This unit begins the second half of the year where we explore how energy from the sun drives the motion and/or cycling of matter at Earth’s surface. At this point in the year, we’re in the middle of winter; the holidays are over; and everyone has the winter blahs. It helps to learn that seasons are cyclical and there is an end in sight to the cold, dark winter. I also teach this unit in conjunction with an intriguing contest called Mystery Class which usually begins at the end of January. My favorite part of the unit is integrating this “global game of hide-and-seek” with our lessons. This seasonal change unit begins with activities aimed for understanding rotation and revolution and then digs deeper. We explore how Earth’s tilt, shape, and revolution affect the length and the intensity of energy each latitude receives from the sun and determine that this is what causes seasonal change.
Usually my students roll their eyes when I tell them we’re going to learn about the seasons. “We already learned about this….in KINDERGARTEN!” I have to promise them that this is not “baby science”. Starting off with some great probing questions from such sources as Uncovering Student Ideas in Astronomy: 45 new formative assessment probes and Uncovering Students Ideas in Science, Volume 2: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes encourage students to start thinking about the seasons in a way they haven’t before.
Teaching about seasonal change lends itself to integrating geometry concepts. The word geometry literally translates into into “to measure the earth” (geo–earth; metron–to measure). Make sure your students have a protractor ready! They’re going to be seeing angles everywhere! We will also be incorporating 6th grade Common Core Math Standards: Ratio and proportional relationships, the number system, and expressions and equations.
I do begin the unit with some very basic concepts. I didn’t always, but throughout the years I noticed that many students were coming in with a lot of misconceptions of terms I considered common knowledge by 6th grade. I begin with a few exploratory lessons about globes, maps, longitude, latitude, and understanding the difference between revolution and rotation. Then we start diving deep into what causes seasonal change. Every lesson addresses common misconceptions students (adults too!) have about the seasons. My source for misconceptions on this topic came mostly from this resource. My lessons are designed to identify these misconceptions and challenge them with evidence we collect in class. I find it to be a successful strategy in teaching for conceptual understanding.
I keep portfolios of all students’ work for this unit. This simply is a file folder that becomes filled with their work for each student stored in a crate, bin, or file cabinet. Part of the final assessment is for students to analyze how their thinking changed throughout the unit and what strategies they used to help them learn. They are asked to elicit specific examples from their work.
This is my progression when teaching seasonal change. Each topic links you to lesson plans and resources. I strongly encourage that you make student earth globe models and light bulb sun models. Find the instructions here. I also will eventually adding Face to Face tools in the lesson plans.”This family of tools was developed to help students to construct and revise evidence-based explanations and models for complex phenomena. Face-to-face tools are used with students (that’s where the name comes from) to represent and work on their current ideas.” I will also be adding these strategies: Tools | Scaffolding for writing & talking science.
- Exploring Earth’s shape and models we use to construct explanations about Earth.
- Longitude and Latitude and its Connection to Geometry
- Developing and Using Models to Construct Explanations about Earth’s Day/Night Pattern Vs. Seasonal Change Patterns (Rotation Vs. Revolution)
- Assessing preconceptions students have about seasonal change
- Investigating the Essential Question: Does variation in the distance the Earth is from the Sun cause the seasons? Gathering Evidence: Develop and use models of Earth’s orbit and distance from the Sun throughout the year to provide evidence that answers the essential question.
- Gathering evidence for what DOES cause seasonal change: Collect,analyze, and interpret data to look for patterns of how hours of daylight change throughout the year. Develop and use models to construct explanations for these patterns. How does this data help answer what causes seasonal change?
- Develop and Use Models to Explain How Sunlight Intensity Changes Throughout the Year (this also includes the final assessments)
- Participating in Mystery Class
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