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Seasons Interactive

Regents of the University of California, Sepup

An interactive that illustrates the relationships between the axial tilt of the Earth, latitude, and temperature. Several data sets (including temperature, Sun-Earth distance, daylight hours) can be generated.

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ngssSee how this Simulation/Interactive supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Instructors could use this interactive as the basis for an inquiry activity. Have students plot differences in temperature or daylight hours for a location in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere on the same graph. Teachers should ask students to infer the seasons from these data.

About the Science

  • This resource illustrates how the tilt of Earth's axis affects daylight hours and temperatures at four different latitudes. It explicitly shows the geometry that causes this.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The activity correctly shows how the Earth's surface illumination changes seasonally, thus the fundamental cause of the seasons. It is helpful that it shows both a view looking into the plane of the orbit and down upon it. My concerns are more about the pedagogy than the Earth science involved. While it is appropriately labelled that the images are not to scale, and perhaps it's helpful that the relative sizes are obviously reversed, it is still a big conceptual leap to understanding the changing sun angles and the duration of daylight.

About the Pedagogy

  • This resource provides students with an ecliptic and top view of Earth's orbit around the Sun.
  • The resource also displays the distance between Earth and the sun for each month, which allows students to discern that Earth is closest to the sun in the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The resource provides a page of definitions and explanation of terms before students launch into their investigation.
  • Students can change the angle of inclination of Earth's axis to see the effect of the tilt on temperature and number of daylight hours at four latitudes. Students can extract an understanding of the seasons from this information.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This is a well-constructed interactive that is easy to use and can yield several different types of data.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Simulation/Interactive supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-ESS1.B2:This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year.

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Systems and System Models, Patterns

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C4.3:Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS1.B1:Kepler’s laws describe common features of the motions of orbiting objects, including their elliptical paths around the sun. Orbits may change due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other objects in the solar system.

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Patterns, Systems and System Models

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

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