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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Reasons for The Seasons

Spring has finally made a guest appearance in most parts of the country. That is an attention grabber for any kids who have lived through what is the 9th coldest winter in recorded history for the USA. So, to capitalize on that interest it is a good time to visit the reasons for the seasons. That seems easy enough but a quick view of an older Annenberg Video tells us that most folks do not know the real reason the seasons are different. Most folks think the summer is warmer because we are closer to the sun. That is not accurate. The key is in the angle of the sun’s rays. Once you understand that, it is actually quite easy to teach but it is still difficult to dispel the misconceptions.

I would start my journey at the Annenberg site where there is a series of lessons guides you though the seasons.
http://www.learner.org/teacherslab/pup/

The surveys at this site will help you identify the real reasons and confront some of your own misconceptions. We all have a few and often they are hidden for years. Students, like adults need time to work through those tightly held notions with experiences that cause us to question and revise our ideas based on new evidence. My favorite activity involves a flashlight and a sheet of grid paper. Holding the flashlight at a 90 degree angle to the paper and then tracing the outline of the light will show you a close approximation of sunlight in summer. Have the students count the grids within the outline. Then, hold the flashlight at an angle and repeat the outline and grid count.  The difference is that the same amount of energy (light mostly in this case and heat with the sun) is spread over a larger area. So, each square on the grid gets more energy with direct light and less with light at an angle. The angle represents winter.  This activity is quickly illustrated at a Morehead University site.
http://www.morehead.unc.edu/Shows/EMS/seasons.htm

There is a more complete explanation at an Allentown, PA school web site.
http://www.astronomy.org/programs/seasons/index.html

For those of you looking for an interesting reason to have a class science party there is the Spring Equinox on March 21. The length of the day and night are almost equal on that day. There is another equinox in the fall. We generally celebrate the start of spring on the equinox. After this last winter we could all celebrate longer sunny days. A complete explanation of the Spring Equinox is available at the Time and date site.
http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/march-equinox.html

For younger children it is a great idea to have a seasons scrapbook. With a pile of old magazines (check the thrift shops or Doctors’ offices) kid can complete a scrap book of each of the seasons or seasons in different parts of the world. If you do this make sure you include some photos of the students each year in the different seasons. These types of class activities are the highlight of every 10 or 20 year class reunion. So, this week I intend to dispel a few myths and find a reason to celebrate the coming of warmer weather. I cannot wait to put the heavy coat to rest for another 3 seasons.

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