The Lesson Plan - Sun's Energy and the Atmosphere


Science – SC.6.E.7.5 
Explain how energy provided by the sun influences global patterns of atmospheric movement and the temperature differences between air, water, and land.

Mathematics – MAFS.6.NBT.2.3
Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.    

Language Arts – LAFS.6.RL.1.2 
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through details provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Big Idea(s)

The atmosphere contains mainly nitrogen and oxygen with trace amounts of water vapor.

Essential Question

What is the Greenhouse Effect and how does it work?


RadiationTemperatureClimateAlbedoSpace weatherAtmosphereHydrosphereCryosphere • GeosphereBiosphereGreenhouse EffectSatellite OrbitingGPS NavigationTelecommunications

Background Information

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The Greenhouse Effect is a warming of our Earth’s surface and the air above it. This effect is caused by the gases in the air that trap energy from the sun.

The heat trapping gases are called greenhouse gases.  Recently, due to excessive carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides from fossil fuels, methane from organic waste materials, and other gases begin to be part of the atmosphere. These gases are comprised of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons  (CFCs).  Without the Greenhouse Effect the Earth would be too cold and cease to exist!  However; as humanity continues to expand in population, so does the amount of pollution created by us on our planet. We see these disastrous effects through Global Warming.

 Many scientists believe, that ever since the industrial revolution began the burning of fossil fuels, it has continued to lead to an increased production over the years; which directly has led to the increase of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere and therefore the rapid increase of global warming. 

The Sun

Light from the Sun is the largest source of energy for the Earth’s atmosphere. The Sun’s energy is extremely important to the Earth.   The Sun heats the surface of the earth, the bodies of water and the atmosphere.  The amount of energy in the atmosphere is one of the primary drivers of our weather.  In addition to affecting our weather, our climate is affected by the amount of solar radiation. The importance of this relationship from the Sun’s energy is endless. 

The Sun’s radiation causes changes in the conditions of interplanetary space and in the near-Earth space. This “space weather” affects everyday essentials including satellite orbiting, GPS navigation and telecommunications.  Greenhouse gases, clouds, aerosols, and atmospheric circulations are all impacted by solar radiation. 

Guiding Questions

  • How does the Sun affect our climate?
  • How does the Earth heat our atmosphere? What is the Greenhouse Effect?
  • How does it occur? 
  • What are the ramifications of the Greenhouse Effect?

Math Mania 

Essential Question:

Quads are used to measure very large quantities of energy. A quad is equal to one quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) Btu. The United States uses about one quad of energy every 3.75 days.

 How many quads of energy does the United States use in 3 years?

The correct response is: 292 quads 

The definition of a quad is a unit of energy defined as 1 quadrillion BTU. Quads are used in similar settings as the exajoule (1018 joules) when speaking of world or national energy supply/demand. Generally, quads refer to primary energy rather than end use energy.

Instructional Sequence

Fun Facts

Did you know…

  • Without some greenhouse gases and the Greenhouse Effect, Earth’s temperature would be close to -18°C (0.4°F)?
  • When energy from the Sun enters the Earth’s atmosphere and hits the surface of the planet, 49% is absorbed into rocks, buildings, water and other parts of the surface of the Earth?

More fun facts

More useful and interesting facts about the Greenhouse Effect

Inquiry Type

  • Guided Inquiry

Teacher Resources

Video: Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming

how the sun heats the earth