re-doing

Work usually needs monitoring or re-doing


Regularly paces work well; does not need to be encouraged to get work done on time

Usually paces work well; may have needed some encouragement to get work done on time, but does not hold up group's progress

Tends to procrastinate, but always gets work done on time

Rarely paces work well; group's progress is held up by inadequate time management


Never openly critical of project or others' work; positive attitude

Rarely openly critical of project or others' work; mostly positive attitude

Sometimes openly critical of project or others' work; partially negative attitude

Often openly critical of project or others' work; mostly negative attitude


Always ready to begin tasks

Almost always ready to begin tasks

Almost always brings needed materials, but distractions sometimes slow progress

Often forgets to bring materials or is rarely ready to begin tasks


Almost always contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; encourages  group unity

Usually contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; does not create problems for group

Sometimes contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; sometimes a poor team player

Rarely contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; often a poor team player


Teacher Reflections: