Patterns of Daylight

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SWBAT describe patterns of the sun that lead to more sunlight in the summer.

Big Idea

Walking on sunshine! Let's focus on the sun today, including its movement and the effects.

Instructional Notes

This unit is a mini-unit that can be taught directly after Space Part 1 or independently.  I chose to teach the Space Part 1 unit (also here on BetterLesson!) during January, and then Space Part 2 in late May.  

Space Part 1 addresses the following NGSS standard:

1-ESS1-1. Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. 

This mini-unit addresses this additional standard:

1-ESS1-2. Make observations at different times of year to relate the amount of daylight to the time of year.

It becomes so clear to children that days are getting longer in the Spring and Summer, which makes this a perfect time to analyze data about the amount of daylight in different seasons.  Also, now having lived through multiple seasons with my students, we can share common experiences (remember when snow covered the playground *forever*!?!).

In this lesson, we use observations and computer-simulated programs to find evidence that the amount of daylight changes throughout the year.  For simplicity, in this unit we will compare only summer and winter for the most drastic differences.


5 minutes

Today we set the stage for learning about another pattern in the sky in order to meet this standard:

1-ESS1-2. Make observations at different times of year to relate the amount of daylight to the time of year.

I teach this unit in the spring, and after a long winter in my area, spring is a refreshing change!  I connect to students' prior knowledge by asking questions like:

  • Have you heard of daylight savings time?  What is it?  
  • In the winter, is it ever dark when you wake up?  How about in the summer?

Then, I set the purpose for learning.

Today we will make observations that help us explain the sun's changes we observe in the spring.

The class chorally reads the objective, which we then break down together into understandable chunks.


30 minutes

To begin, I tell students that first today we will record our observations.  I display a T-chart with the headings "Summer" and "Winter."

I ask, "What are some activities we do in each of these seasons?  What makes these seasons different?"   I am looking for general observations like summer is warm, we can wear shorts and go swimming.  Then, I focus the conversation towards the natural world, "How is nature, including plants, different in each season?"  If students share that the trees aren't growing, I like to introduce the science terminology, dormant.  

Next, I tell students that computers can have models, just like our 3-D models in the classroom (the globe, animal models, etc.).  Computers can simulate the movement of the sun.  I display the website Moon Giant on the whiteboard and ask students to see how the sun's position in the sky changes at different times of the year.  If your students have one-to-one devices, they can certainly explore it on their own before you meet; however, I completed this as a shared experience.

After changing the date by scrolling using arrows, we record the observation that the sun is higher in the sky in the summer.

Then, I pick a date in the middle of winter and middle of summer.  We change the time of day to see how long the sun is in the sky.  As I click to scroll through times, we count the number of hours the sun is in the sky.  First graders certainly are not expected to know how to calculate elapsed time, but a simple explanation counting the number of clicks (where each click = 1 hour) is accessible for them.

We record our data on the chart.  For example, January first shows the moon visible from 9am through about 5:30 pm.  Students can choose whether we will record this as 8 1/2 or 9 hours.

Conversely, on July 1st the sun is visible from 7am to about 9pm, or thirteen clicks/hours.  The sun is also higher in the sky at this time (it's about in the middle of the virtual sphere).

Finally, I added an additional discussion to this lesson.  I wanted to emphasize why all of this is important.  Why is more sun important?  See our discussion in the bubble to the left of the t-chart.  Essentially, without more sunlight at different times of year, life as we know it would not exist!


5 minutes

In closing, I want to get to the heart of what does this mean, anyhow?  Why is this meaningful to a first grader's life?

First, we come to the larger understanding, which is based on the standard.

The sun is out longer in the summer than the winter.  So, there is more daylight, or daytime hours in the summer.

Then, I move towards meaning:

Friends, how does the amount of sunlight affect us?  How does having more sun in the summer change what we do?  How does having less sun in the winter change what we do?  

Lastly, I want students to start connecting the amount of daylight to nature:

How do you think the amount of daylight affects plants and animals?  Why do plants grow better in the spring and summer?  

I assess students' understanding based on their discussion responses with partners and with the group.  Many also write to share their thinking in their Science Journals.