Fall Equinox

Are You a “Seasoned” Expert?

The first day of fall seems the perfect time to check our seasonal knowledge! Here’s a quiz question for you: What causes the seasons on earth? Think for a second or two. Do you have a clear answer in your head?

Let’s test your explanation using a model. You’ll need a couple of sphere-ish objects that can represent the sun and earth. Go dig around in the kids’ toy box if you need to. You can upgrade to a globe and a lamp if you have them handy. Now to test:Use your model earth and sun to explain what causes the seasons to yourself or someone else in the same room. Seriously. Do it.

You can assess your understanding with the following questions:

Does your explanation work to describe both summer and winter? Fall and spring, too?

Using your model planet and sun, can you identify the first day of each season?

How is your model doing now? If you are starting to see some issues with your model, that’s awesome! That means that you may have hit upon a misconception that you have about this natural phenomenon we call the seasons. Why is that good? Because your brain is primed to assess your old misconception and refine it into a better understanding. Yay for learning and science!

Now, let’s bring your new perspectives home, to Colorado and let’s make your seasonal test a little more rigorous.

Can your model explain why the cold of a Colorado mountain winter happens at the same time as a warm summer in South Africa?

Does your model show why the Colorado midday sun appears higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the winter?

Can you use your model to demonstrate the longer daylight hours in summer and fewer hours of light in winter in Colorado?

If you just punched holes in your explanation using your makeshift model, take five and watch this fantastic video explainer from the fine folks over at TED-Ed. The information in the video is likely to make more sense, because you’ve just had the experience of realizing that your old understanding wasn’t quite right.

Science misconceptions often occur in childhood when we lack the life experience and cognitive skills to fit new information into the right framework. If they remain unchallenged, we carry our misconceptions right through into adulthood. They tend to give way after a new experience forces us to critically assess our old understanding.  We might have to seek out additional information, but soon new connections are made and… Ah ha! We finally get it.

Finally, even if you are a “seasoned” expert and didn’t break down any misconceptions today, we’ve all had those Whoa-I-Kinda-Had-That-Mixed-Up! moments. This process of identifying misconceptions and then refining them into better explanations is a lot like the process of science. After all, hypotheses are simply testable explanations of natural phenomena. As scientists gain more evidence, they refine their explanations, too. They remain skeptical of their understanding and continue to question it from different angles – uncovering new and more refined understanding time after time.

Is there a hidden pro-tip for parents and teachers of kids with creative and nutty ideas in this blog post? Possibly. Probably. I’m going to go with yes. I’m going to let you test it out and see if the evidence supports it, though.

Author:

Tiffany Kapler

Tiffany Kapler

Tiffany is a science educator, parent, and primate enthusiast.

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