The topic sounds daunting but I happen to be a mayjah cosmology/astronomy nerd so it was an easy unit to build for me.
First, I brainstormed about all the topics we wanted to cover in studying the Universe and broke them down into daily lessons over three weeks.
I like to follow a "three weeks on, one week off" method for my unit studies for two reasons. One, I use the unit to find out what the kids are interested in learning next. I have a basic outline in my mind but if the kids responded neutrally toward the particular unit then I know I need to go in a completely different direction. The Universe unit was one of those units. Nothing excited me more than space and dinosaurs when I was little. It seems, nothing bores my kids more than space and dinosaurs. I thought I would transition the birth of the Universe into the birth of the Earth and go into a nice, long Earth Science/plate tectonics/first creatures on the planet unit but the kids could not be less interested right now. Upon survey I found that they want to do Human Anatomy next.
So the week off gives me just enough time to plot a new course and gather all my resources for the next unit.
The other reason (warning TMI incoming) is that my brain is super foggy during my *ahem* lady time o' the month and I found that I am a terrible teacher that week and no one learns anything. So it's best to take that time off to rest our brains and plan for the future.
So anyway, Week 1 was focused on origins and bodies found in the Universe, Week 2 focused on our solar system and detailed looks at each planet and Week 3 focused on Earth, the Moon and the Sun. This easily tied into telling time and we touched on some Earth science. Here are some good jumping off points and extras for building this unit:
The Origin - Read Genesis. Watch videos about the Big Bang. Discuss both according to your belief system. Here is a neat, short video by TEDed that talks about the vastness of the Universe and beyond:
The Fabric of Space - Most adults don't really have their arms around this concept but it's important to teach because it helps explain things like gravity. Check out this video for a crash course. I recommend reading some Michio Kaku for this unit, also. He explains cosmology so incredibly simply. When my oldest asked me "What is gravity? My teachers just said 'it holds objects to Earth' but that really doesn't explain what gravity is" I was prepared. Kaku explained it as visualizing space as a giant sheet and the earth as a bowling ball in the middle. The fabric (of space) is bent toward the bowling ball (earth) so if you roll objects around on the sheet, they will be drawn in toward the bowling ball.
We grabbed a sheet and a globe and did it ourselves.
My daughter said, "Mom, you explained in five minutes what I could never understand in years of asking at school."
Black Holes and Nebulae - If you can get your hands on the IMAX Hubble movie then watch it. I took my kids to see it a year or so ago so they had a basic understanding of what a nebula is. We did a simple art project using black construction paper, chalk and white paint. We looked at picture of nebulae online and then made our own:
To introduce kids to black holes, check out Kids Astronomy. And if your kids are morbid like mine, watch this video by Neil deGrasse (most badass amazing astronomer why isn't he more famous?) Tyson on exactly how you would die if you entered a black hole:
Galaxies: Kids Astronomy has a great intro again. It is also interesting to note that our solar system actually bobs up and down in our Galaxy, not unlike the movement of a carousel! We will be in alignment with the center of our galaxy this year.
This pretty much took up the first week of our studies. We went to the library and each kid chose three space and universe related books to read over the course of the three weeks. On the weekends, they restated what they learned - or "taught" what they learned - to the rest of us. We did plenty of other activities with this unit including making homemade meteors and having a meteorite hunt in the back yard! We also held hands to explain how moons stay in orbit and made a sundial!
I hope this gets you thinking about how to build a unit. I will be posting the first week of all of our units regularly. For me, with kids of different ages, it is the easiest way to teach all of us at once. I start the morning with our unit and then we separate for more focused studies like handwriting, math, typing etc.
For now, it's time to build our Anatomy Unit. Wish me luck!