Journey North Mystery Class – What Makes Day and Night

Annenberg Learner
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.



This resource provides teaching suggestions with a slideshow and photo gallery (showing hourly movement) as well as an animation of Earth’s rotation to develop understanding of day and night. This can be used as a stand-alone activity or as part of the larger "Mystery Class" project linked to through this resource.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • 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 is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The animation addresses the patterns of day and night caused by Earth’s rotation on its axis. It uses a simulation or model of Earth’s movement with respect to the sun as a visualization tool. Use of this tool in instruction builds towards student proficiency 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
The animation can be used to both describe and predict patterns of day and night on Earth. The resource provides guiding questions for the teacher to use with students. The teacher should discuss with students that this animation is a model for Earth’s movement on its axis which can be used to describe and to predict patterns of day and night on Earth.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The animation and the slideshow both show the rotation of Earth on its axis with the light from the sun changing locations on Earth. Guiding questions or direction for students to discuss or write about the phenomena will be necessary. Students should be able to identify the direction of the sun. In addition, they should recognize that the Earth moves continuously in a counterclockwise direction while the slideshow shows hourly changes so the movement is jerky from one hour to the next. A connection to time zones can be made using this slideshow.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
When addressing the animation as a model, students should recognize that the movement of the Earth on its axis creates patterns of day and night on Earth. These patterns enable us to predict sunrise and sunset times in the future.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While the resource does not use the practice of the performance expectation, use of the simulation with students builds toward the element of the core idea that rotation of the Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, causes observable patterns (day and night). The resource uses a model to both describe and predict a phenomenon showing patterns of light and dark as a result of Earth’s rotation.

  • Instructional Supports: The guiding questions provided to use with students provide a method of guiding student thinking towards understanding the model. In addition, the Teaching Suggestions section suggests demonstrating night and day for your location using a globe and flashlight in the classroom. This would provide another model for students to use while developing understanding of the phenomenon.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There is no mechanism for monitoring student progress. A teacher would need to develop a method for this when using the model.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The site provides a way for the teacher or student to control the speed of advancement of Earth’s rotation. They can use the slideshow to physically advance the view each hour or the animation will advance it at a continuous rate.