Motion of the Sun Simulator

Contributor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Astronomy Education Group
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Interactive Simulation
Note
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.

Reviews

Description

This interactive simulation provides a model of the sun’s apparent motion from two different perspectives on a single applet: (1) a space based view, and (2) how a stick figure’s shadow changes on Earth using a horizon diagram.  The applet can be manipulated showing how the relative position and apparent movements of the sun cause the pattern of changing shadows on Earth. The user can change the latitude of the location on Earth making it match their location or choosing another.  The rate at which time passes in the simulation can be adjusted or paused and there are options to advance once a day or loop the same day. Other options include showing the sun’s analemma, declination and ecliptic.  An instructor’s guide, student guide and assessments can be found here:  http://astro.unl.edu/naap/motion3/motion3_i.html 

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Informal Education
  • Undergraduate (Upper Division)
  • High School
  • Middle School
  • Upper Elementary
Language
English
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

5-ESS1-2 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.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The simulation does not require students to represent data in graphical displays, but does give students an opportunity to use a model to describe how the apparent motion of the sun at a particular latitude and time causes the cyclic pattern of shadow length and direction. To fully address the Performance Expectation, students would need to collect data from the model and represent that data in a graphical display. The model identifies the altitude of the sun at all times. An hourly, daily, or monthly altitude can be recorded and represented graphically. Such an activity could follow the use of this simulation, once students understood the relationship between the relative position of the sun and how it affects shadow length and direction.

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
The simulation explicitly models how the altitude and direction of the sun in Earth’s sky affects the length and direction of a shadow on the horizon disk. Students need to be cognizant of the perspectives in the simulation and difference in scales of the celestial sphere and the horizon disk in this model. The model also shows day and night, but does not show Earth’s rotation as the cause. This model could reinforce the misconception that the sun orbits the Earth. Care should be taken to discuss what is not represented accurately in this model.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The simulation explicitly demonstrates how the altitude and direction of the sun in Earth’s sky affects the length and direction of a shadow on the horizon disk. In addition, it demonstrates the different positions of the sun at different times of the day, month and year. Students need to be cognizant of the perspectives in the simulation and difference in scales of the celestial sphere and the horizon disk. While the simulation shows day and night, it does not show Earth’s rotation as the cause. Rotation can be inferred using the movement of the blue prime hour circle. Other models will need to be used to be sure that students connect the change in sun height and direction in this simulation to Earth’s rotation.

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
Students would need to observe and articulate the cause and effect relationship between the sun’s daily and yearly patterns of position in the sky and how this affects the daily and yearly patterns observed in length and direction of shadows.

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
Students can observe differences in daily patterns of the sun’s position in the sky as well as length and direction of shadows over the course of a year creating a yearly and seasonal pattern. In addition, there are seasonal changes in the angle of the sun and duration of daylight which is also shown in this simulation.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Elements of the disciplinary core idea are significantly addressed. Use of the simulation provides opportunities to address the practice of using a model to test cause and effect relationships. The crosscutting concept of patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for the natural phenomena of changing pattern of shadows. Students can analyze the simulation to determine the causal relationship between the patterns of apparent sun motion and altitude and shadow length and direction. It would be up to the teacher to be explicit in having students apply the crosscutting concepts to the model thus integrating the three dimensions.

  • Instructional Supports: The tabs at the top of the webpage with the simulation provides links to a variety of resources many which are too advanced for 5th grade, but could provide teacher background information. The teacher would need to become familiar with the simulation before using it with students. The latitude should be set to represent that of the students’ location. The ecliptic can be unchecked so it does not cause confusion for a 5th grader. The speed of the animation can be changed in the animation controls section or it can be controlled by manipulating the hands of the clock. It would most effective if used after students have conducted observations and data collection of shadows and the sun’s apparent motion in the sky in their schoolyard or local environment.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The simulation includes a pretest and post-test to monitor student progress; however it is more advanced than needed for 5th grade. Other methods could be used to monitor progress using the simulation. For example, students could use the simulations while making a presentation that describes or explains the relationship between the way the sun appears to move (from an Earth perspective) and its apparent motion affect the changing pattern of shadows on Earth. Or a teacher could also use the simulation while asking questions to probe students understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The simulation is straightforward to use and provides numerous ways for students to manipulate it. The functionality is directly related to learning what causes the pattern of shadow length and direction daily, and seasonally.