Unit Plan Overview- How Does the Sun Affect the Earth?


Students will gather, describe, and transfer information into meaningful reflection and work relating to the sun’s effect on the earth and its inhabitants.  Students will construct learning that is meaningful and relative to their experiences.  Furthermore, students will grow in empathy and understanding that the sun affects the earth’s inhabitants in varying ways.


This physical science unit consists of eight lessons that span an eight-week time period.  The instructional approaches employed are a blend of direct, constructivist, inquiry-based, and project-based styles.  I have aligned all of the unit’s learning targets and activities to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  NGSS are designed to provide internationally fluent standards for science education that builds across the grades and prepare students for college and career.

The learning targets build throughout; from cultivating an understanding of how the earth relates to the sun, to understanding that the earth is affected by the sun in varying degrees dependent on geography, and culminates in an opportunity for students create sun-protective solutions.  Fostering recognition of our interdependence with the physical elements of the universe, and how we can solve problems by becoming educated and collaborating with one another is what lies at the heart of NGSS.

Students are formatively assessed throughout the unit through mindful listening and responding to student voice. Productive discussions that empower students to support their thinking and personalize knowledge are essential pathways to meaningful acquisition of science learning in this unit.  Student responses to prompts in science journals serve as written evidence of student understanding throughout the scope and sequence of our science curriculum.  The protective structures that students build at the culmination of this unit serve as a summative assessment of students’ success with the central focus.  This said, it is not the quality of the sun-protection structure itself that is an indicator of success; but the student’s ability to voice understanding of the sun’s effect on the earth and how this relates to the human experience that is the true indicator of achievement.


Unit Sequence

1. What is the Sun? – This introductory lesson sets the stage for students to begin thinking about the sun’s effect on the earth.

Lesson Target – Students will understand that the sun is a major source of energy that controls the earth’s environment and supports life.

Lesson Activities

  • Students share prior knowledge of what they know about the sun, and what they would like to learn.  The teacher creates a colorful KWL chart that will be added to and utilized as an anchor throughout the unit. Some possible prompts to generate student engagement are:

1. What is the sun?

2. What does it look like?

3. What does it do for the earth?

  • Students will watch a video to show the rotation of the sun around the earth as an entry point to discussing the proximity of the sun to the earth in the next lesson.
  • Students will write and draw in their science journals in response to the question, “What is the sun?”

2. The Sun and the Seasons – The second lesson introduces the relationship between the sun’s light and heat with weather and climate in different regions.

Lesson Target- Students will begin to conceptualize the orbit of    the earth around the sun and how this creates the seasons.

Lesson Activities-

  • Students will view a PBS video that explains the rotation of the earth around the sun.  http://pbs.panda-prod.cdn.s3.amazonaws.com/media/assets/wgbh/ess05/ess05_int_seasonsgame/index.html
  • Teacher will prompt a discussion of how the sun affects the seasons for the Northern Hemisphere where we live, and compare/contrast with Australia (Southern Hemisphere).
  • Students go for a nature walk to observe how the sun changes the earth during times of the year when the sun is shining directly on the earth for a long time.
  • Students write and draw their observations in their science journals given the prompt, “What are living things doing when the sun is shining on us for a long time?”

3. How Does Sunlight Work? – The third lesson is an opportunity for students to gather and describe the behavior of light, and compare/contrast artificial light with sunlight.

Lesson Target – Students will be able to observe, then compare/contrast the spectrum of rainbow colors in artificial light vs. sunlight.

Lesson Activities

  • Teacher opens a conversation by asking, “what color is light?”
  • Teacher shines a light through a prism for students to observe the spectrum of the rainbow’s colors in light.
  • Teacher shines a light on a CD to show students that the surface of CD, and prompts students to observe that the CD reflects the colors of the rainbow spectrum.
  • Teacher explains that they will use a CD to build a device that acts like a prism in order to observe all the colors that make up light.
  • With the teacher’s assistance, students build a spectroscope.  Here is a link to the directions for building and using a spectroscope. http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/145908main_Sun.As.A.Star.Guide.pdf
  • Students observe artificial light, and then sunlight through a spectroscope.
  • Students write and draw in their science journals given the following prompt, “What differences did you observe between white light or artificial light, and the sunlight?”
  • Students volunteer new facts to add to the unit’s KWL Chart.

4. Exploring the Effects of UV Light – The fourth lesson is an opportunity for students to explore the effects of UV light on people and other living things.

Lesson Target – Students will experiment with UV detector bracelets to learn about how UV light is invisible, but it affects our lives.

Lesson Activities

  • Teacher explains that there is a light called “UV light” that is invisible.  It is just beyond the violet color in the rainbow colors in light.  Scientists have tools that help them observe UV light. Teacher asks, “Does anyone know what UV light does?” Some students may know that UV light burns the skin, if not, the teacher shares this information.
  • Students craft a UV light detecting bracelet from a pipe cleaner, and 4 or 5 UV light detecting beads (available atwww.teachersource.com/catalog/indext.html).
  • Students experiment with detecting UV light by exposing their bracelets to various artificial sources in the classroom.
  • Students experiment with exposing their bracelets to natural light.
  • Students take of their bracelets and experiment with using various UV blockers (black construction paper, saran wrap, sunblock, paper towels, and cloth) to protect their bracelets form the UV light.
  • Students write and draw in their science journals given this prompt, “Which UV blocker worked the best? Which UV blocker didn’t work well? Why?”
  • Students volunteer new facts to add to the unit’s KWL Chart.

5. How does the Sun’s Heat Affect the Earth? – The fifth lesson is an opportunity for students to begin to explore how heat from the sun affects the physical properties of the earth.

Lesson Target

Students will observe and record how heat from the sun affects the land, air, and water on the earth.

Lesson Activities

  • Teacher engages students in a discussion about the sun’s heat in their personal experience.  Some example prompts are: what do you do to get warm when you are cold? what time of day is it warmest, or coolest? have you ever been in the sun when it feels too hot? What did you do?
  • Students are given complete a warmth chart

They record their perception of the temperature on this scale,        cold/cool/warm/hot, in three different areas: inside the    classroom; outside in the shade; and outside in the sun.

  • Students are asked to place their hand in a pan of water that has been sitting in the sun for several hours, and then in one that has been inside.  Students share their observations of the different temperatures and support their ideas.
  • After standing in the sun for a scientific discussion, the teacher asks the students how they feel? When the class returns to the classroom, the teacher asks students to compare how warm they feel in comparison to being in the sun. The teacher facilitates a discussion about how plants, rocks, leaves, water, and other living things warm in the sun.  They might ask, “if you brought these things inside, what do you think would happen?”
  • Students write and draw in their science journals given this prompt, “In what ways do plants and animals count on heat from the sun?”
  • Students volunteer new facts to add to the unit’s KWL Chart.

6. How Does the Sun’s Heat and Light Affect People? – The sixth lesson is an opportunity for students to learn about how people in different areas of the world are affected by the sun’s heat and light.  The main objective of this lesson is to foster recognition of how student’s experience of the sun’s energy is different from others, and as a result develop empathy.

Lesson Target – Students will observe and discuss photographs of people in various locations around the world to construct an understanding of how different people adapt to the sun’s heat and light.

Lesson Activities

  • Students examine photographs of people in various protective clothing, or with protective tools, to guess whether they live in a hot or cold climate (the photos all represent areas of the world that experience excessive or minimal sun exposure). The students help to attaches the photographs to their corresponding location on a world map.
  • Students make connections between extreme or minimal sun exposure on the earth’s surface and different locations on the globe by looking for patterns of hot locations and cold locations in close proximity.  This discussion can be linked back to Lesson Two when the class learned about the rotation of the earth around the sun.
  • Students write and draw in their science journals given this prompt, “If you were to choose to live a really hot or cold place, which would you choose? What clothes and protection would you need?”
  • Students volunteer new facts to add to the unit’s KWL chart.

7 & 8. Design, Build, and Test a Sun Shelter – Lessons seven and eight are the concluding lessons of this unit and give students an opportunity to design, test, and build a prototype for a sun shelter.

Learning Target – Students will utilize used materials, and work in pairs to build a sun protection structure.  Students will test their sun protection structure’s effectiveness and record the results. Students will gain an understanding that if a person asks questions, makes observations, and gathers information they can help solve a problem.

Learning Activities

  • Teacher leads a discussion with students to share the goal of designing and building a sun protection structure. They share that when someone designs a building to solve a problem, like protecting people from the sun, they build a small version first, a prototype.  Students take turns sharing their ideas for what they would add to their sun protection structure to help keep people cool. The teacher records these ideas on chart paper with words and pictures.
  • Students work in pairs to draw a design for a sun structure.  Each individual student draws a design, and the two designs will be integrated at the building stage.
  • Student pairs gather recycled materials they need to build their structure.  The teacher supports building teams through this process by looking at their designs, and discussing possible building materials.
  • Students will build the majority of their structures during Lesson Seven.  However, those pairs that need more time to build may continue to build during Lesson Eight.
  • Students test their structures during Lesson Eight by placing an ice cube in their structure, and measuring the length of time it takes for the ice cube to melt. (The teacher must prepare by determining the length of time the ice cube takes to melt in the same temperature with no protection).
  • Students gather to discuss their conclusions after testing their sun protection structures.  The teacher models a noncompetitive, learner-friendly culture by brainstorming how someone would put everyone’s best ideas for building a sun protection structure into one design.  The teacher explains that big groups of people work together to solve problems with one design.
  • Students write and draw in their science journals given this prompt, “People in the world need shelters to protect them from the weather.  What kind of shelter would you build to protect people from the weather in Seattle?”


McGee, C. (n.d.). Kindergarten weather and climate. . Retrieved , from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2myX1fkAsIBVmN3alZrX2tGZWM/edit

Next generation science standards. (n.d.). . Retrieved , from http://www.nextgenscience.org/kwc-weather-climate

Walker, G. (n.d.). Sun as a star. . Retrieved , from http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/145908main_Sun.As.A.Star.Guide.pdf








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