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Science Experiment: Angle of the Sun and the Seasons

This lesson is adapted from NASA SciFiles and investigates how direct
or angled sunlight affect temperature on Earth and cause the seasons.
Learning Intentions:
Students will...
Learn how the Sun's angle affects the temperature on Earth.
Understand that the Earth is tilted and receives sunlight at an
angle at different times throughout the year.
Relate the Earths tilt and revolution around the Sun to changes
in seasons.
Each group of students needs:
One sheet of black paper
Weather thermometer
30 cm ruler
The teacher needs:
A timer or phone to time 5 minutes
Assign students into groups of 2-4 depending on availability of
Explain to students that they will experiment with how the angle
of the Sun affects resulting temperature on Earth. The flashlight
will be our Sun and the paper will be the Earth with a
thermometer for measuring the temperature.
1. Lay the thermometer on the black paper.
2. Tape the ruler to the underside of the flashlight so that 12 cm of
the ruler is sticking out in the direction of the beam of light.
3. Hold the flashlight so that the beam shines directly down onto
the thermometer. The ruler will keep the flashlight 12 cm from
the thermometer.
4. Observe and record the temperature after 5 minutes.
5. Let the thermometer return to room temperature.
6. Repeat the experiment, only this time hold the flashlight at
approximately a 45-degree angle in relation to the thermometer.
Make sure the flashlight is still about 12 cm from the
7. Observe and record the temperature after 5 minutes.

Discussion Questions
1) Which "Sun" angle produced the higher temperature? Why do you
think this is?
a) Students can give their temperature results and the teacher can
write each groups result on the board.
b) Write direct ray and angled ray on the board and discuss.
When the flashlight was shining straight down, it was
representing a direct ray from the sun, and when it was shining
at 45 degrees to the paper, it was representing an angled ray.
2) Why do some areas of the Earth receive direct rays and others
angled rays?
a) If students are thinking about it in terms of noon vs.
morning/afternoon, or latitude, those are great connections to
make, but also ask them to think about how two different
locations on Earth can experience noon at the same time, but
one receives direct rays and the other angled rays.
3) Is Earth tilted? By how much?
a) Look at a globe as a class and estimate the tilt. The Earth is tilted
at 23.5 degrees. Show the diagram The Tilt of the Earth
b) Pick a direction for the sun to be shining from and ask a student
to hold a flashlight there. Discuss which locations on earth are
receiving direct rays? Angled rays?
4) Predict what would happen if the Earth was not tilted. Do Think-PairShare with students. Ask them to draw and write down their own
ideas first, before sharing with a partner and with the class.