Why Does the Sun Rise and Set?

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SWBAT use a model to record, observe and make conclusions about the predictable patterns of our sunrise and sunset.

Big Idea

I LOVE a beautiful sunset! In this lesson students get to use a model to learn more about the patterns that cause the sun to set and rise each day.

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 Observations 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 (black paper), The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, white crayons and a parent letter. 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? - Continued from "The Sun - Day 3"

Styrofoam balls on sticks and flashlights

Science Journal - Prompt: Why does the sun rise and set each day?

For the Art Extension Materials - See Lesson


10 minutes

In this lesson we refer back to our KLEWS anchor chart titled, "What are the patterns of the Sun?" In our last lesson my students pointed out that we have a sunrise and a sunset.  I ask my students if this is a pattern.  

Boys and girls, do you think the sunrise and sunset is a predictable pattern? Do you think we can see the sun rise each day and set each day?  I have my students talk about this with their turn and talk partner.

I show my students our Take Home Science Bag. I pull out the Sunset Observation Book and we look at the pages. Next, I show my students our sunset calendar.  Do you notice that each day we have recorded the sunset times on our calendar?  Has the sunset each day? My students yell, "YES!!"  

I record, "The sunsets each day and rises each day" on our KLEWS chart.

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 tracks our findings and our evidence as we learn about the Sun. Here is an image of our KLEWS anchor chart.

Boys and girls looking at our KLEWS chart from our last lesson you learned that the Earth rotates creating day and night and some of you even discovered that that is the reason for the sunrise and sunset.  You have observed the Sun move across our sky but we know it is not the Sun that is moving it is actually the Earth rotating.  Today we are going to learn more about our sunsets and sunrises. Every morning the sun rises and every night the sunsets.  This a predictable pattern that we can expect to happen each day.  Why? Let's write this new question under W-What are we still wondering?

I record our new question, "Why does the sun rise and set each day?" under the "W-What are we still wondering" section of our KLEWS chart.


15 minutes

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. This is the same model we used in our last lesson and we can use it to study the sunrise and the sunset. In this lesson each Styrofoam ball has the letter E and the letter W representing east and west. Be sure to have children make one rotation at a time so the E appears to rise first.  

Today your job is to investigate why we have a sunrise and a sunset.  What is happening as the Earth spins that causes the sunrise and sunset?  I want you to observe and notice the what happens after ONE rotation.  If you keep rotating the sun it will look the sun rises on the W and we know from our observations that it ALWAYS rises in the east. You will work with your turn and talk partner to discover the answer to this very important question. With your workshop partner I would like you to make a plan for our to investigate this question. You will get one flashlight and one Earth.  What are you going to do to investigate our question?  How will you try and answer this question. Go ahead and talk.  As my students share ideas I listen in on conversations.  After listening, I share one or two ideas to give others students support.

Okay! Are you ready to give this a go?  Before I send my students off I am careful to review how to behave in during science investigation. I am careful to point out that, "As scientists it is very important that we use our precious science time in a super smart and safe way."

As my students work I walk around and confer with each group naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching.


15 minutes

In the classroom my students share their new observations with their turn and talk partners and confirm their evidence.

The common core writing standards asks student to focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed. This can be done by sharing illustrations as well.  My students share their drawing and respond to feedback and/or questions from their peers.

Boys and girls did you notice where the Sun is located in the morning?  Why do you think that?

I have the students share their findings with their peers and record this new information on our KLEWS anchor chart.


30 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. I use the book The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola. The Montana Office of Public Instruction asks that teachers in Montana integrate quality Indian Education for All content with rigorous, standards based instruction in all curricular areas. One of the IEFA Essential Understanding States:

There is great diversity among individual American Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined by entities, organizations and people. A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian.

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is also found on video but be sure to have the book along to tie in the ELA standards. I hold up the book and ask my students if this book is fiction or nonfiction.
I ask my students to "explain" their thinking to their turn and talk partners.

As you look at this book are there any clues on the cover or in the pages that tell about the genre of this book?  Do you think this book is fiction or do you think it is nonfiction? Look and think carefully.  When you have a thought please give me a thumbs up. Please turn and share your thinking with your turn and talk partner. Please be sure to share why you think that.  Tell you partner what clues from the book helped you come up with an idea.

This book is a legend, myth also called a folklore.  A myth or legend is a false belief or idea.  It is a work of fiction.  This book is considered a beautiful work of art.

I read the book aloud to my students, stopping at conversation points.  I allow the children to have rich conversations about the beautiful sunset and sunrise.

I have my students use water colors to recreate a sunset or sunrise.  I pass out pre-cut teepees for my students. 



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 do we have a sunrise and sunset? What did you learn today?

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 it look like a sunset and sunrise. " or "When the Earth rotates and that makes the sun rise in the east and set in the west" This formative assessment gives me insight on the learning that is taking place.

Art Extension:

40 minutes

For this art lesson you will need:

Watercolor Paints & Paint brushes

Construction Paper - white & brown


This is a great lesson to do with first grade students.  I pass out the white construction paper and water colors. I model, using the document camera how to create lines of different colors to create the sunset.  We look at the illustrations in the book The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie De Paolo. After examining the pictures, I point out the colors that are best used for the sky verses the ground and I show them how to make the horizon. Then they create works of art.  I allow the art work to dry and thenI flatten each piece of art under heavy trays. Once the art work is flat and dry, I pass out brown triangles and markers and model how to create teepees and teepee designs.