Academic journal article Science Scope

Are We Looking at the Same Sun? Exploring the Seasons Using Data Analysis

Academic journal article Science Scope

Are We Looking at the Same Sun? Exploring the Seasons Using Data Analysis

Article excerpt

The seasons are often modeled for students using two spherical objects, one representing the Sun and one representing the Earth. Solely using this model, however, neglects a critical aspect of learning--how students actually see the world. This lesson challenges students to explore seasonal variations as they create and analyze sunrise/sunset graphs for different locations around the world. In the process, students gain an empirical understanding of how and why daylight hours change throughout the year at different locations and the impact that the number of daylight hours has on the seasons.

The featured investigation provides a meaningful inquiry experience for students that incorporates three critical aspects associated with high-quality teaching and learning: effective questioning, data analysis, and performance assessments. Effective questioning, a cornerstone to successful instruction, provides a rich opportunity to engage students in deeper thinking. Further, in our data-driven society, students need to become adept at interpreting and analyzing real-world data associated with major scientific ideas. Finally, providing meaningful student explorations in science is vital, but we also need to assess student achievement relative to the stated goals and objectives during these investigations. The featured investigation illustrates several performance assessments that measure knowledge and understanding related to the causes of seasonal variations and what the variations look like at different points around the globe.

Although there are numerous inquiry instructional models available, the lesson featured here uses the 4E x 2 instructional model (Marshall, Horton, and Edmondson 2007; Marshall, Horton, and Smart 2009), which integrates three major learning constructs in an effort to foster deeper conceptual understanding. Specifically, the 4Es are Engage, Explore, Explain, and Extend, and the "x 2" is formative assessment and reflective practice during each E. The core of this or any effective inquiry model is based on the premise that solid inquiry instruction necessitates that students are provided an opportunity to explore major ideas before an explanation from students or teacher occurs. This premise is at the heart of what is often referred to as guided inquiry instruction, which is distinctly different from prescriptive or directed inquiry instruction, where the teacher tells and then students confirm what they were told.

This lesson takes approximately three class periods and is based on the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996)--specifically, Earth and Space Science: Structure of the Earth System and Earth in the Solar System--and ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas, which seeks to answer the question, "What are the predictable patterns caused by Earth's movemenent in the solar system (NRC 2012, p. 175). Further, this lesson provides a solid interdisciplinary tie with mathematics where students analyze data and graphs and search for regularities or trends (CCSSO and NGA 2010).

The lesson's essential questions are as follows: How does the amount of sunlight differ in various locations around the world on the same day? Why does this occur?


Start the lesson by asking students a series of questions that probe for understanding and misconceptions relative to day/night and seasonal variations as we perceive them: "What changes do you observe outside as the year progresses? Are these changes the same everywhere around the world? Why or why not? What causes these changes?" Challenge students to support claims using evidence.

We recommend answering the first question as a class, with the other questions answered individually by students in their science notebooks. During this instructional stage, it is important to listen and probe student thinking but not critique answers or directly explain scientific phenomena. …

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