Seasons Interactive - SEPUP

SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Program)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Interactive Simulation , Model
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Seasons Interactive provides students an opportunity to investigate the existence of seasons.  In this simulation, users cause the Earth to revolve around the Sun by toggling through a calendar year. Users can compare daylight duration (in hours) and temperatures for two different scenarios of tilt: 0 and 23.5 degrees.  Daylight and temperature data is provided for 4 cities located at different latitudes: Anchorage AK, Chicago IL, Quito Ecuador and Melbourne AUS.  (Please point out to students that the creators have misspelled Ecuador on the simulation page.) Although the elliptical nature of Earth’s orbit is greatly exaggerated in the side view of the simulation, a top view of Earth, along with monthly distances from the Sun, is provided in the bottom right corner.  This additional data will help students realize that distance from the Sun does not cause seasons.  Teachers should also call attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of the page that this simulation is not to scale. Seasons Interactive is a free simulation that supports Unit F: Earth In Space of SEPUP’S Issues and Earth Science curricula.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 9
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS1-1 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.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Seasons Interactive provides an opportunity for students to investigate the detail of MS-ESS1-1 that deals with seasons. In this model, students can study the effect of tilt on daylight duration and temperature for four specific sites. Data is supplied for only two different tilts: 0 and 23.5 degrees. By also observing the distance data between Earth and the Sun located in the lower right corner of the simulation page, students will be able to conclude that tilt, not distance from the Sun, causes seasons. It should be emphasized that users are not developing their own model; rather they are using a simulation that provides data for four cities.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In Seasons Interactive, students are using, not developing, a model which aids in explaining the occurrence of seasons. The model does not specifically tell students why seasons occur; rather, Seasons Interactive provides the data necessary for students to draw their own conclusions and make their own arguments for the occurrence of seasons. Teachers will need to guide younger students by encouraging them to notice the differences in daylight duration and temperatures when toggling between tilts. In addition, teachers should call attention to the monthly distance between Earth and Sun located in the lower right corner of the simulation page.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Seasons Interactive strongly aligns to the detail of ESS1.B dealing with seasons. In order for students to make full use of the simulation, teachers should design focus questions and data tables for student use. For example, teachers might ask students to discuss the effect of Earth’s tilt on hours of sunlight or have them compare distances between Earth and the Sun for each of the twelve months. Students may be surprised to find that Earth is closest to the Sun in January when the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing winter. This helps to dismiss the misconception that distance from the Sun is responsible for seasons.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Seasons Interactive is strongly aligned to the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect. Users will readily see the effect of tilt on daylight duration and temperatures when toggling between 0 and 23.5 degrees. Since the simulation does not provide any accompanying documentation, teachers may want to create a data sheet so that students can collect information for later analysis. Students could, for example, graph yearly temperature data for the two different tilts or compare data variations found at different latitudes.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Seasons Interactive is strongly aligned with the detail of Performance Expectation MS-ESS1-1 dealing with seasons. In the model, students compare the effects of tilt by toggling between two scenarios: zero tilt and a tilt of 23.5 degrees. Students will utilize the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect to draw conclusions on the relationship between Earth’s tilt and the appearance of seasons. Seasons Interactive is weakest in the Practice portion of the standard. Here, students are not developing a model; rather, they are utilizing an existing simulation.

  • Instructional Supports: Seasons Interactive provides a grade appropriate experience that allows students to investigate the causes of seasons. This simulation does not specifically tell students why seasons occur; rather, it provides data that students can analyze and discuss in order to form their own explanation. Because this simulation supports a curricula, no additional free resources have been provided. Teachers will need to design data tables and focus questions to assist students in their exploration. To support students struggling to meet the Performance Expectation, teachers may want to model how to gather data using either a specific month or a specific city. Teachers may also want to pair students together as a means of providing peer support.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Seasons Interactive is an open access simulation that supports SEPUP’s Issues and Earth Science curricula. No additional free resources, in the form of rubrics or formative assessments, have been provided by the creators. In order to assess progress, teachers may initiate whole class discussions or have students respond to focus questions in their journals/lab notebooks. Several examples of such questions can be found in the Disciplinary Core Idea section of this review.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This interactive simulation is an engaging hands-on experience that provides users the opportunity to investigate the occurrence of seasons. In this model, users can compare daylight duration and temperature data for pre-selected cities located at different latitudes. In addition, users can choose between two angles of tilt. Students will readily grasp that it is the tilt of the Earth, and not the distance from the Sun, that determines seasons.