Science 101: What causes the seasons?by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.

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In this article, we learn about the relationship between the Earth and the sun at certain times of the year. Certain myths are broken, and we get a real lesson on what causes the seasons.

  • Elementary
  • Middle
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Reviews (4)
  • on Fri Sep 30, 2016 12:47 AM

I thought this article touched on the common misconception of what causes seasons in a way that would be easier to teach children. There is also an experiment for you to use to show the students how it is tilted on its axis which leads to the topic of what causes seasons.


  • on Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:47 PM

The article provides us with 3 easy to do hands-on activities that help students understand how the tilt of the Earth and its revolution around the Sun cause seasons. Many of my middle school students struggled with this concept, but came away with a clearer understanding they could write about in their Science notebooks. I had them share the model with 5th and 6th graders that were still a little confused, but clearly you could see them beginning to make connections between their previous belief that the Earth was closer to the Sun in the summer. The diagram in Figure 4 was especially helpful. I asked the students to recreate the diagram in their notebook along with the same explanations Robertson gave. I then had them make their model look like the diagram and then to explain what was happening at each stage in their own words.

Sandra Gady  (Renton, WA)
Sandra Gady (Renton, WA)

  • on Tue Jul 05, 2011 5:59 PM

This short article tells the reason for seasons using simple graphics and good explanations. The article also includes some simple activities to demonstrate that not only is it the tilt of the Earth but also the position of the sun at different locations on the Earth that causes seasons. This is a basic explanation that everyone should learn. It might even be good enough to use as is with fifth graders.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:04 PM

I love reading Bill Robertson and his NSTA Press book series, Stop Faking It! Finally Understanding Science So You Can Teach It. This article carefully explains that the tilt of the Earth causes the seasons, rather than the commonly held misconception that the Earth is closer to the Sun in the summer. Step by step, he leads the curious teacher through the planetary science, including the uneven distribution of sunlight and the orbit of the Earth. My only hesitation is that he depends on the trick of shining a flashlight on a balloon. In my classes, the balloon is not nearly big enough to demonstrate the angle of the Sun's rays. My kids remain confused. So, although I can understand this background article well, I can't take it directly to my kids; which, to be fair, was not his intention. I just hope that the confused science teacher who needs this information can make it work better than my students. For the teacher who needed just a brush-up, this is an excellent source.

Allison Cooke
Allison Cooke

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