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This activity engages learners to investigate the impact of Earth's tilt and the angle of solar insolation as the reason for seasons by doing a series of hands-on activities that include scale models. Students plot the path of the Sun's apparent movement across the sky on two days separated by three months of time.

Activity takes four 45-minute class periods with the second taking place three months after the original activity is completed. Additional materials required.

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Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Measurements will have to be done at different times of the day, which may be problematic for courses that occur at a specific time of day.
  • One required material-- "clear plastic, dome-shaped lid" (as used to cover whipped toppings on coffee or frozen drinks)-- may be located through coffee shops or restaurant supply stores.
  • In step four when perihelion and aphelion are described, send the aphelion student to the other side of the orbit opposite to the perihelion student, not next to him/her. Then mention the dates of both.
  • Review what the activity is about before students go outside to do the hands-on activity.
  • Do activity early in the year and follow up multiple times in the school year.
  • For parts 1 and 2 of the activity, it may be valuable for the student to document what s/he saw in the model illustrating the distance between Earth and the Sun at perihelion and aphelion and illustrating tilt in the relationship to the Sun.
  • If you know that you will only be able to do the activity once, it would be good to have sample data (e.g. from previous years) and perhaps a video clip of prior efforts.
  • Potential follow-up data: How would the data collected compare to data collected at other latitudes?
  • To explore the sun angle for different dates and areas of the world, the USNO's Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table provides a way for you to obtain a table of the altitude and azimuth of the Sun or Moon during a specific day, at a time interval that you specify: http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services/alt-az-us

About the Science

  • A multi-pronged approach to teach learners about the reason for seasons.
  • Activity effectively addresses the misconception that varying distance causes the seasons with a suite of hands-on activities.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This resource tackles a tough topic for students to grasp: why we have seasons. It uses a number of different activities to get the students thinking about the distance between the sun and the earth, the earth's axis, summer and winter, the earth's orbit around the sun, etc.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students will need careful guidance, especially during the measurements, to ensure that the results are meaningful.
  • The activity starts out with explaining the misconception - it is best practice to not verbalize the misconception and to emphasize the appropriate concept that Earth's tilt causes the seasons. Allowing the students to read the instructions may cause the wrong concept to stick in their minds.
  • A nice variety of hands-on and kinesthetic activities.
  • Models give learners different aspects of the reason for seasons to consider.
  • Confronts the misconceptions contained in this topic very effectively.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Activity requires good preparation by the teacher and careful guidance for experiment.
  • Handouts are well done and materials are easy to find.
  • Activity is nicely presented with accurate models and graphics.
  • If using the Safari browser, save pdf to your desktop, so it opens without problems.

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