Reasons for the Seasons

Jeff Thomas
Central Connecticut State University, Physics and Earth Science
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: May 9, 2012 | Reviewed: July 6, 2017


This two-part inquiry activity helps students investigate the reasons for the seasons. The aim for the first part of this activity is to engage students' prior knowledge by having them predict seasonal temperature trends among various cities (cities should be located different latitudes). Students then collect seasonal temperature data to compare their prediction to the actual data. Then, students make interpretations about the seasonal patterns of each city as well as among them. For instance, students could observe that cities closer to the equator have less variation in seasonal temperature when compared to cities further from the equator.

Based on the observations from part one, students then generate inferences/possible explanations to explain why these seasonal temperature trends. The most common student explanations are: 1) distance from the sun, 2) amount of daylight hours, and 3) angle of the sun. Students are then directed to online data sources to determine if there is a correlation between the seasonal temperature data and the new data (e.g. amount of daylight hours) they collected. Students then try to explain if any correlations between (or among) the data sets are plausible.

Finally, the instructor then can direct students to the actual reasons for the seasons (e.g. angle of incidence of the sun's energy) through supporting activities or lecture.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

The goal for this activity is for students to understand the reasons for the seasons, specifically how the change in the angle of incidence of the sun's energy changes from season to season. The problem, however, is that many students believe that the seasons occur due to the change in distance between the earth and the sun. To meet the above goal, this activity requires students to make predictions, analyze data, make inferences based on observed data, generate hypotheses, and test their hypotheses on the best available data. Students are encouraged to share their results with the class in order to determine the reasons for the seasons.

Methods of Geoscience

The method of geoscience addresses spatial and temporal thinking within the earth-moon-sun system.

Context for Use

This inquiry-based activity is for high school students. This activity, however, can also be implemented with college students in their first year earth science or meteorology course or even a middle school earth science class. This activity takes about 3 to 4 hours for students to complete—a little longer for college students and a little shorter for middle school students.

The most important material for students is to have access to the Internet in order to collect online meteorological and astronomical data. This activity is designed to elicit students' conceptions (and possible misconceptions) about the seasons. Thus, this activity should be taught early in the course or unit. This activity is best modified to include cities that are the most relevant for students. However, one should choose cities with different latitudes. Other factors (e.g. distance from the ocean, elevation) should be kept as constant as possible (this, too, could be part of the lesson). It is also suggested that at least one city is local. Overall, it is very easy to make these modifications to this activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

One item is attached below which is the activity for the Reasons for the Seasons. This document is a MS Word file to make it easier to modify.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I will complete this a later point. This may require a lot of writing.


On the handout, there is a pre-test. Students should also take this again as a post-test to determine changes in students' understanding of the seasons.

References and Resources

Relevant Internet links to collect the data are written on the student activity handout. In addition, a description of this activity (not this handout) can be found in the Science Teacher.