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SUNSPOTS Lesson Plan Resource Guide

SUNSPOTS Lesson Plan

Note:  Worksheets and other documents  referenced are also included in the printed Lesson Plan Resource Guide.  

Topic Area: The history of sunspot study, our current understanding, and research into how sunspots are connected to other solar phenomena.

Key Questions:


Grade Levels: Most appropriate for high school, grades 9-11

Time Requirements:

Key Concepts:

Guiding Documents:

National Science Education Standards (NSES) Grades 9-12

AAAS (Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy)

National Math Standards (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)


Background Information:

  1. Background I: History and Modern Research 
  2. Background II: Research Activity 

Student prerequisites:

Computer set up:
  1. Download the folder called "SUNSPOTS" with the lesson pages onto a local (i.e. your school's) server, and set up bookmarks on the students' browsers to open the lesson.
  2. Otherwise, drag-and-drop the lesson folder to the hard drive of each student computer and make appropriate bookmark.

General Preparation:


Student activities are numbered.

History section

Modern Research:

  1. At the computers, students should read the Modern Research section and play the interviews, answering the study questions if desired. This section is longer and more dense.  One option is to assign a section of material to each group, to master and teach the class, jigsaw fashion. (50 minutes)
  2. Afterward, students prepare their own ideas for new solar research using the proposal worksheet. This is also an opportunity for doing Web research and class discussion on their ideas, if desired. 
    (30 minutes or longer)
  3. If the section has been covered by jigsaw groups, have groups present their new knowledge to the class using the Web pages or their own visual aids. (60 minutes)

Research Activity:

  1. At the Computers have students read the rest of the Activity pages, starting with Activity 2 (Measure Image Areas) and practice using the Java applet first. (30 minutes)
  2. Students then use the applet to measure image areas and record their measurements. They will plot their measurements using the computer and/or manually on sheets provided, or on their own graph paper. (50 minutes)
  3. Students or groups discuss their findings and present them to the group for instructor/peer evaluation and discussion. (60 minutes)


Modern Research
You may wish to start with an image of the sun from a textbook or some familiar context like a magazine, asking students questions that hinge on their understanding of the image.

Research Activity
It may be that different students' or groups' resulting graphs look different. Remember that a straight line is not necessarily expected, but the class should reach some consensus on whether there is some correlation between the 2 quantities: a linear, or curved, but at least continuous functional relationship. This can be an opportunity to discuss science processes and the difference between scatter in the data and systematic errors. Discuss some possible reasons for differences among students' or groups' results:

Contingency Management

The following are included with this Guide:


There are numerous opportunities for students to do hands-on activities that illustrate the physics of sunspots and help them visualize what is described in these pages. Some suggestions:

Curriculum Coordinates (optional):

Social Sciences -

Mathematics –The Cartesian representation of the algebraic form for straight lines, least squares fit to a straight line, and simple statistics are appropriate for coincident work in mathematics classes.

Meeting Individual Needs:


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