The Sun Does What?

By Shannon Lewis, October 5, 2009

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

180 minutes or 3 one hour class periods


Most students understand the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  They do not always have a clear understanding of why this happens and how their shadow created by the sun’s light proves this.  This lesson will address how the position of the sun affects the position and length of one’s shadow.  It will also address the pattern of the sun during the day.  Students will work collaboratively to design a device that will prove that the sun’s position in the sky does change throughout the day.

National Standards

Science Standard 3. Levels I and II. Understands the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth's place in it Level I: 1. Knows basic patterns of the Sun (e.g., the Sun appears every day and the Moon appears sometimes at night and sometimes during the day; the Sun and Moon appear to move from east to west across the sky Level II: 1. Knows the night and day are caused by the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Standard 11. Level II. Understands the nature of scientific knowledge 2. Knows that good scientific explanations are based on evidence (observations) and scientific knowledge 3. Knows that scientists make the results of their investigations public; they describe the investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigations Standard 12. Level II. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry 3. Plans and conducts simple investigations (e.g., formulates a testable question, plans a fair test, makes systematic observations, develops logical conclusions) 5. Knows that scientists’ explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe (evidence), and partly from how they interpret (inference) their observations. Mathematics Standard 4. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement 2. Selects and uses appropriate tools for given measurement situations (e.g., rulers for length, measuring cups for capacity, protractors for angle) 3. Knows approximate size of basic standard units (e.g., centimeters, feet, grams) and relationships between them (e.g., between inches and feet) Working With Others Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group.


Students will be able to:
  • collect data
  • analyze data
  • understand how shadows are made
  • understand how shadows change in response to the sun or light sources position to an object
  • understand how the sun’s position changes in the daytime
  • communicate and collaborate in small groups
  • design a tool that can be used to demonstrate that the sun changes position in the sky during the day


Books: What Makes a Shadow? By Clyde Robert Bulla What Makes Day and Night? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) By Franklyn M. Branley Sun Up, Sun Down: The Story of Day and Night (Science Works) By Jacqui Bailey Earth: Our Planet in Space by Seymour Simon  


•    chart paper •    chalk •    compass •    handouts •    paper plates •    brown paper bags •    construction paper •    tag board •    index cards •    craft sticks •    paper clips •    unsharpened pencils •    pipe cleaners •    binder clips •    tape •    clay •    markers •    rulers •    pencils  


  • axis: the line about which a rotating body, such as the earth, turns
  • rotate: to cause to turn around an axis or center point; revolve
  • shadow: a dark figure or image cast on the ground or some surface by a body intercepting light


Day 1: Introduction -- The purpose of this introduction will be to discuss and chart students’ prior knowledge of the sun and day and night.  This can be taught a day prior to the lesson activities or the morning of the same day.

Discussion Questions:

  • What causes daytime?
  • Where does the light come from?
  • Where is the sun in the morning, noon, evening?
  • Is the sun always in the same position? How do you know?
  • What is a shadow?
  • How is a shadow created?

Students should be told that Earth rotates once on its axis in a 24-hour period if they do not share this knowledge during the discussion.

Steps for Learning: The purpose of these activities will be for students to make discoveries and generalizations about the sun, shadows, and shadows' relationship to time of day.

1. Tell students that they will be working in groups of three to four to observe their shadows at different times of the day.

2. Divide the class into groups of three or four students.  Keeping in mind language levels and academic abilities.  These students will work together during the course of this lesson.

3. Hand out the recording sheets, pencils, and one piece of chalk per group.

4. Take class outside on a sunny day first thing in the morning to a flat concrete or black top surface.

5. One student in the group will face south while another student traces that student’s shadow with sidewalk chalk. Allow each student in the group to have an opportunity to have his/her shadow traced.

6. Students will then use a yardstick to measure the length of their shadow.

7. Students will note length, time of day, and position of their shadow on the ground and on their paper.

8. Bring students back into the classroom to briefly discuss findings.  Explain that they will repeat this procedure two more times during the day, once at midday and once at the end. (Be sure that students stand in the same place each time.)

Day 2: Designing

1. Allow students to discuss in their groups the data they collected, any patterns they discern, and reasons why they think patterns emerged.

2. Ask the groups to gather in a whole group meeting area to share their findings.

3. Write their ideas and findings on chart paper for future reference.

4. Present design challenge:

  • Explain to students that they are being challenged to design something that could be used to prove that the sun’s position changes in the sky as time changes. The activity they completed the day before with their shadows is one way to prove this, but they are going to come up with an entirely new idea.
  • They will work in their same groups to complete the challenge.

5. Work Time

  • Present students with the materials they will be able to use to make the device.  (Explain that they do not need to use all of materials in their design.)
  • With students in their groups, they will brainstorm design ideas.

They will write, sketch or model ideas on a large sheet of paper. (Emphasize teamwork: listening to each person’s ideas, sharing the work, and taking turns.)

Reinforce that all ideas in a brainstorm are great ideas and that brainstorm ideas do not have to be practical or doable.


6. Gather students to whole group meeting area to share a couple of ideas with the class.

7. Give each group a “Design Idea” handout to complete once they have decided one design to pursue.  This will give the group an opportunity to plan and reflect on their plan before beginning.

8. Let the designing begin.

9. Have flashlights available for students to test their devices throughout the work time. Explain that the light bulb in the flashlight can act as the sun.

10. At the end of the class period, tell students they will have thirty more minutes during the next class period to finish their device.

Day 3:  Testing/Sharing

1. Give students about thirty more minutes to test out their devices and make adjustments.  Remind them that their objective is for their device to prove that the sun’s position changes in the sky.

2. When groups feel they have successfully created their device have them fill out the “Sun Does What? Design Challenge” self-evaluation.

3. Student groups will present their devices to their peers, explaining the how they created it and how it can be used to prove that the sun changes position.

Have classroom lights off and flashlight available to demonstrate effectiveness of the creation or take students outside if the weather is permitting.

4. If groups find that their design needs some changes, give them times at the end of the period to redesign and present their changes.


The teacher will interact with groups to listen to their conversations, observe and ask questions to push student thinking. Teacher will use a rubric to evaluate student group work and finished product. Students will complete a self-evaluation.  

Enrichment Extension Activities

•    Students can further explore the sun’s position in the sky as it relates to the seasons.  See: •    Students can show their device to a kindergarten or first grade student to help the younger student to understand the concept. •    Students can research the history of sun shadows and time. •    Students can explore other objects that move in the sky, such as the moon and stars.  

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.