Lesson 4: The solar cycle


This activity will require approximately two 30-minute classes (in computer lab)

  • It is suggested that the two classes be taught consecutively in a single session. This will ensure that all students have adequate time to complete the required tasks on the computers.


Identify and control major variables in their investigations (e.g., predict what variables might affect the size of craters on the moon, using a flour and marble simulation)
Identify and use a variety of sources and technologies to gather pertinent information (e.g., use electronic and print resources or visit a planetarium to gather information on the visual characteristics of planets
Compile and display data, by hand or by computer, in a variety of formats including frequency tallies, tables, and bar graphs (e.g., prepare a diagram showing the orbits of the planets)
Draw a conclusion, based on evidence gathered through research and observation, that answers an initial question (e.g., conclude that simulated flour craters are deeper and wider when the marble is heavier or is dropped from greater heights)

General Objectives

In this lesson, students will gain experiences in retrieving information from the Internet and in using spreadsheets to store, organize, manipulate, and investigate information. Students will also be required to interpret graphical representations of data and to make mathematical predictions.

Curricular Connections

  • Information and Communication Technologies
    • Internet Searching
    • Spreadsheets
  • Mathematics
    • Working with spreadsheets
    • Graphing information
    • Interpreting graphs

Lesson Overview

In this activity students will be using the spreadsheet to assist them in investigating the solar cycle. Since the nature of the activity requires that students use computers, it is recommenced that the teacher schedule a minimum of 2 consecutive class periods in the computers lab.

The lesson plan will guide students through the procedures involved with downloading data from the Internet, importing the data into a spreadsheet, using the spreadsheet to graph the data, and using a spreadsheet formula to help organize the data.

A modification to the lesson would replace the downloading and importing data with having the students key the values into the spreadsheet using the printable data set. It is suggested this option would be best suited for students who have not had previous experience with spreadsheets.

Materials and Resources

Nota : This page contains documents for which the access may require a particular software. If the software is not installed, you can download it and follow the instructions for installation.

Developing the Lesson

The teacher should begin by walking the students through the procedures they will be expected to use to download and import the data file into a spreadsheet program.

Remind students that they will be expected to turn in the following upon completion of the activity:

  • Step-by-step how-to guides (showing that they have completed all required procedures with the spreadsheet)
  • A printout of the data (showing organization of the data)
  • A printout of the graph
  • Completed worksheet

Commence the activities and remember to have fun.

Explain that the activities will be used to help students understand the solar sunspot cycle and to enable them to make future projections as to how the solar cycle will progress over the next few years. It would also be relevant to mention to students that in a future lesson, they will see more clearly how the solar cycle and sunspots are connected to the Northern Lights on Earth.

Divide students into groups of two; although students will be working in groups, they each will be expected to turn in a completed worksheet.

  • Go to URL for data and download the file
  • See step-by-step guides
    • Importing data into Excel
    • Graphing the data
    • Using a formula
      • Explain why we would want to use a formula
  • Students will be expected to complete the worksheet

Periodically monitor students' research to ensure that they are on task.


Reassemble the students and initiate a discussion as to the findings the students were able to interpret from their work with the spreadsheet. Were all students able to make the spreadsheets effectively? Did all students make correct predictions for the solar cycle?


Possible Marks 3 2 1 0
guides completed
Completed in entirety Partially completed Little evidence of work Not included
Possible Marks 4 3 2 1
Printout of the data Data has been correctly imported*, has significant formatting, and correct formulae Data has been correctly imported, but is missing either formatting or correct formulae Data imported but no evidence of formatting or correct formulae Data not imported correctly
Printout of graph Graph has been carefully constructed with title and labels Graph constructed without titles or labels Data graphed incorrectly but formatted with titles and labels Data graphed incorrectly or graph not submitted
Possible Marks 3 2 1 0
Worksheet Questions – Questions 1-6 Question correctly answered in a thought provoking manner Question answered correctly but answer only contains brief response Question answered incorrectly, but with little evidence of thought Question not answered
Worksheet Questions – Questions 7 & 8 Both answers correct One answer correct Neither answer correct Question not answered