NGSS: MS-ESS1-1. Develop and use a model of the Earth-Sun system to describe the cyclic patterns of the seasons.
In this series of activities/assessments, students develop and use models of the Sun-Earth system to observe and describe the cyclic patterns of the seasons in order to gather evidence to explain what causes the seasons: (1) the tilt of the Earth’s axis and (2) the amount and concentration of sunlight striking the ground which is affected by the angle at which the sunlight hits the ground. The first activity assesses students’ prior knowledge about changes in events from season to season. Students write a paragraph describing a season, read the paragraphs written by other students, and then infer the season described. Next, students use a polystyrene ball to model the Earth and a light bulb to model the Sun. Students spin the “Earth” and observe the amount and concentration of light on the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Then they collect and analyze data about the average duration of sunlight on cities in both hemispheres. Students work collaboratively to synthesize the data in order to gather evidence to explain what causes the seasons (note taking pages are provided). Next, students work in pairs to use a “Sunlight Angle Measuring Tool” to observe the relationship between the angle sunlight hits the ground and how much the light spreads out on the ground. Then students synthesize the data collected and construct concepts maps to explain what causes the seasons (concept map templates are provided). Finally, students are challenged to create a model of some astronomical phenomena to share with the class (suggestions are provided). Teacher directions, student activity and note taking sheets, sample answer sheets, and rubrics are included.