This resource package provides ideas and strategies for teaching about the seasons, the Earth’s tilt and day length at different times of year. Included are a range of activities, lesson ideas, background information, practical tips and suggested teaching strategies to address misconceptions.
Visit the secondary science webpage to access all lists: www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/secondaryscience
Links and Resources
This area of physics is full of student misconceptions and teachers planning this topic for the first time will greatly appreciate the structure offered by this resource from the Institute of Physics and will want to take the opportunity to read around the subject a little.
Once you have downloaded the files, choose 'Sun, moon and Earth Teaching Approaches' to find activities 6, 7, 8 and 9. The Physics Narrative and Teaching and Learning Issues provide background information.
This suite of activities uses simple equipment to help students act out the relative movements of the Earth and Sun; vital if they are to get a deep understanding of what causes the seasons. The use of thermochromic paper in activity 9 is recommended since it makes the temperature rise visual and it can be obtained relatively cheaply from Mindsets if none is available in school. Activity 8 is not essential but it is a good opportunity to introduce data collection and develop graphical skills.
Although this resource was originally written for primary students, the seasons have now moved from the Key Stage Two to the Key Stage Three curriculum.
Session C (pages 23/24) provides a good way for students to explore the concept of seasonality for themselves by making and using simple models. It’s worth remembering that a significant proportion of adults cannot explain this phenomenon; many will tell you that it’s warmer in summer because the Earth is closer to the sun. You can challenge this view by reminding students that when it is summer in the northern hemisphere it is winter in the southern hemisphere. In fact the Earth is actually closest to the Sun in January.
Some will explain that the tilted Earth brings the Northern hemisphere closer to the Sun in the summer. This is true but over 93 million miles, (the distance between the Earth and Sun) this difference is insignificant.
With some classes it may well be worth recapping day and night before embarking on seasons and session B on the previous pages could be used to help with this.
A great demonstration that clearly shows how the tilt of the Earth explains why it’s warmer in the summer than the winter. This is a very visual 3D demonstration that will challenge students' misconceptions and help them to correct errors. It’s a useful amplification of activity 9 from the first resource in this list.
It is sensible to start with the first demonstration that shows how light intensity varies with angle and this leads directly to the second demonstration that links this effect to the seasons.
The films are very good at showing how to carry out the demonstrations and there are also useful background notes and equipment lists.