In this activity, students are expected to use their knowledge of the tilted Earth and it revolution around the Sun to sort a set of cards. The card depict various seasonal patterns including: length of shadows, angle and concentration of solar energy/rays, Sun path as viewed from Earth (Northern Hem), changes in vegetation and weather, length of day, and position of Earth in is revolution. Students will then use their knowledge to sort the cards into four groups: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. This activity is designed to be a formative assessment activity after students have some understanding about causes of seasonal patterns. 3D models of the tilted earth and its rotation around the Sun should be used prior to doing this activity so student have a conceptual understanding to build on. I have provided suggestions for alternative instructional activities using the card set as well. See below.
Suggested level: Middle School/High School
At the end of the activity the student will be able to:
o describe how the tilted Earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the Sun causing changes in seasons.
o Identify yearly cyclical patterns in the length of day vs night, Sun’s path across the sky, changes in vegetation and weather, shadow length, and concentration of solar rays/energy on Earth.
o Understand how the Earth’s tilted axis plays a role in seasons, temperature, and amount of solar energy the Earth receives throughout the year.
o Recognize that yearly patterns, such as seasons, are the result of the Earth’s revolution around the Sun and the Earth’s tilted axis.
o Construct a model to represent patterns of change.
Note: For any activity you choose to do with the cards, make sure students know all cards are from the perspective of Northern Hemisphere on or north of the Tropic of Cancer (40˚N), as this is what they would see if they were in the USA.
1. This activity can be done as a card sort at the end of a lesson where a group of students is given a set of cards and asked to sort into the four seasons. The teacher would move around the room and assess how well students can sort.
2. Another option would be for the sort to be done at the beginning of your lesson as a pre-assessment in addition to using it as formative assessment. For more advanced/gifted students, you can give it as an inductive or puzzle challenge where they have to figure out which one belong with each other before you teach the unit. Again, that would certainly be for more advanced students.
3. It can also be done as a Choose Your Corner Activity. This is great for a quick review if you have 5 or 10 minutes at the end or beginning of class. In this option, you label each corner of your room with one of the seasons (i.e. one corner is labeled winter, one summer, etc.). Then you pass out one card to each student and they must determine which corner they belong. They move to that corner and explain to their peers why they belong in the corner. Switch and repeat as time allows.
4. You could also use the cards as part of an interactive lesson. In this option, you will need to have a large Sun hanging in the middle of your room. You would also need an Earth on a tilted axis. Most globes are set up on a tilted axis so I often times use a globe for this 3D model. You would pass out a card to each student. Begin by demonstrating the revolution of the Earth around the Sun and the rotation of the Earth on its axis by holding the globe and walking around the Sun while simultaneously spinning the globe. (Don’t trip and fall on a desk… or do, the students think that is hilarious!) It is important that the northern axis is constantly pointing at the same wall/direction in the room as you revolve around the sun. This is important to model so students understand that the direction or angle at which the north pole points is always the same, the North Star or Polaris. (Well, that is almost true… it actually does change a little because of a phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes that happens every 25,700 year, but that’s a totally different lesson and not important for this lesson.) You may even want to hang a Polaris star up so you constantly point the northern axis in its direction. Once you have modeled and discussed the rotation, tilt of axis, revolution, and day/night cycles, stop at the position in the revolution that would cause winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Ask students to study their cards and decide if the card they have represents or depicts something that would be happening at that point in the Earth’s revolution. Have students explain their card and justify their reasoning. Make sure students know all cards are from the perspective of Northern Hemisphere on or north of the Tropic of Cancer, as this is what they would see if they are in the USA.
Note: Prep depends on how you intend to use the cards. I am giving the prep required if you are making a set for each group of 3 or 4 to sort.
o Print a set of cards for each group of 3 (or 4 if you have large classes)
o Optional: Mark each set of cards with a common color on the back. I usually use a colored pencil (or sharpie if I printed on cardstock.) Each set of cards gets a common color line drawn across the back. This step helps when a card gets left out of a set or if two sets get mixed together.
o Optional: Laminate the card sets
o Cut and bag each set of cards
Next Generation Science Standards
5-ESS1 Earth's Place in the Universe
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
• The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. (5-ESS1-2)
MS-ESS1 Earth's Place in the Universe
ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars
• Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models. (MS-ESS1-1)
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
• The 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-ESS1-1)
7. Earth and space. The student knows the effects resulting from cyclical movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. The student is expected to:
A. model and illustrate how the tilted Earth rotates on its axis, causing day and night, and revolves around the Sun causing changes in seasons
8. Science concepts. The student knows the reasons for the seasons. The student is expected to:
A. recognize that seasons are caused by the tilt of Earth's axis;
B. explain how latitudinal position affects the length of day and night throughout the year;
C. recognize that the angle of incidence of sunlight determines the concentration of solar energy received on Earth at a particular location; and
D. examine the relationship of the seasons to equinoxes, solstices, the tropics, and the equator.
Grade 3 Earth Science
4b. Students know the way in which the Moon’s appearance changes during the four-week lunar cycle.
4e. Students know the position of the Sun in the sky changes during the course of the day and from season to season.
1.1e Most objects in the solar system have a regular and predictable motion. These motions explain such phenomena as a day, a year, phases of the Moon, eclipses, tides, meteor showers, and comets.
1.1h The apparent motions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars across the sky can be explained by Earth’s rotation and revolution. Earth’s rotation causes the length of one day to be approximately 24 hours. This rotation also causes the Sun and Moon to appear to rise along the eastern horizon and to set along the western horizon. Earth’s revolution around the Sun defines the length of the year as 365 1/4 days.
1.1i The tilt of Earth’s axis of rotation and the revolution of Earth around the Sun cause seasons on Earth. The length of daylight varies depending on latitude and season.
New York (cont.):
1.1a Most objects in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. These motions explain such phenomena as the day, the year, seasons, phases of the moon, eclipses, and tides.
1.1c Earth’s coordinate system of latitude and longitude, with the equator and prime meridian as reference lines, is based upon Earth’s rotation and our observation of the Sun and stars.
1.1d Earth rotates on an imaginary axis at a rate of 15 degrees per hour. To people on Earth, this turning of the planet makes it seem as though the Sun, the moon, and the stars are moving around Earth once a day. Rotation provides a basis for our system of local time; meridians of longitude are the basis for time zones.
1.1f Earth’s changing position with regard to the Sun and the moon has noticeable effects.
• Earth revolves around the Sun with its rotational axis tilted at 23.5 degrees to a line perpendicular to the plane of its orbit, with the North Pole aligned with Polaris.
• During Earth’s one-year period of revolution, the tilt of its axis results in changes in the angle of incidence of the Sun’s rays at a given latitude; these changes cause variation in the heating of the surface. This produces seasonal variation in weather.
1.1g Seasonal changes in the apparent positions of constellations provide evidence of Earth’s revolution.
1.1h The Sun’s apparent path through the sky varies with latitude and season
© Marianne Dobrovolny - www.science-lessons.org
Related topics: tilted Earth, seasonal change, sun path, pattern of change, shadows, hands-on, models, angle of incidence of sunlight
Causes of Seasons Activity: Patterns Caused by Earth's Tilted Axis & Revolution
by Marianne Dobrovolny
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License