Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Sun-Earth System unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focuses on how the tilt of the Earth and its rotation around the sun affects sunlight and heating of different regions. In the Make Extension, students conduct experiments to determine the role of gravity in the solar system.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Summer Snowboarding Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Model Light Dispersion and the Earth-Sun System
Medium make extensionGravity in the Solar System
Medium engineerEngineer: Explore Scale and Build a Planet Amusement Park

Students contextualize 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 the tilt of the Earth and the angle at which the Sun hits the Earth. (75 mins)

Students conduct three investigations about light and heat dispersion that demonstrate it is 1. the angle at which the sun’s rays hit the earth and 2. the earth’s orbital position around the sun that causes seasons. (145 mins)

Students will develop and use a model of the Sun-Earth-Moon System to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and the moon, and seasons. They will develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity inthe solar system. (120 minutes)

Students discover the scale of planet diameter and their distance from the sun, then design a planet amusement park based on an accurate scale distance.

Next Generations Science Standards

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.]
Develop and use a model of the Earth sun moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. [Clarification Statement: Examples of models can be physical, graphical, or conceptual.]
Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis for the model is on gravity as the force that holds together the solar system and Milky Way galaxy and controls orbital motions within them. Examples of models can be physical (such as the analogy of distance along a football field or computer visualizations of elliptical orbits) or conceptual (such as mathematical proportions relative to the size of familiar objects such as students' school or state).] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include Kepler’s Laws of orbital motion or the apparent retrograde motion of the planets as viewed from Earth.]
Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Developing and Using Models

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Earth and the Solar System
  • The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes
  • Weather and Climate

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Patterns
  • Systems and System Models

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

  • Students initially think that different regions of the Earth are warmer from being closer to the sun. Emphasize to students through the Solve and Make that it is not about distance to the sun, but rather the angle at which the sun hits the Earth. Use the example of the equators vs. the poles.
  • Students sometimes assume that the Earth is flat since the ground they walk on is flat. Emphasize through the Solve that the Earth is round, and this round shape affects angles of sunlight.
  • Students sometimes have a hard time believing that the Earth is moving and orbiting the sun because they can’t feel it. It is true that the Earth is moving at a very fast rate, but the reason they can’t feel it is because Earth is moving at a constant rate. Encourage students to think of how they feel in a car or airplane moving at a constant speed as opposed to a car or airplane that is quickly accelerating.
  • Students tend to assume that every area of the world experiences seasons at the same time. Use the Solve and the model in the Make to emphasize that because the Earth is tilted, the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere experience different sun angles at different times of year.


    • Earth
    • Angle of Sunlight
    • Equator
    • Heat
    • Poles
    • Season
    • Sun


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit 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.

  • Why are Planets Round?

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

  • Space Tug o' War!

    Why doesn't the Earth fall into the Sun? In this article, we define the terms mass, gravity, orbit, and velocity. This article serves to introduce students to the ideas behind why planets are able to stay in orbit by flying through space at just the right velocity, and with just the right amount of gravitational pull from their star.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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