Como Planetarium: Night and Day

COMO Planetarium – St. Paul Public Schools
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



A third grade student finishes eating dinner, and then gets a phone call.  The person on the phone says, “I just finished my breakfast, how was your dinner?”  How can this be?  Students are given this riddle to solve using a light source and Earth balls. The teacher leads students through manipulation of the Earth balls in relation to a light source to simulate Earth’s rotation as a cause of night and day.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Upper Elementary
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 was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students do not represent graphical day and night data through this lesson, but use a model to support the claim that Earth’s rotation is the cause of day and night on Earth. This experience could lead students to better be able to construct scientific explanations through modeling and graphical evidence provided by another source of data demonstrating cities across the world experience different times of the day simultaneously such as World Clock:

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Evidence from this model can be used by students to support the argument that half of the Earth can be in daylight while the other half is in night time. Using models such as these can be developmentally challenging for many students at this age and grade. To support the connection between "Earth balls", or planet, and our presence on Earth, one might take the time to paint the balls being used in a way that models Earth and add a pin or other indicator of the school's location on the Earth balls. By encouraging students to model Earth's rotation and to construct an explanation for how one's own community might experience day and night students will be required to construct claims through model evidence and personal experiences.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson as well as the included simulation ( explicitly addresses the cause and effect relationship between Earth’s rotation and day and night around the world. Note: The simulation is inaccurate when placed under close scrutiny. The sun and moon rise in the incorrect direction (one must face south to see the sun or moon rise high in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, which leads the sun and moon to rise from left to right.) Teachers can use this as a tool for exploring the limitations of models and can help reinforce the motion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky by labeling the directions students face and the east / west sky locations when modeling rising and setting.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This lesson explicitly addresses the pattern of day and night around the world on Earth with Earth’s rotation as the cause of this pattern.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson is not intentionally three dimensional, but all three dimensions can be pulled out. The practice and crosscutting concept are explicit. This lesson addresses a small part of the elements of the disciplinary core idea. More instruction would be needed to address the entire disciplinary core idea from the performance expectation.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource does engage students in a meaningful scenario using the questions prior to instruction and provides opportunities for student discourse and writing in their science notebook. There is no support for differentiation. The text in the intro (why we experience night and day) links to a simple animation of night/day, moon phases and seasons. If you are looking for Earth balls, they may be found on Amazon or Oriental Trading.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There is limited information about monitoring student progress. Students are asked to draw an answer to the riddle in their science notebooks. Having students use a model to support their argument would provide the teacher with information about a student’s progress.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technology is not required for this lesson although there is a link to an animation at the beginning of the lesson. The lesson could be completed without this animation and simple observation outside could be substituted.