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«1 ™ Cherilynn Morrow and Michael Zawaski On the Astronomical Meaning of the Day, Year, and Seasons © Dr. Cherilynn A. Morrow and Michael Zawaski ...»

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Cherilynn Morrow and Michael Zawaski

On the Astronomical Meaning of the

Day, Year, and Seasons

© Dr. Cherilynn A. Morrow and Michael Zawaski Kinesthetic Astronomy

camorrow@colorado.edu and zawaski@colorado.edu Sky Time: 10 August 2004

Dear Educator,

Here we present a significant upgrade to the first in a series of innovative, experiential lessons

we call Kinesthetic Astronomy. The Sky Time lesson reconnects students with the astronomical

meaning of the day, year, and seasons. Like all Kinesthetic Astronomy lessons, it teaches basic astronomical concepts through choreographed bodily movements and positions that provide educational sensory experiences.

Kinesthetic Astronomy lessons are science-rich and fun. They are intended for sixth graders up through adult learners in both formal and informal educational settings. They emphasize astronomical concepts and phenomenon that people can readily encounter in their “everyday” lives such as time, seasons, and sky motions of the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets. Kinesthetic Astronomy lesson plans are fully aligned with national science education standards, both in content and instructional practice. Our lessons offer a complete learning cycle with written assessment opportunities now embedded throughout the lesson.

Field testing with non-science undergraduates, middle school science teachers and students, Junior girl scouts, museum education staff, and outdoor educators has been providing evidence that kinesthetic astronomy techniques allow learners to achieve a good intuitive grasp of concepts that are much more difficult to learn in more conventional ways such as via textbooks or even computer animation.

Field testing of the Sky Time lesson has also led us to significant changes from the previous version. These include: 1) re-locating the “South Pole” to the tailbone (instead of the bottom of the feet); 2) referring to times of day “on the student’s meridian” (instead of “at their nose”); 3) not attaching seasons signs to students’ bodies; and 4) making use of “E” and “W” signs and the Zodiac signs as standard procedures. We have also added some illustrations to help communicate the lesson’s set-up more effectively. Most importantly, we have substantially strengthened the written assessment options for the Sky Time lesson. This helps students to translate their kinesthetic and visual learning into the verbal-linguistic and mathematical-logical realms of expression. This improvement also enables teachers to better monitor progress in student understanding throughout the lesson.

We hope you will enjoy our efforts to make the Sky Time lesson more access

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Cover graphic rendered by Tyson Brawley. All drawings of students rendered by Andrew Sanchez.

For the latest on the development of Kinesthetic Astronomy lessons, please go to: http://www.spacescience.org;

click on “K-12 Curriculum,” and look for the “Kinesthetic Astronomy” icon.

–  –  –

WRITTEN ASSESSMENT OPTIONS for SKY TIME – TAB 3 PROPS for KINESTHETIC ASTRONOMY – TAB 4 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We acknowledge the NASA IDEAS program for the initial seed funding that led to the further development of the Sky Time lesson. We also acknowledge the staff of the Space Science Institute (Boulder, CO) for their support. We wish to express special thanks to the able educators and learners who have worked with us and inspired us to constant improvement of Kinesthetic Astronomy and the Sky Time lesson. Their names are too numerous to list, but some of their organizations are: Sunset Middle School (Longmont, CO), Eagle Rock High School (Estes Park, CO), Western State College (Gunnison, CO), Outward Bound West (Golden CO), the National Outdoor Leadership School (Lander, WY), the Mile-Hi Girl Scout Council (Denver, CO), the Clark Planetarium (Salt Lake City, UT), Project ASTRO, National Optical Astronomy Observatories (Tucson, AZ), the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Exploratorium (San Francisco), the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Boston Museum, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Boston), Flashback Video Productions (Boulder, CO), the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (Albuquerque, NM), the CAPER team at the University of Arizona, and the Space Foundation (Colorado Springs).

–  –  –

Sky Time: On the Astronomical Meaning of the Day, Year, and Seasons



Modern everyday association with time involves watches, clocks, and calendars instead of the astronomical motions that were the original bases for time keeping. Through a series of simple body movements, students gain insight into the relationship between time and astronomical motions of Earth (rotation about its axis, and orbit around the Sun), and also about how these motions influence what we see in the sky at various times of the day and year. The lesson can be applied to understand the times of day and year on other planets (e.g. Mars). The lesson can be taught with or without an emphasis on the reasons for seasons, but in any case is an excellent set-up for understanding seasons.

AUDIENCE: Middle school ages and up.


An indoor or outdoor space large enough for your students to form a circle with arms outstretched to their sides. For a class of 25-30 students one needs a space whose size is about half a basketball court. This lesson is best with at least eight students participating.

TIME TO IMPLEMENT: 3-6 hours, depending on prior knowledge of students and choice of assessments.


1. Has observed the daily motion of the Sun in the sky

2. Knows the location of Earth’s poles and equator

3. Is familiar with the latitude and longitude coordinate system on Earth

4. Has observed that the Sun is higher in the sky in summer and lower in the sky in winter

5. Is familiar with the terms "solstice" and "equinox" and their calendar dates

6. Knows that stars appear in fixed patterns called "constellations"

7. Knows the difference between a star and a planet

8. Knows that there are 360 degrees in a circle and how to estimate 45º and 90º angles


(Grades 5-8) Earth and Space Science: 1) Knows the positions of the Sun and Earth in the Universe; and

2) Knows how the regular and predictable motions of the Sun and Earth are related to the day and the year.


1. Explain a proper size and distance scale for the Sun, Earth, and the nearest star.

2. Describe and demonstrate how Earth’s rotation about its north-south axis and Earth’s orbit of the Sun are related to the day and the year on Earth. Be able to apply the astronomical meaning of a day and year to other planets, including correct use of the terms “rotation” and “orbit”.

3. Explain why the Sun appears to rise and set, and know how to determine that the constellations of stars rise and set like the Sun due to Earth’s rotation.

4. Describe how the constant tilt of Earth’s North Pole toward the distant star Polaris (the North Star) affects the orientation of Earth’s hemispheres toward or away from the Sun at different times of year.

5. Demonstrate why we see different constellations in the night sky at different times of the year.

6. Reason correctly in addressing the question of whether people in the US tonight will see the same stars as people in China saw last night (assuming everyone is observing from the same latitude).

7. Demonstrate why the constant tilt of Earth’s axis toward Polaris results in the Sun being higher in the sky in summer and lower in the sky in winter, and why this results in Earth’s seasons. Be able to apply this understanding to another planet like Mars. (Optional: only if teaching the lesson with an emphasis on the reasons for seasons.)

–  –  –

MATERIALS and PREPARATION Refers to “P” pages (for Props) and “ST” pages (for Sky Time assessments) appended to the lesson Props for the kinesthetic learning environment

1. A spherical object the size of a large grapefruit (14-in diameter for scale model Sun)

2. A ball point pen or pencil (tip is for scale model Earth)

3. An object to represent the Sun at the center of the circle (a lofting helium balloon is ideal)

4. 12 Zodiac Signs with instructions for assembly and set-up [P 9 – P 22] (Masking tape is needed if you are taping these signs to chairs or walls. Best to laminate and attach strings for repeated use.) Use of the sign representing the Orion constellation [P 23] is optional (used with ST 20)

5. A sphere to show the distribution of continents on planet Earth (globe or inflatable Earth)

6. A T-shirt with North & South America on the front and Asia & Australia (Optional)

7. Birthday or party hat (Optional, but a simple and fun enrichment)

8. 4 Seasons Signs with dates of equinoxes and solstices [P 5 to P 8] (laminate for repeated use)

9. Flashlight or light source that projects a bright beam of light (Optional: only if you choose to emphasize the reasons for seasons. The lesson can be taught with or without this emphasis) For each student: during kinesthetic activities

10. A pair of “E” and “W” cards [see P 2 to P 4 for assembly] (Optional: Similar objects or hand gestures can also be used to indicate direction – not recommended for younger students.) For each student: written assessment options (1 pre-, 1 post-, and 14 embedded) 1. “What do You Know?” – Pre-assessment questionnaire [ST 2 – ST 4] 2. “Scale Model of the Sun, Earth and Moon” – Cutout Activity [ST 5] 3. “Exploring the Structure of the Universe” – Fill-in-the-Blank [ST 6] 4. “Body Geography” – Student Worksheet [ST 7] 5. “Kinesthetic Times of the Day” – Student Worksheet [ST 8] 6. “Rotation vs. Orbit” – Student Worksheet [ST 9] 7. “The ‘Dating’ Game” – Student Worksheet [ST 10] 8. “Kinesthetic Seasons” – Student Worksheet [ST 11]* (* = emphasis on reasons for seasons) 9. “Reasons-for-Seasons Concept Map Activity” [ST 12 – ST 13]* 10. “Reasons-for-Seasons” – Fill-in-the-Blank [ST 14 – ST 15]* 11. “Your Birthday Stars” – Student Worksheet [ST 16 – ST 17] 12. “Different Stars for Different Seasons” – Fill-in-the-Poem [ST 18] 13. “The Night Sky in China” – Student Worksheet [ST 19] 14. “Who Can See Orion When?” –Student Worksheet [ST 20] Answer Key = [ST 21] 15. “Comparing Seasons on Earth and Mars” – Worksheet [ST 22]* Answer Key = [ST 23] 16. “What Have You Learned?” – A Cumulative Post-Lesson Assessment Tool [ST 24 – ST 28] © Dr. Cherilynn A. Morrow and Michael Zawaski Kinesthetic Astronomy camorrow@colorado.edu and zawaski@colorado.edu Sky Time: 10 August 2004


Kinesthetic describes a sensation of bodily position, presence, or movement. Putting a spoonful of soup in our mouth is an everyday example of using a kinesthetic sense. We know where our mouth is even though we do not see it or touch it. We kinesthetically sense the presence and position of our mouth so that the soup spoon makes it in. You can kinesthetically sense the position and movement of other body parts as well. The Sky Time lesson calls on our kinesthetic senses as we rotate, bend, and tilt to learn basic astronomical concepts. A section of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that have arisen during field testing is located at the end of this lesson. Below, we also note several common misconceptions that have been encountered during field testing of this lesson.

1. Many people believe that there is more than one star in our solar system and that the Solar System is the entire Universe. For example, many wrongly believe that Polaris (the Pole Star or North Star) is within the Solar System and closer than the planet Pluto. In reality Polaris is about 876,000 times more distant from our sun than Pluto. We thus strongly recommend emphasis on scale and basic structure of the Universe as required pre-requisites to the Sky Time lesson (e.g. Scale Model of the Sun, Earth, Moon & Nearest Star [ST 5] and the “Structure of the Universe” Fill-in-the-Blank [ST 6].

2. Many people (except those who have watched the night sky for hours) have not perceived that stars (at all but polar latitudes) appear to rise and set just as the Sun does (due to Earth’s rotation about its north-south axis). For some urban dwellers, even sunrise and sunset are uncommon experiences.

3. NSF Indicators of Science & Engineering 2002 reports that about 50% of a representative sample of the U.S. public are unaware that it takes one year for Earth to orbit the Sun.

4. There is a common confusion between use of the terms “rotation” and “orbit”. “Rotation” is often mistakenly used to describe the motion of Earth orbiting the Sun. It is important to make the distinction between these terms very clear. Each day Earth rotates once on its axis; each year Earth orbits the Sun. The term “revolution” is out-dated, but still in use to mean the same thing as “orbit”.

5. When asked whether people in China will see the same stars tonight as people in the US (if both are located at about the same latitude), many people answer “no”. Earth’s rotation makes noon change to midnight, and this takes only twelve hours. Earth’s orbit around the Sun slowly changes the direction Earth’s night side faces out into space. Meanwhile, in 12 hours Earth has not moved very much in its orbit around the Sun, and so the night side in China is facing almost the same direction out into space as the night side in the US. Thus the people in China will see the same stars tonight.

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