Sun
Earth and Space

Earth-Moon-Sun - Teaching approaches

Classroom Activity for 11-14

A Teaching Approach is both a source of advice and an activity that respects both the physics narrative and the teaching and learning issues for a topic.

The following set of resources is not an exhaustive selection, rather it seeks to exemplify. In general there are already many activities available online; you'll want to select from these wisely, and to assemble and evolve your own repertoire that is matched to the needs of your class and the equipment/resources to hand. We hope that the collection here will enable you to think about your own selection process, considering both the physics narrative and the topic-specific teaching and learning issues.

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Opening up discussion

Moon
Earth and Space

Opening up discussion: astronomy

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This activity offers the means for probing pupils' knowledge and understanding of Earth in space at the start of teaching. The materials can be used in a variety of ways: as an individual homework activity, small group work, or whole class discussion.

What to Prepare

Copies of these support sheets (see below):

  • Ideas in astronomy
  • Astronaut on the Moon
  • Astronomy survey

What Happens During this Activity

One possible way to run the activity in small groups is as follows:

Organise the pupils into groups of three. Hand out to each group a copy of one of the support sheets. There are three possible roles for the pupils:

  1. Talker – decides which statement they think is true or false and explains why.
  2. Listener – asks questions of the talker.
  3. Recorder – records the decisions and explanations on the sheet or in a notebook.

Allow 3 minutes for each role, then ask the pupils to change roles. After they have each taken a turn in each role, ask them to spend another 4 minutes discussing the statements and see if they can come to agreement within their group.

Nominate one person from each group to be an envoy. Ask them to go to the next group to find out if they agree or differ. Allow 2 minutes for this.

Allow the envoys to return to their groups. Give them a couple of minutes to compare findings. Finish with a plenary discussion of the ideas, drawing out the correct scientific answers.

Probable Answers

Ideas in astronomy: F F F F F F F F T F F

Astronaut on the Moon: F T F F F

Astronomy survey: E B A C A

These can only be probable, because a number depend on location on the globe.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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The Sun's path

Sun
Earth and Space

The Sun's path

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

You can use this activity to check pupils' existing knowledge of the daily path of the Sun and present the correct information.

What to Prepare

  • paper and pencil

What Happens During this Activity

This does not need to be a long activity but it is very important that the pupils do know for later work that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Secondly, it is important that pupils know that there is a difference in the height of the midday Sun between mid-summer and mid-winter. This information helps with the explanation of the cause of the seasons. The questions might be completed for homework but are probably better discussed openly in class.

Start by establishing with the class:

  • The direction in which north lies.
  • The direction of west.
  • The direction of east.

Now ask the class to write down on a piece of paper which direction the Sun lies in:

  1. When it rises
  2. When it sets
  3. At the middle of the day
  4. How the path of the Sun changes from winter to summer
  5. Which moves, the Earth or the Sun?

Make sure the responses are anonymous. Collect them in, jumble them up in a hat and hand them out at random.

Now ask the class how many have west or east or north for Q1, Q2, and Q3. Encourage anybody who strongly believes that the Sun rises in the west to explain why. Make sure that the class ends up with the correct answers: east, west (but maybe not due east or due west – it does depend on the latitude and time of year!) and south.

For Question 4, ask pupils what is the evidence that the Sun is at its highest point in the middle of the day (length of shadows).

For Question 5 simply ask how they know. See what answers are provided but do not comment at this point in time.

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Earth and Sun movement

Sun
Earth and Space

Earth and Sun movement

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This activity involves constructing a model to help explain why we have day and night.

What to Prepare

  • pencils and paper

What Happens During this Activity

It is important to explain that one of the major activities of scientists is constructing models to represent events in the real world. This is an opportunity for the pupils to engage in such an activity.

  • Instruct the pupils to work in pairs, with one of them as the Sun and the other the Earth. Ask them to draw a picture or write a label to show which they are.
  • Tell them that the Sun has to write instructions for how the Earth should move over 24 hours. Likewise that the Earth must write how the Sun should move over 24 hours.
  • Now ask them to face each other. Tell them that you are going to call out the hours of the day and that they have to move as per their partner's instructions.
  • Call out the hours of the day regularly but fairly fast.
  • The first round is usually chaos so give them another chance to repeat it.
  • Now ask them to discuss briefly whether the instructions were correct.

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Does the Earth move?

Earth
Earth and Space

Does the Earth move?

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This is a discussion activity to explore the relationship between ideas and evidence in the context of the motion of the Earth.

What to Prepare

  • Printed copies of support sheet: Spinning Earth (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

Tell the pupils that some ideas, like the explanation for day and night, seem reasonably straightforward. But how do we know that it is the spinning motion of the Earth which causes day and night? How else could day and night be explained? What evidence is there to support either idea?

  • Arrange the pupils in groups of four.
  • Give the groups both sets of arguments on the sheet.
  • Tell half the groups that their task is to prepare arguments against the points in the case for a stationary Earth and vice versa. This means they must attempt to justify why the points in the other's case must be wrong.
  • Give them 10 minutes to develop their case.
  • Now take an argument for the spinning Earth from one group, then take an argument against. Follow with an argument for a stationary Earth with an argument against that point from another group. Continue till you think the activity has been exhausted.
  • Finally point out that not all evidence is equally important. Ask either the class or the small groups to decide which is the most convincing piece of evidence.

Resources

Download the support sheet/student worksheet for this activity.

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Explaining day and night

Sun
Earth and Space

Explaining day and night

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Scientists represent their ideas using words, diagrams, symbols, charts and mathematics. The aim of this activity is to encourage children to translate knowledge represented by a diagram into words. Translating between different forms helps to develop understanding.

What to Prepare

  • Printed copies of the support sheet: Day and night (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

Tell the pupils that scientists use all kinds of ways to represent what they know. Being good at science requires the ability to go between one form and another easily.

  • Give out the support sheet and ask the pupils to produce an explanation on their own (5 minutes maximum).
  • Now ask them to join with another pupil and compare explanations. Can they produce a joint explanation that is better than either one?

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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The movement of the Earth and the seasons

Sun
Earth and Space

The movement of the Earth and the seasons

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This is a simple but effective demonstration of the daily and annual movement of the Earth.

The first activity is essential to grasp the point that the axis of rotation of the Earth is tilted at 23.5 ° to the plane in which it orbits the Sun. This means that the angle of incidence of the Sun's rays will vary between winter and summer.

The major point of the second pair of activities is to show that if you change the angle of incidence of the Sun, it makes a major difference to the amount of energy received locally at the Earth's surface and explains the seasonal variation in temperature. The first involves a model which leads to some predictions and the second is an experiment which tests those predictions. This combination of activities therefore illustrates aspects of the way in which scientists work.

What to Prepare

  • an Earth globe – preferably a large inflatable plastic one (the bigger the better)
  • a bright lamp (A household lamp is best, but you can make do with a slide projector or OHP – but then you'll have to explain that the Sun does not really send light out in a beam.)
  • 1 metre rule
  • a dark room

What Happens During this Activity

Tell the pupils that we believe that the Earth orbits the Sun once a year. Secondly, we know that the Earth spins on an axis like a top. However the axis is not at right angles to the plane in which the Earth travels around the Sun, and this causes the seasons. The following model demonstrates the effect:

  • Place the lamp (Sun) in the middle of the room, on a trolley if possible.
  • Clear the tables or a space so that it is possible to walk around the lamp in a circle.
  • Show the Earth (globe) and, holding it by the North Pole, ask how it moves in one day (spins once every 24 hours).
  • Now show that once every year the Earth goes right around the Sun spinning every day. Walk around showing this or better still ask a pupil to model the movement for the class (it is a good idea to follow the Earth around with the lamp, if this produces a beam, so that the Earth remains in the Sun's light).
  • Tell the class that there is one further detail to be aware of: the axis on which the Earth spins is at 23.5 ° to the plane in which it goes around the Sun.
  • Now show the position of the Earth in winter (for Northern Hemisphere). Hold a ruler to show how the rays of the Sun are incident. Point to the shallow angle.
  • Now walk the Earth around to its position in summer. Using the ruler show the angle at which the rays come in. Point to the steeper angle.
  • Conclude by emphasising that the tilt leads to a large change in the angle of the incident rays between summer and winter. Ask what effect this is likely to have.

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The Sun's height and the seasons

Sun
Earth and Space

The Sun's height and the seasons

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Angle of incidence

This is a teacher demonstration to show the large difference in the angle of incidence of the Sun's rays between midday on 21 December and midday on 21 June.

What to Prepare

  • 1 OHP
  • 1 large sheet (A3) of poster paper, mounted on stiff card
  • these, or similar diagrams

What Happens During this Activity

Remind pupils of the daily path of the Sun through the sky (rising in the east, due south at noon, setting in the west). Then ask them what is the difference between the height attained at noon in summer and the height attained in winter.

Introduce the drawings which show the relationships between the incoming sunlight and the position of London on the globe in the middle of winter and in the middle of summer. The thick blue line represents the horizon of view. The diagrams show that in the middle of winter, the Sun only rises 14 ° above the horizon. However, in summer, it rises to an elevation of 67 ° above the horizon.

Teacher: What effect will this change in angle have?

Now model the effect.

  • Use the OHP to project light towards the board.
  • Place the poster sheet perpendicular to the beam about 50 cm from the lamp.
  • Now turn the sheet so that it is tilted at an angle of 67 ° to the horizontal to model the second diagram. Measure the length of the rectangle of light on the paper.
  • Now turn the paper so that it is at an angle of 14 ° to the horizontal as in the first diagram above. Measure the length of the rectangle of light on the sheet.
  • Ask how much bigger one is than the other. (About 4 times)
  • Now ask what this implies for the temperature the ground will reach? (It will be significantly cooler – but not by a factor of four, since the temperature of landmasses near the ocean is sustained by the body of energy contained in the sea. This is why the continents get a lot colder in winter.)

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Angle of incidence related to the power and the seasons

Sun
Earth and Space

Angle of incidence related to the power and the seasons

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This activity provides an opportunity to show that the explanation for seasons can be confirmed by experimental data gathered from a simple model.

What to Prepare

For each group

  • 100 W lamp
  • A mounted solar cell
  • 4 millimetre leads
  • A microjoulemeter
  • A protractor
  • Graph paper

What Happens During this Activity

You might introduce this an an example of looking for the patterns underlying phenomena and as an example where you build a physical model to see if it can help can interpret the phenomena.

In this experiment, the lamp is used to model the Sun and the solar cell the ground, or surface of the Earth. The angle of the ground is then adjusted and the output of the cell measured. By taking measurements, you can then plot a graph to see what the relationship is, and if it explains the variation of temperature with the seasons.

The previous activity used a theoretical idea to predict that there will be four times less energy per square metre hitting the ground in winter. Is this confirmed when we use a simple model with a bulb as the Sun and a solar cell as the ground?

  • Connect the solar cell to the microjoulemeter, set to measure power.
  • On a piece of paper, draw a set of lines at suitable angles.
  • Set up the lamp no less than 50 centimetre from the solar cell. Try and ensure that it is on the same level as the lamp.
  • Place the solar cell at 0 ° to the lamp and take this reading.
  • Now mount the template behind the solar cell and tilt it. Take this reading. Repeat for all the other angles.
  • Use this to construct a table of readings. In the third column, deduct the 0 ° reading from all the readings to set a baseline.
  • Plot the energy received against the angle.

Looking at the graph shows that the energy received at 14 ° (the angle of the Sun above the horizon on 21 December) is about 4 times less than the energy at 67 ° (the angle of the Sun above the horizon on 21 June). Connect this back to the prediction.

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Simple variations in temperature on a globe

Sun
Earth and Space

Simple variations in temperature on a globe

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Here you can show how the top and bottom of a globe are warmed less than the parts facing the source of illumination.

What to Prepare

  • A size 1 football or (better but rarer) a 15 centimetre diameter foam globe, marked with north and south poles
  • A strip of black paper, about 3 centimetre wide, stuck from north pole to south pole of ball or globe
  • A small non-contact thermometer
  • A sunny day, or a beam of light more than 30 centimetre across.
  • A cocktail stick and blu-tack to act as a shadow stick on the globe
  • 3 of 2.5 cm square pieces of thermochromic film stuck to the globe or ball along one line of longitude, approximately at the Equator and 40 degrees north and south

What Happens During this Activity

Place the cocktail stick upright on the Equator, and use it to make sure the beams of light are falling straight onto the globe at this point, and directly onto the strip of black paper. Leave for a minute or two, depending on how sunny the day is. Then use the thermometer to measure the temperature from the north pole to the south pole, sketching the variation. You'll find a maximum at the Equator. Ask why this is (direct illumination, so the the warming effect is shared over less area).

Now model summer in the Northern Hemisphere, by tilting the axis of the globe. Use the shortening of the shadow cast by the cocktail stick, now placed at about 40 degrees north, as extra evidence that this is summer. Again measure the temperatures. Now model winter, looking for a longer shadow.

You can repeat the process using thermochromic film, but trials showed this to be less convincing, as it all tends to change colour rather rapidly.

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Phases of the Moon

Phases of the Moon
Earth and Space

Phases of the Moon - an activity

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Describing phases of the Moon.

The aim of this activity is to develop pupils' knowledge of the phases of the Moon, their correct sequence, and the terminology used to describe them.

What to Prepare

  • scissors
  • printed copies of the support sheet: Phases of the Moon (see below)

and/or

  • the interactive (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The story to develop here is that the Moon has always fascinated people. Over the course of a month, its shape appears to change. Use this to tell a story about the need to get observations carefully recorded so that patterns to events in the natural world can be seen.

Then you'll know if you have constructed a worthwhile explanation of why we observe what we do – in this case, the changing phases of the Moon.

Hand out support sheet and ask the pupils to decide what sequence the pictures should go in. You could use the interactive to bring their ideas together.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet and interactive for this activity.

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Why does the Moon shine?

Moon
Earth and Space

Why does the Moon shine?

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Using scientific evidence.

The aim of this activity is to allow pupils to consider the evidence for why we believe that the Moon shines by reflected sunlight.

What to Prepare

  • printed copies of the support sheet: Moonshine (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The story to develop here is that science consists of a set of explanations or theories that are supported by evidence. There are two possible explanations for why the Moon might shine. The task of the scientists is to decide which explanation the evidence supports.

  • Organise the pupils into groups of 4. Hand out the support sheet.
  • Ask them to consider the evidence and come to a conclusion. Allow a maximum of 10 minutes for this.
  • Ask pupils to consider how they would argue against anybody who took the opposite view.
  • At the end of 10 minutes, ask groups to send one envoy to the next table to tell the other group what they have decided.
  • Conclude with taking a vote for what they believe. Explain the scientific view if there are still any pupils unconvinced.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

Up next

Explaining the phases of the Moon

Phases of the Moon
Earth and Space

Explaining the phases of the Moon

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This is the first of two suggested activities to introduce the scientific explanation for the phases of the Moon.

What to Prepare

  • a large white football
  • a very bright torch or spotlight
  • a teaching room with a good blackout
  • printed copies of the support sheet: Explaining the phases of the Moon (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The story to tell here is that it is possible to produce a model that explains why the shape of the Moon changes. Constructing models and theories is an essential part of the work of the scientist. This model uses a large white football to represent the Moon and a torch beam to provide the sunlight.

  • Stand a group of pupils in the middle of the room. Tell them that they are the Earth. Ask the other pupils to stand with you by the Sun (the torch).
  • Put the Moon (the football) in position A. Ask the Earth pupils to tell the rest of the group how much of the Moon they can see.
  • Repeat for positions B, C and D.
  • Now ask the class to sketch what the Earth pupils will see when you put the Moon at positions E and F. Tell the Earth pupils to draw what they can see. Ask the pupils to compare their drawings.
  • Spend some time resolving any differences. Put pupils who got it wrong in the middle and let them see for themselves.

Ask the pupils to complete the support sheet Explaining the phases of the Moon. This requires them to think about the explanation that they have just seen.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

Up next

Alternative activity for the phases of the Moon

Phases of the Moon
Earth and Space

Alternative activity for the phases of the Moon

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

This is the second of two suggested activities to introduce the scientific explanation for the phases of the Moon.

What to Prepare

  • 24 tennis balls mounted on sticks
  • 1 large, bright light (100 W bulb or brighter)
  • printed copies of the support sheet: Explaining the phases of the Moon
  • a teaching room with a good blackout

Support sheet


What Happens During this Activity

The story to tell here is that it is possible to produce a model that explains why the shape of the Moon changes. Constructing models and theories is an essential part of the work of the scientist. This model uses a bright lamp to represent the Sun, the pupils are the Earth (in different positions) and the tennis ball is the Moon.

  • Place the bright lamp in the middle of the room. It must project light in all directions. The room should be blacked out.
  • Place the pupils around the outside of the room.
  • Tell them to place the Moon between themselves and the Sun. Ask how the Moon appears to them (New Moon).
  • Now ask them to move themselves (anti-clockwise from above) and the Moon 1/4 of a turn. What does the Moon look like now? (First Quarter Moon)
  • Now ask them to turn another 1/4 of a revolution. What does the Moon look like now? (Full Moon)
  • Now ask them to turn another 1/4 of a revolution. What does the Moon look like now? (Last Quarter Moon)
  • Lastly return to the position that they started in. How long does it take this to happen? (one lunar month)

Ask the pupils to undertake the activity on the support sheet: Explaining the phases of the Moon which requires them to think about the explanation they have just modelled.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Is there life on the Moon?

Moon
Earth and Space

Is there life on the Moon?

Classroom Activity for 11-14

What the Activity is for

Searching for life on the Moon.

Here you use photographic evidence to consider various features of the surface of the Moon.

What to Prepare

  • printed copies of the support sheet: On the Moon (see below)

or

  • the interactive object (see below) together with the support sheet

What Happens During this Activity

Introduce this activity by telling the class that a lot of scientific ideas are deduced from observations. They are going to use some dramatic pictures taken from the visits to the Moon by spacecraft in the 1960s. Hand out the support sheet and give pupils a maximum of 20 minutes to complete it.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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