Reasons for Seasons
Exploring the Astronomy of Spring

— Background Lessons

Assessment Task Options

You can choose from the following tasks to assess students' understanding; create your own; or review student journals or your notes from class discussions. In any case, you can use the Reasons for Seasons Assessment Tool to document student understanding of key concepts in this mini-unit.

Create Diagrams
Have students draw diagrams showing the relationship between the Earth and the sun as it would be on the day they are doing this activity. Then have them sketch North and South America on their "Earth" and place a small x in the approximate location of their hometown.

Explain Hometown Seasons
Have students explain two important reasons why their town or city has hot summers and cold winters. You can also have them draw the Earth, mark the approximate location of their town or city, and show its relationship to the sun during each season.

Photoperiod and Seasons
Give students sunrise and sunset times of three different “mystery” cities in North America on the date you’re giving this assessment. Challenge them to:

  1. Look up sunrise and sunset times for your school’s city or town (or give these to them).
  2. Calculate photoperiods (number of daylight hours and minutes) for each location.
  3. Explain what this reveals about the mystery city locations (in relation to your location and one another).

Prepare an Article or Teach a Lesson
Have students write and illustrate an article for a classroom or school newsletter to help others understand the reasons for seasons. Another option is to ask small groups to prepare lessons to teach younger students about seasons, shadows, sunlight, or related concepts.

Pen Pal Scenario (adapted from . . .)
Give students the following challenge:

Imagine that it is June 23rd. You are living in southern Argentina. You have an e-mail pen pal who lives in New York City. (Assume that both locations are about the same distance from the equator.) You decide to write to each other about the weather. Write each note. For each one, talk about the season, the general amount of daylight (long day, short day, somewhere in between), a possible high and low temperature for the day, the kind of precipitation you are having, and any other creative information that will make your letters complete.

Adaptation for younger students: Instead of writing notes, students can imagine they are talking to their penpals on the phone, sending them a tape recorded message, or preparing a drawing to send them. (You should also simplify the challenge, as appropriate.)

Sample Test Questions

  • Maria lives in Argentina. She notices that the sun is rising earlier each morning and setting later each evening. What season could it be? (Answer: spring)
  • One day, a boy in Massachusetts is going skiing with his family. What might a girl in Australia be doing?

Sunlight and Seasons (The Shadow Knows)

  • Assess the degree and accuracy to which students are able to justify their explanations of the changes in shadows in relationship to the sun's position daily and seasonally.
  • Draw a tree and a sun on a reproducible response sheet. Write in several different times of day. Ask students to draw approximately where they think the tree's shadow will fall at each time indicated.

Modeling the Seasons
Ask groups of three or four students to develop a demonstration to show why the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have four seasons. Using rubber, Styrofoam, or clay balls, they should make models of the Earth and the sun. Have flashlights or lamps available along with other materials such as string, construction paper, dowels, and so on. They will need to account for the tilting of the Earth, the position of the poles, the path of the Earth around the sun, the spinning of the Earth on its axis and the effects of direct and indirect light. They will need to use some means to mark the seasons. Have the groups perform their demonstrations for one another.

Other Assessment Opportunities

Student Product Use to Assess . . .
Graphs Graphing skills
Class discussions and journal question responses. Understanding of key concepts, vocabulary