Exploring the Sun's Energy

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SWBAT investigate the how the Sun affects the temperatures of soil, air and water in a predictable pattern.

Big Idea

Did you say solar energy? In this lesson students will be scientists who investigate how temperatures change in the shade and in the sun. Let's find out why our Sun's patterns are helpful to the Earth!

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal. Students will then be give a chance to share their findings with their peers and then reflect on their own understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

1-ESS1-1 asks that students observe the predictable patterns of the Sun. In this lesson students will observe the affect of the Sun on Earth's materials each day. They will use their findings from our last lesson to draw conclusions about sun and how it heats air, land and water. This is a predictable pattern of the sun that can be observed by students.  1-ESS1-2 asks that students make observations at different times of year to relate the amount of daylight to the time of year. This lesson introduces the idea of sunlight during the daytime. 

Lesson Overview:

This lesson can either be taught in one day or in two days. I started the engage and explore sections of this lesson in the morning and then taught the explain, elaborate and evaluate in the afternoon. If your schedule does not allow for a morning and afternoon science lesson you can break this lesson into two days.

Home to School Connection:

We will be learning about the sun, the stars and moon. The NGSS asks that students to observe, describe and predict how the sun and moon changes over a period of time. I send home two science bags that will allow students to observe the night sky.

The Sun Bag: In order for students to observe the changes of our sunset, each day a different student takes home our Sun Bag that includes a Sunset Observations sheet, The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley, a box of crayons and a parent letter. Students record his/her findings on our class Sunset Calendar. We observe the sun for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the sunset changes.

The Moon Bag: In order for students to observe the change of the moon, each day a different student takes home our Moon Bag which includes a Moon Observation Form (black paper), The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, white crayons and a parent letter. Then students record his/her findings on our class Moon Calendar. We observe the moon for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the changes it goes through in one full cycle. If the moon is not visible that student will record the night sky and then the next day we will predict what it would have looked like had it been seen.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

Science Journal:

I make my own science journals with blank 8.5x11 copy paper however many teachers prefer to use composition notebooks. Another idea is to use a folder with writing paper placed within the fasteners. My students glue the "science prompt" or "science question" at the top of their new page and then write the date for each entry. 



Potting Soil


Heat Lamp

Plastic Cups (3 per partnership)


Investigation Worksheet- The Sun's Energy

Science Journal: What does the sun do to the temperatures of our natural resources?


15 minutes

In this lesson I develop a culture that encourages student engagement, curiosity and a desire to understand the world through scientific exploration. I begin by activating prior knowledge using our KLEWS chart - "Does the sun have predictable patterns?"

Boys and girls in our last lesson we discovered that the sun warms the earth. On our KLEWS chart we wrote that the sun warms the earth.  Do you remember this investigation?  What was the warmest part of our day? You are right - The afternoon!   Today we are going to investigate this question: How does the Sun affect our natural resources?  Natural resources are things like soil, air and water. We will investigate what happens to the land, water and air during the day (sun) and night (shade). 

I show my students my Scientific Process Poster and read the first step: Develop a question to answer

The first step in the Scientific Process is to develop a question to answer. On our KLEWS Chart I record our question under W - Wondering: What does the Sun do to the to the temperatures of our natural resources? This is the question we will be investigating today.

Boys and girls, we are going to use what we know about the sun and create a hypothesis today. Will you turn with your turn and talk partner and share what you think will happen to our soil, water and air when they are in the sun?

As my students share I listen in on their conversations. I bring the class back together and ask students to share their hypothesis with the class.

I introduce the materials we will using: water, air, soil, cups, the Sun, trays, Investigation worksheets: The Sun's Energy and thermometers.

Today you are going to be doing a type of investigation called a fair test. A fair test is when you make everything the same so the test can be fairI show my students a cookie and break it in 2 unequal parts. I am going to share this cookie with my friend but I get this half and my friend gets this half.  The students begin to yell, that is not fair. You are absolutely correct.  When I break a cookie in half the parts need to be equal fractions.  You are learning that each fraction is the same size. That way if you share a fraction of a cookie with a friend you and your friend would get the same amount. Today we need to make sure that each cup is the same amount so it is fair. 

The Common Core asks that students partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares. I use this information to build a connection to a fair test.  It is my hope that my students recognize that each portion of Earth's material must be the same amount in our experiment.


25 minutes

After giving them a chance to explore the materials I ask my students to develop a plan for their investigation and draw their plan on their Investigation Worksheet- The Sun's Energy. The NGSS asks students to both plan and carry out investigations. 

Boys and girls with your workshop partner I would like you to work together to come up with a plan for today's investigation.  How are you going to study what the Sun does to water, air and soil?  Please turn and share your ideas with your partner.

While sitting on the carpet in a whole group setting, I give my students time to discuss their ideas.  This is step one of the planning process. This conversations allows students to brainstorm ideas, change ideas and share their ideas in front of the class. After sharing their ideas they present their ideas in front of their peers. As they are sharing I am pointing out that the students included the same cups for air, soil and water. I also share how their plans show the same amount of material in each cup.

Once my students have shared their plans and made necessary oral revisions I send them off to draw/write their ideas on their Investigation worksheet: The Sun's Energy. As my students record their plans I walk around and confer with each student naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching. I ask probing questions to guide students to include all necessary elements to their plans.

As they complete their plans, I bring them back together to develop a whole class hypothesis.  In a whole group setting we create a hypothesis for our investigation and record it on our Investigation anchor chart.  I ask my students to record this hypothesis on their own Investigation worksheet: The Sun's Energy.

Lastly, it is time to carry out the investigation.  I give my students their materials and carefully monitor them as they develop their plans. I am careful to compliment desired behaviors. Wow!  I notice that Erika is being super careful to put the same amount of material in each container!  That is fair!

Once they have filled their cups we put their three cups (air, water, and soil) in the sun and I put my three cups on the shaded counter. We let the cups sit throughout the day and come back to it at the end of the day. 


15 minutes

After several hours of sunlight, we rejoin to collect data.  As each child reads their thermometers, I record our evidence on our Data-Earth's Natural Resouces anchor chart. In a whole group setting we talk about the evidence on our chart.  I ask the children to talk with their turn and talk partners to share the data we collected. 

These are their noticings:

*The air is the hottest.

*The soil and water that was in the sun are warmer than the soil and water in the shade.

*The cups in the shade didn't get warm.

I bring my students back together and ask questions, Has your thinking changed? Was your hypothesis correct?  Now that you have listen to someone else share their research has your thinking changed?  I rotate the partnerships several times so that my students get a chance to share their findings and hear other findings multiple times.

It is now time for my students to record their findings on their Investigation Worksheet: The Sun's Energy. Students work with their workshop partner to record their observations in the last box of their worksheet.  

I gather the class and together we record our evidence on our KLEWS chart: Does the SUN have predictable patterns? We then record the "big" learning idea from this lesson.

What do you think would happen if we left those materials in the Sun for a long time? The students respond with, They would get really, really hot! 

Next I record the scientific principles for this lesson: The Sun is a heat source. The Sun heats the air.


10 minutes

Research shows that our students are more likely to gain a deeper understanding of the science concepts when they are actively engaged in doing science. I believe that technology can allow children to experience this type of learning. We watch this video about our Sun



10 minutes

The Science and Engineering Practice 4 asks students to analyze data. At the K-2 level this involves students collecting, recording, and sharing observations. In this lesson the students are recording information, thoughts and ideas in their science journals.

I send my students back to their Investigation Worksheet: The Sun's Energy and ask them to write about our investigation today. I ask, "What does the Sun do to the temperature of our natural resources: land, water, air?" As the students write I tell them to refer back to our research. I tell them to use information from their recording sheet to help with their scientific writing.

Students write: The Sun warms the air, water and land. I know this because in my investigation the air, water and dirt were warmer under the Sun (heat lamp).

I use my Document Camera to show students examples of quality scientific writing and illustrations to act as model for students needing extra support.