Why Does the Sun Move Across the Sky?

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SWBAT use a model to observe the rotational patterns that make day and night.

Big Idea

Have you ever wondered about day and night? This lesson allows children to answer their own questions about what causes day and night through outdoor observation, building models and hands-on exploration!

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal. Students will then be give a chance to share their findings with their peers and then reflect on their own understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

In this lesson students will continue to observe the sun. 1-ESS1-1 asks students to use observations to explore the predictable patterns of our sun.  Students are taking home a Science Bag and Sun Journal to observe and record the sunset.  Each day the Sun Journal is shared and the findings are recorded on our classroom sunset calendar.

Sun Observations:

Students observe the sun three times a day for a week. We record their observations on our sun chart each day and use these findings to observe the patterns of the sun.

Home to School Connection:

We will be learning about the sun, the stars and moon. The NGSS asks that students to observe, describe and predict how the sun and moon changes over a period of time. I send home two science bags that will allow students to observe the night sky.

The Sun Bag: In order for students to observe the changes of our sunset, each day a different student takes home our Sun Bag that includes a Sunset Observation Sheet, The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley, a box of crayons and a  parent letter. Students record his/her findings on our class Sunset Calendar. We observe the sun for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the sunset changes.

The Moon Bag: In order for students to observe the change of the moon, each day a different student takes home our Moon Bag which includes a Moon Observation Form, The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, white crayons and a parent guide. Then students record his/her findings on our class Moon Phases Calendar. We observe the moon for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the changes it goes through in one full cycle. If the moon is not visible that student will record the night sky and then the next day we will predict what it would have looked like had it been seen.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.


KLEWS anchor chart: What are the patterns of the sun?


Styrofoam balls on wooden dowel craft sticks sticks (Students work in partnerships)

Tack - one on each ball

The Sun Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley

Science Journal -Prompt: Why does the sun repeat this pattern?


20 minutes

In this lesson we meet on the carpet in a whole group and refer back to our KLEWS anchor chart titled, "What are the patterns of the Sun?"

A KLEWS anchor chart is described as a tool that allows students to track their learning throughout an investigation, building up to the understanding of a scientific principle. Our KLEWS chart will track the learning about the sun for our next lessons.

Boys and girls looking at our KLEWS chart from our last lesson you learned that the Sun moves across the day sky.  Today we are going we need to investigate the why. Why in the world does the sun move across the sky in this same pattern? 

I record our new question, "Why does the Sun repeat this pattern? under the "W-What are we still wondering" section of our KLEWS chart.

I use the book from our last lesson Exploring Space: The Sun by Colleen Sexton. In our last lesson I really focused in on pages 18-19. I want to review these pages and really focus on the Earth spinning.  

Boys and girls we read this section of the book and it says, "The sun appears to move across the sky."  Do you know what this book means by that?  Turn and tell your partner what it means when it says, "The sun appears to move across the sky."

As the students share I listen in on conversations.  I am looking for answers and explanations that support the learning we have done in our previous lessons. I bring my students back together.

Boys and girls, you've got it! The sun moves from east and moves west everyday.  The next part says, "The sun's light only shines on half of the Earth at a time."  What does that mean? 

I give my students a minute to share their thoughts and then bring them back together.


25 minutes

Science Inquiry in an instructional model that allows students to investigate questions, work cooperatively, develop deeper understandings of concepts all while observing, note-taking, using creative thinking, talking, recording and creating new ideas. In this section students will using tools to observe the rotational patterns of the Earth.

The NGSS does not require students to understand the why behind the patterns of the sun, however this was the most natural next place to take this lesson. My students were asking questions like, "Why is the sun moving?" or "Where does the sun go?"

Boys and girls the reason the sun moves across the sky is because the Earth is spinning but I don't think that is a very easy concept to understand. Please stand up. I ask my students to spin around and then have them sit back down.  That is what the Earth does. It spins but it doesn't spin all crazy, it spins in the same direction every day.  I stand up and slowly spin around three times.  With each spin it makes one whole day.

The NGSS asks that students develop a model to represent patterns in the natural and designed world. In this lesson students will use a flashlight, a Styrofoam ball with a tack in the spot where Montana should be to model day and night. I am not worried about accurately modeling the tilt of Earth's axis at this point.

I explain to students that one partner will hold the flashlight and stand completely still while the other students slowly rotates the foam ball in front of the light. The tack represents where they are standing on Earth. As they rotate the ball, they observe that sometimes the tack is on the light side of the ball and sometimes it is on the dark side.


10 minutes

The NGSS asks students to analyze and interpret data by building on prior experiences by collecting, recording, and sharing observations.

Boys and girls today you did some research using a model.  What did you discover? How does that support the observations you did outside? My students share that the Earth rotates and this makes day and night. The part of Earth that is facing the Sun is daytime and the other part facing away from the Sun is night. We record these findings on our anchor chart. I ask them to show me their evidence using their models and record their findings under E-Evidence.

I ask my student to stand up and face me.  I shine my flashlight at them and ask them is it day or night?  Then  I have them rotate one turn and tell them that now the sun is setting. Then they turn again and I ask them if it is day or night.  We repeat this over and over again until they can say sunrise, sunset, day and night.
Boys and girls, we have day and night is because the Earth spins. That is exactly what the Earth is doing right this minute.  Can you feel the earth rotating? No. We can't feel it but that is exactly what it is doing right now. 

We record the following vocabulary on our KLEWS chart: sunrise, day, noon, sunset, night, spin and rotation.


10 minutes

The Common Core English Language Arts Standards asks our students to explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.  Teacher-led read alouds are a great vehicle for exposing young children to informational text. They provide the necessary support for children as they encounter difficult content, new text features, and challenging vocabulary found in informational text. Using read alouds can support a child’s science literacy and can provide an avenue for students to have rich conversations about rigorous or abstract concepts. I ask my students to "explain" their thinking to their turn and talk partners throughout the read aloud.  

For this lesson I have chosen the book The Sun Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley because both the illustrations and content provide opportunities for rich scientific dialogue.


5 minutes

The Science and Engineering Practice 4 asks students to analyze data. At the K-2 level this involves students collecting, recording, and sharing observations. In this lesson the students are recording information, thoughts and ideas in their science journals. I send my students back to their science journals and ask them to write the answer to our big question: "Why does the sun repeat this pattern?"

As the students write I tell them to refer back to the research we did today. I am looking for answers like, "The Earth rotates and that is what makes day and night because when the Sun is shining on one side of the Earth it makes day. " or "When the Earth rotates the Sun shines on the place that is looking at the Sun making it daytime" This formative assessment gives me insight on the learning that is taking place.