Seasons Interactive

McGraw-Hill Higher Education
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Simulation , Interactive Simulation
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.


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Seasons Interactive provides students with the opportunity to investigate how Earth's angle of inclination affects three factors: the angle of incoming sunlight, average daily temperatures and the Sun’s ecliptic path. Three preset values for the angle of inclination are available (corresponding to the values of Earth, Venus and Uranus). Additionally, users may select an angle value from a sliding scale. Users can control the speed of the simulation or may pause it when needed. Students are able to compare the heights of the ecliptic paths during the course of the year by checking the “Trace Sun’s Path” box. From this information, students will be able to construct an explanation for the occurrence of seasons. Exercises with solutions are included, as well as a self-assessment located below the simulation. Teachers should be aware of several weaknesses in the simulation. First, the model allows students to reverse the motion of the Earth around the Sun which could lead to misconceptions. Secondly, the model overemphasizes the elliptical path of the Earth which often leads to the misconception that seasons are caused by distance from the Sun. Lastly, while the Sun is shown moving across the sky during the day (from Earth's view), the stars are left static during the night.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 9
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
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
This simulation allows students the opportunity to use a model to describe the cyclic nature of seasons. In this model, students can investigate how Earth's angle of inclination results in predictable, seasonal phenomena. Once students understand how Earth's angle results in seasons, they should be encouraged to compare the effects of a range of different inclination angles on seasonal temperature changes. By selecting different angles, students will soon realize that observed seasonal changes are dependent on the angle of inclination. It should be noted that while students are constructing their own explanations as to why seasons occur, they are not creating their own models, an essential part of the Performance Expectation.

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
Seasons Interactive allows students the opportunity to describe and predict seasonal changes by investigating angles of inclination. When students change the angle of inclination, three values are affected: the angle of incoming sunlight, the apparent position of the Sun in the sky and temperature. By recording, citing and analyzing this information, students will more easily construct an explanation for seasons. It should be noted that in this simulation the emphasis is on investigating and constructing explanations, not on model creation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As previously noted, this simulation deals with the relationship between earth's tilt and seasonal changes. To introduce this simulation, teachers may first want to have students compare a zero value for the angle of inclination with the preset value for Earth’s actual angle. By doing this, students should see that this angle affects incoming sunlight over the course of the year and that this, in turn, results in seasonal temperature fluctuations. Once students understand this concept, they should be encouraged to obtain additional evidence through manipulating the angle of inclination. During each iteration of the model, students should record all observed changes in temperature, angle of incoming sunlight and apparent path of the Sun. One limitation of this simulation is that only one location on Earth is available; therefore, students are not able to compare seasonal changes for different latitudes.

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
Middle school students may rush through this simulation and not allow the model to complete one or two revolutions. As a result, they may miss the cyclic patterns (temperature, ecliptic path and angle of incoming sunlight) that occur over the course of a year. To mitigate this situation, teachers may want to begin this simulation as a classroom demonstration before having students select values on their own. Upon successful completion of this simulation, students should realize that Earth's angle of inclination is responsible for the observed changes in temperatures, the Sun's ecliptic path and the angle of incoming sunlight as Earth progresses in its orbit around the Sun. Students should understand that, as a result, these changes are seasonal and predictable.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: In this resource, students manipulate a single variable in order to investigate the relationship between angle of inclination and seasons. It is important to note that students are using, not creating, a model; however, science practices, disciplinary core ideas and cross cutting concepts are all integrated to provide a grade appropriate learning opportunity for 7th through 9th graders.

  • Instructional Supports: Seasons Interactive provides students with an authentic scenario relating to Earth's angle of inclination. As a result, the simulation is engaging at an appropriate instructional level for 7th through 9th grade students. The model allows students to construct an explanation for the occurrence of seasons using observations gathered from the simulation. Note that the developers of Seasons Interactive do not provide any support for differentiated instruction in the classroom.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Seasons Interactive provides both exercises and self assessment items; however, it does not include rubrics or scoring guidelines to assess student achievement. In addition, embedded formative assessment tools are not available.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Seasons Interactive provides a high interest, engaging experience for both middle school and high school students. Younger students should be provided guidance as they investigate the simulation so that they don't miss some of the finer points of the simulation.