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Earth Science

What’s The Difference Between Revolution and Rotation in the Earth, Moon, and Sun Systems?

teach the difference between earth's rotation and revolution

I love teaching Earth, Moon, and Sun systems. I think it’s so cool how three celestial objects can create so many things. Sunsets, moon phases, seasons, eclipses, days, and nights. It’s caused only by Earth’s revolution and rotation. There’s something magical about it to me. But what’s the difference between revolution and rotation?

One year, as my 7th graders and I were talking about moon phases, one asked how sunsets are made. I knew how. But I didn’t really know how. Yes, I knew that the earth spinning and changing from day to night created sunsets, but I couldn’t articulate it. 

I didn’t know, so I researched

So I researched “what’s the difference between revolution and rotation in the Earth, Moon, and Sun systems?” Come to find out, I knew how sunsets are made, but I didn’t have the proper word for it. Rotation.

I also realized I had been skipping over this very foundational topic of Earth’s rotation and revolution when I taught about the Earth, Moon, and Sun systems. So, in all of my teaching about moon phases and seasons, I never really explained how these systems worked.

Teach your students the difference between revolution and rotation with this awesome interactive notebook template! Click here to find it!

The real difference between revolution and rotation

Let’s first start with the basic definitions and difference between revolution and rotation in regards to the Earth.

Rotation: The Earth is sitting in space, titled on a 23.5° axis. One rotation is a single spin on that axis in 24 hours. Earth’s rotation helps us differentiate between day and night. Think of how a globe moves. Two points on the top and bottom hold the globe in place and when you spin the globe, it stays in place and spins on those two points. 

Revolution: The Earth is orbiting our sun. A full revolution is one trip around the sun, taking one year. If we start a timer on June 12th, it would take 365 days for the Earth to complete a full revolution, ending on June 12th the following year. 

There is a big difference between revolution and rotation. One creates sunsets and tides, and the other is responsible for our calendar. 

Don’t skip teaching the foundational stuff

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m a huge proponent of scaffolding science concepts (and I’m probably guilty of oversimplifying) so that students can really understand what they’re learning. I assume with the emphasis put on reading and math in elementary school, student’s science exposure is pretty limited. 

And here I was. Skipping the very foundational stuff. 

Here’s the thing. Students get these words confused. They both start with R, they’re both pretty specific to how planets move, and they cause completely different phenomena in nature. 

In addition to our Earth rotating and revolving, planets and moons do the same thing. Our moon phases and eclipses are created by the moon revolving around the Earth. The high and low tides are caused by both the revolution of the moon and the rotation of the Earth. 

Get them familiar with rotation and revolution early

Students should fully understand these words before they determine what is caused by each phenomena. This interactive notebook is the best way to give your students a hands on opportunity to see and remember the difference between revolution and rotation.

Your students will see the words rotation and revolution in their reading and on websites as they learn. Addressing the difference up front is such an easy way to scaffold their learning and keep them from becoming confused later on. I find it best to teach Earth’s rotation and revolution at the beginning of the unit. You’ll be able to refer to each word, rather than spending multiple chunks of multiple class periods trying to undo confusion. 

Do yourself a teaching favor. Before you teach moon phases, tides, and seasons, spend a day talking about the difference between revolution and rotation. Your student’s will thank you. 

Moon phases are caused by the moon's revolution around the earth.
Earth Science, Space Science

Scale Diagram Layers of the Earth Project for Middle School

Inside earth scale diagram banner

How far down is the center of the Earth? Is it 5,000 miles? Or as big as the moon is?  Really… I want to know! These are the exact kinds of questions we get from our students. Curiosity drives the questions, and this awesome layers of the Earth project answers them!

How big are the layers of the Earth?

Student is using a chromebook to work show how

My middle school students never seem to grasp the idea of how vast everything around them is. When I teach the layers of the Earth, we draw the diagrams, cut out the foldables, and look at those pie chart like pictures where the layers are so dang even. But I wanted them to really get it. This layers of the earth project has something that the others don’t – the scale size of the layers! You can grab this for your classroom here!

Do you see the picture of the Chromebook and think this isn’t right for your classroom? Keep reading! I have a solution for you!

Let Them Predict

After kids have learned the order of the layers, the project asks them to predict how large each layer actually is. How cool! Students show exactly what they are thinking. You’d be surprised! No matter how much you stress that the crust is really thin, students always overestimate how big it is. 

Integrate Math Concepts

Cross Curricular science and math assignment with a scale diagram of the layers of the Earth.

After they estimate how thick each layer is, they find the scale size of each layer. The boxes on the grid represent 200 km and using simple proportions, students calculate how many boxes each layer should take up. All of the boxes will be filled to the top of the grid. Bonus: Anytime I can use a math concept for a cross-curricular lesson is a golden opportunity! 

Creating The Diagram

Next, they’ll use the scale measurements the found to fill in how think the layers actually are. They have to start at the bottom and work their way up, otherwise they’ll get confused (trust me!). When they’re done, they should label each layer on the diagram. 

Finally, they have a chance to reflect on the differences between their two diagrams. I love this part of the project because they get to see how thin some of the layers are. The crust seems so big to them, but when they compare their hypothesis to the 35% of ONE box the crust actually takes up, their minds are blown. 

Completed layers of the earth scale diagram by middle school students.

At the very end, they’ll write an informative paragraph explaining the layers of the earth and how scientists find out what is inside, showing what they’ve learned. 

Let’s get real for a sec. As you’re asking your students to complete these rather simple tasks, they’re likely to try and talk over you. Check out these tips to manage a chatty class if this is a problem you face!

Snag this project here!

But I don’t have and tech!!

Don’t worry, I see you looking at the picture of the Chromebook thinking, I don’t have any tech! 

Students are completing the layers of the earth scale diagram on a printed version.

Great news! You don’t need any! You can absolutely use this layers of the Earth project with your students on Chromebooks. There’s even a quick start page in the file showing them which buttons to use. But, there are pages in the file specifically for printing!

I’ve used both. In fact, I had a class that was SO SLOW and so difficult to manage one year, four of my classes used the Chromebooks and that class used the paper. Truthfully, I really like both options. 

If you’re looking for a project that is relevant and engaging, yet shows students a perspective they rarely see (much less create) this is the project for you!

Pin the Layers of the Earth Scale Diagram Project!
Earth Science, Hands On, Middle School, Projects