Exploring the reasons for the seasons using Google Earth, 3D models, and plots
Public understanding of climate and climate change is of broad societal importance. However, misconceptions regarding reasons for the seasons abound amongst students, teachers, and the public, many of whom believe that seasonality is caused by large variations in Earth’s distance from the Sun. Misconceptions may be reinforced by textbook illustrations that exaggerate eccentricity or show an inclined view of Earth’s near-circular orbit. Textbook explanations that omit multiple factors influencing seasons, that do not mesh with students’ experiences, or that are erroneous, hinder scientifically valid reasoning. Studies show that many teachers share their students’ misconceptions, and even when they understand basic concepts, teachers may fail to appreciate the range of factors contributing to seasonal change, or their relative importance. We have therefore developed a learning resource using Google Earth, a virtual globe with other useful, weather- and climate-related visualizations. A classroom test of 27 undergraduates in a public research university showed that 15 improved their test scores after the Google Earth-based laboratory class, whereas 5 disimproved. Mean correct answers rose from 4.7/10 to 6/10, giving a paired t-test value of 0.21. After using Google Earth, students are helped to segue to a heliocentric view.