Day 1: The Passing of Time...Day/Night, Seasons, and Years

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SWBAT explain how Earth's movement around the Sun causes changes in season, day/night, and year.

Big Idea

Students will develop and use a model of the Earth rotating and revolving around the Sun to explain the idea of passing time.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Out of This World-A Journey Through Our Solar System unit focuses on students recognizing that Earth is a part of the “solar system” that includes the sun, planets, moons, and stars and is the third planet from the sun. Through models, investigations, graphing, and computer simulations, students learn that Earth revolves around the sun in a year’s time, and rotates on its axis once approximately every 24 hours. They make connections between the rotation of the earth and day/night, and the apparent movement of the sun, moon, and stars across the sky, as well as changes that occur in the observable shape of the moon over a month. The unit wraps up as students learn about the brightness of stars, patterns they create in the sky, and why some stars and constellations can only be seen at certain times of the year.

Lesson Synopsis

In this lesson, Part 1- The Passing of Time...Day/Night, Season, and Years Relationship, I display an animated, rotating Earth that has only one side lit and ask students to write an inference about why it appears this way and what causes it to happen. I connect previous learned vocabulary terms by unpacking their meaning and relevance to Earth's movement and motion so they can apply them to their investigation. Then, students  take part in creating a model of day and night and use the model to identify why certain areas of the world are lit while others are not. We discuss how the Earth's rotation accounts for the occurrence of day and night. To further explain this phenomena, I show two short videos, one explaining how day and night happen and another explaining how time is calculated. Students then create a model to illustrate and explain how the rotation of the Earth causes the Sun to appear to move in the sky. They answer a variety of questions to summarize their understanding today's lesson. These are collected and used as a formative assessment.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

  • 5-ESS1-1: Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from Earth.


  • 5-ESS1-2: Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

  • 5-PS2.1: Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.


Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices

2.) Developing and Using Models: Student create two models, one to illustrate the Earth's rotation to show day and night, and another to show how and why the Sun appears to move.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Part 1- The Passing of Time...Day/Night, Season, and Years Relationship lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

2.) Cause and Effect: Students use models to make observations of the effects of Earth's rotation to explain the cause of day and night and the Sun's apparent movement in the sky.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System


Classroom Management Considerations

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats ” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  


15 minutes

To begin, I direct students to the board where the following image is displayed. I give students a few minutes to look at it and then ask them to make a sketch of it in their interactive notebook. Then I post the question:

Why do you think one side of the earth appear dark and the other side appears light? Explain why you think happens?

Earth Rotation

Using a quick write strategy, students are given time to write a response in their notebook.  After, I have students do a pair-share (using their elbow partner). 

Once pair-shares are done, the class reconvenes as a whole and I use my pull-stick bucket and call upon five people to share.  To keep others as active listeners, students give a thumbs up if they agree and/or have similarities to the students sharing. 


25 minutes

Connecting Vocabulary

I ask student to think of the vocabulary words from our last lesson: rotate and revolve. We discuss which term illustrates the motion in the image they just viewed and wrote about. We identify the motion as rotate. With that, I direct students to the board where I have a t-chart displayed with both terms.  

t chart on revolve and rotate

They create this chart in their interactive notebook. I explain that our focus is on the term rotate today. We fill in a description under motion as to spin or turn on an axis. I explain they are filling in the missing information as we move through the lesson and that tomorrow we will learn about the word 'revolve.' I keep this as an anchor chart in the room.

Create a Model to Illustrate Day and Night

Here, I hand out a task card and have them place it in their interactive notebook. I point out they are constructing a model of the Earth and Sun and review the task card directions for creating the model. I further explain that they are using this model to distinguish the cause and effect of day and night, and why the sun and moon, and stars appear to move across the sky.   

Students create their model of the Earth rotating and use it to answer the following questions in their interactive notebook.

1.)  What does the model of the Earth look like when the flashlight is facing your state (It is bright, the sun is shining on it; therefore it is day time)

2.)  How do know you know which areas of the world are experiencing day? (The areas facing the sun are experiencing day time. These areas are are lit)

3.)  How do you know which areas of the world are experiencing night? (The areas facing away from the sun are experiencing night time. These areas are dark)

4.)  When you shine the light on the part of the world opposite your state, draw a sketch and describe what the model looks like. It should show to show the sun, and earth with day night. 

5.) How does the amount of sunlight change as the Earth rotates? (The part of the Earth that was facing the sun, starts to get dimmer, it rotates away from the light and will soon experience night. The part that was facing away from the sun, starts to receive sunlight as that part of Earth rotates towards to the sunlight, going from night to day.)

6.) Do all parts of the Earth receive the same amount of sunlight? Explain. 


We reconvene and discuss what how parts of the Earth did not receive sunlight while other parts did and how these lit parts changed as the Earth rotated. We associate this to day and night.


15 minutes

Identifying the Cause of Day and Night

After creating our model, I direct students to the board to view the video "Day on Earth."

I use this video to give students a visual to clearly explain how day and night occur. It shows the rotation of Earth on its axis while orbiting the sun. I hand out a graphic organizer displaying questions relevant to the video and their model activity. I  give them the questions ahead of time so they can have a focus during the video.

Students show their understanding by answering questions. We review the responses out loud. Then we go back to our T-Chart that was created earlier in the lesson. We fill in the remaining sections, time to complete the motion (24 hours) and the cause (day and night.)

To further explain hour 24 hours equals a day, I show this video about how time is calculated and why their are different time zones on Earth.



It highlights how Earth's rotation factors into different time zones on Earth and how to calculate the differences in hours.


5 minutes

Applying What We Learned

I hand out an assignment called What's the Best Time of Day? where students select one of the two real life situations and write an explanation about it.  They apply what they have learned about Earth's rotation and its connection to the cause of day and night. Students finish the assignment as homework.  I collect it and use it as a formative assessment.