Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Sun-Earth System Unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on how Earth’s tilt and its rotation around the Sun creates patterns that can be observed. Investigation data and analysis will support the patterns of day and night, the length and direction of shadows, the amount of daylight throughout the year, and the seasonal appearance and brightness of stars in the night sky.

  • Lesson 1
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    Lesson 1: The Solve

    Students review Sun-Earth System vocabulary in a mind map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of why Neve’s snowboard vacation in New Zealand is foiled by mysteriously summery weather. By the end of The Solve, students discover that seasons differ across the globe because of Earth’s tilt and the angle that the Sun’s rays hit the Earth. (75 mins)

  • Lesson 2
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    Lesson 2: The Lab

    Students are challenged to investigate the causes of the length and direction of shadows, patterns of daylight throughout the year, and seasonal stars in the night sky. They will apply their findings to Mayan architecture and shadow phenomena to determine if this ancient culture understood patterns of the Earth and Sun. (180 mins)

  • Lesson 3
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    Lesson 3: The Engineer

    Students design and build a three-dimensional star brightness model to discover that a star’s distance from Earth causes its apparent brightness. (100 mins)

  • Next Generation Science Standards
    Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth. [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to relative distances, not sizes, of stars. Assessment does not include other factors that affect apparent brightness (such as stellar masses, age, stage).]
    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. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include the position and motion of Earth with respect to the sun and selected stars that are visible only in particular months.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include causes of seasons.]
  • Inquiry Scale
    • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
    • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
    • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.
  • Common Misconceptions
    • Different regions of Earth are warmer because they are closer to the Sun. Emphasize (through the Solve and Make) that it is not about distance to the Sun, but rather the angle that the Sun’s rays hit the Earth. Use the example of the equators vs. the poles.
    • Earth is flat because the ground we walk on is flat. Emphasize (through The Solve) that Earth is round, and this round shape affects angles of sunlight.
    • Earth doesn’t move or orbit the Sun because we can’t feel it. Emphasize that Earth moves very fast, but we can’t feel it because the speed is constant. Have the students think of how they feel in a car that’s moving at a constant speed vs a car that’s accelerating.
    • Every area of the world experiences seasons at the same time. Emphasize (through The Solve) that Earth’s tilt causes the Northern and Southern Hemispheres to receive different Sun angles at different times of the year.
    • The Sun is not a star. Emphasize (through The Engineer slideshow) that our Sun is the star closest to Earth.
    • Stars are all the same distance from Earth and form one flat sheet of stars across the night sky. Emphasize (through The Engineer) that the sky is filled with stars at various distances from Earth and that is why some are brighter than others.
    • The brighter a star is, the bigger it is. Emphasize (through The Engineer) that a star’s brightness is due to its size and distance from Earth.
  • Vocabulary
      • Earth
      • Equator
      • Poles
      • Season
      • Sun
      • Orbit
  • Leveled Reading

    * To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

    • Light Hits All of Us Differently

      In this article, students will read about all how seasons are affected by earth's axis and rotation. They'll also read about why it's hotter at the equator and colder toward the poles.

    • The Trip Around the Sun

      In this article, students learn about the different elements of Earth's orbit around the sun. We introduce students to the orbit around the star, the period of revolution, and the tilt of our axis.

    • Why are Planets Round?

      This article explains how gravity works to pull planets and stars together into spheres.

    • Get to Know Your Gassy Space Neighbors

      In this article, students will read about the order of the 4 gas giants in our solar system, what each one looks like and a brief description of the conditions.

    • Your Space Neighborhood

      This article serves as an introduction to the Solar System and the basic structures that orbit around the sun: gas planets, rocky planets and the asteroid belt.

    • Planets Don't Make Circles

      This article investigates the idea that planets have elliptical and not circular orbits. It also addresses the difference between orbit and rotation when it comes to planetary movement.

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