I highly recommend the educational activities from SETI; especially their Kepler Mission materials found here. There are NGSS aligned activities arranged by age level. I'm looking into the Transit Tracks activities to link Kepler's equations with the Kepler mission, light and our Universal Gravitation unit.
Within that document SETI describes a demo of the Kepler mission by passing a bead on a string in front of a light bulb in a dark room. There is a note off to the side that says:
Optional: Collect Real Data
If you have a light sensor, computer
with sensor interface,
graphing software, and a computer
display projector, place the
light sensor in the plane of the
planet/ bead orbit and aim sensor
directly at the light. Collect
brightness data and project the
computer plot in real time. Let
the students comment on what
they are observing. Instead of
swinging beads, you may use a
mechanism, known as an orrery,
to model the planets orbiting
their star. Instructions for building
an orrery from LEGO™ parts
may be found on the NASA
Kepler Mission website at
I don't have Vernier light sensors but I do have the Physics Toolbox Suite on my phone which uses the light sensor already on your phone. The app is free and has many different tools all using the internal properties of your phone. I find myself using it frequently and if I ever get tablets for my classroom I'll be using this much more frequently.
I played around with the idea over the weekend using a dim kid's light and passes my hand in front of it to model a transit. At first I tried a ceiling mounted light but I found that since its a CFL bulb there were small variations in the light that might confuse students. In class I would be using incandescent light bulbs anyway. The kids' dim flashlight had a fairly consistent output and the dips were caused by my hand in front of it in a completely dark room.
I would like to model something smaller than the light source like the bead on a string that SETI suggested. It will also be a good lesson about the difficulties of the mission as students won't see too much of a reduction in light unless the shadow of the bead passes right over the sensor on the phone. I don't have orreries but can challenge students to keep constant period orbits. Perhaps by next year I can develop something super simple like this DIY Orrey.
The nice folks in charge of the @PhysicsToolbox twitter account pointed out this The Physics Teacher article on the subject sing their light sensor for something similar.
After students learn how to read Transit Light Curves from the SETI activity I hope to have them make their own and model the same graph interpreting skills. It will only take one kid with a phone in each group to make this work and I think I'll have that covered.