Activity

Sundial

Summary
Assemble a simple sundial, and watch its shadow move over the course of a lesson.
Science content
Earth/Space: Weather, Seasons, Climate Change (K, 1, 4, 7)
Earth/Space: Sun, Moon, Solar System, Universe (1, 4, 6)
Lessons activity is in
Materials
  • clear sunny day
  • EITHER long stick and bottle or container that will hold the stick upright
  • OR lamp post or sign post that casts a shadow over concrete
  • chalk, or other surface and writing implement
Procedure

Find an open concrete area that shadows will not pass over during the course of the lesson, and that will not be disturbed by other students.
Set the stick upright in the bottle. (Alternatively use the shadow from a lamp post or sign post.)
Draw a line along the shadow of the stick (or around the end of the post) and mark the time on the drawing.

Every 30 mins (or down to 5 minutes with a longer lamp post), draw in the new position of the shadow and mark the time again.
Once they get a sense of how far it will move, students can be asked to start predicting where the shadow may fall after a certain amount of time. (No point in asking them to predict before they have some sense, as it will be wild guesses, making them feel successful or not for no reason.)

Observe how the shadow moves over time (it is surprisingly fast).

As the earth rotates the position of the sun in the sky changes, so the shadow rotates around the stick.
Hence the position of the shadow can tell us how much time has passed, therefore the time.
Over the next day or so, the time can be predicted from the position of the shadow.

The length of the shadow depends on how high the sun is in the sky and will change with the time of day and the seasons.

Note: this simple sundial with an upright stick will not work for telling the time over the course of the year. Precise sundials are at an angle, and have more complex readings for measuring time.

Notes

With a longer pole the top of the shadow will move further in a shorter amount of time. Try using a lamp post or basketball hoop.

Grades taught
Gr 2
Gr 3
Teaching site
Gordon Elementary Science Club