Observing the Sun

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SWBAT observe and describe patterns in the sun's movement.

Big Idea

Put those sunglasses on! It's time to observe and measure the sun's position in the sky and how shadows change throughout the day.

Instructional Notes

In this unit, students are not only studying space, they are observing and making discoveries aboutpatterns in the sky!  The NGSS standard states, 1-ESS1-1. Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

In this lesson, students will continue thinking about the focus questions from lesson one, including, What are objects in the sky? and What makes a pattern?  Today's lesson will take students outside at 3 different times of day: morning, noon, and late afternoon.  Make this as easy as possible within your daily schedule, for example, go outside first thing in the morning, right after lunch/recess, and about fifteen minutes before your dismissal.  What's key is that students see how the sun's position changes during the day, which will also affect shadow lengths.  (PS-- Of course, the sun doesn't actually move!  We'll get to this big idea soon!) 

If this is the first Science unit you are teaching for the year, consider making a What does a scientist do? Anchor Chart throughout this unit.  Today's lesson incorporates the Science and Engineering Practices of making observations and recording data.  One of the coolest parts of the NGSS standards is that students are learning content through hands-on experiences, like today's observations!  (The practices are the blue boxes on the NGSS standards.)

In tomorrow's lesson, we'll formally record and analyze the data as a class on a KLEWS chart. In the resources here, I've included a sample KLEWS chart. This is what it may look like (just about!) by the end of the unit.  You can learn more about KLEWS charts by checking out the book by Carla Zembal-Saul.  A KLEWS is like a KWL, but gives you science-specific columns too!

 What's Your Evidence


5 minutes

I start out today's lesson by reviewing the focus questions students discussed in Lesson 1, namely, What are objects in the sky? and What makes a pattern?

Let's go back to our thinking from yesterday.  We named many objects we can see (observe) in the sky, and then we highlighted the ones that are in nature.  Read them with me: the sun, moon, and stars.  Great.  We also talked about patterns.  Tell the person next to you what makes a pattern.  Right, a pattern repeats, so we know what is going to come next.  That's called predicting what comes next.  

Next, I activate schema (background knowledge) students are bringing about daily patterns of the sun.

Today let's think only about the sun.  What does the sun do that repeats?  What patterns does the sun have?  Turn-and-talk to share your schema, and then we'll share together.

Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.  

I have students turn-and-talk (we sit knee-to-knee and toe-to-toe), and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.  Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner.  Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther.

Finally, I want to explain the basic sequence of the lesson to students, so they know what to expect.  

Today, we will observe (look at closely) the sun 3 times.  We are going outside in a few moments, then again after lunch, and then one more time at the end of the day. Each time we go outside, we're going to make some measurements and record them on the page you glued into your science journal as morning work.

How your students record their data is completely up to you!  My students use marbled composition notebooks, and today they glued in the student resource sheet.  You could also take the resource sheet outside on clipboards!  


20 minutes

It's important that students are a part of the observation process, so I really want them to get involved!  I suggest that on the day previous to this lesson, your students help you put a dow rod (we are calling it the "shadow stick") in the middle of your school's baseball field.  You are going to want to pick are area of your school ground that isn't going to have trees or buildings blocking the shadows.  If you don't have a good sized field to put in a dow, you can measure shadows of your flagpole too!  Or, students can draw their own shadow outline with partners on large chart paper!

First, I teach students how to measure using handspans.  This is a nonstandard measurement using students' fists.  We'll also put on sunglasses when we go out (I sent home a note to parents a few days earlier to request them.). 

First, straighten one arm all the way out and lock your elbow.  Move your arm up or down until the bottom of your fist is at the horizon (where the grass meets the trees).  Now try to keep your fist still!  Put your fists one on top of the other until you get to the sun.  How many handspans (or fists) above the horizon was the sun?  Record your measurement.

Some students are bound to need help with this!  I encourage them to help each other and share their measurements.  Hint: since their hands are about the same size, the numbers should be the same.  Listen for students with wacky responses, and try to help them measure more accurately. 

Then, we want to see how the position of the sun affects shadow length.  Measure from the stick (or flag pole) to the end of the shadow.  Your class can use string, or use their feet as a nonstandard tool.  Check out this BetterLesson.com lesson all about measuring with "kid feet"

Lastly, students can record the sun either by drawing the circular shape or by showing a horizon line and where the sun is above the horizon.  Keep an eye out for rays or smiley suns-- as cute as they are, they aren't "scientific."  Also, keep an eye out for any drawings showing the horizon.  They are great examples to pull for tomorrow's lesson!

Here we are collecting data!!!

Me explaining how to measure the flagpole shadow:

Students in the morning measuring the length of the flagpole shadow:

Students using handspans to measure the height of the sun above the horizon in the morning:

And again mid-day:

And now in the afternoon, "Eek!  The sun moved!"



5 minutes

Today's lesson may not allow time for wrap-up.  If you do find time, here are two ways to summarize.  This first one addresses an Essential Question that gets students to connect to the Science and Engineering Practices.

Let's return to our anchor chart, "What does a scientist do?"  Friends, what did we do today as scientists? (Observed, recorded data)

Or, try this ending, which gives students the chance to figure out ways the data can be entered onto the KLEWS chart:

Tomorrow, we will look closely at the data we collected and record it under the E "Evidence" section of our KLEWS chart.  Evidence means the proof that we actually saw, our observations!  How do you suggest that we record the data, since our numbers are different?   

I am always surprised by student suggestions! Perhaps one of your students will suggest you take the average, or the most common number (mode), or record the teacher's numbers... who knows!  If your students suggest the mode, you could make bar graphs or tally mark charts during math to figure out the most common number.


Formative Assessment: Student data and drawing

  • Was the student able to accurately make and record observations?
  • Was the student able to record data?

Here are some samples of student work:

Student sample #1

Student sample #2

Student sample #3