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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Tracking the Sun

It is fall in my part of the world and the Aspens are starting to change color. The changing colors of the leaves provide an excellent opportunity for me to teach a bit of chemistry, climate or seasonal patterns. I, like many of you, keep a journal of certain events. Besides the regular life stories I like to record the day’s weather data. I write down the rainfall, high and low temperatures and any unique events (wind, ice, fog) that might be happening on that journal day.


I have my students during a climate and chemistry unit keep a weather journal. I have them mark the position of the sun from a specific vantage point each day along with all the other weather data. Many of the students are very surprised to note that the sun appears to rise and set in slightly different locations throughout the two months of observations.

An elementary teacher in my area has her 4th graders plot the position of the sun on the south facing windows each Monday of the year at the beginning of the school day, lunch time and end of the school day. She has the students use different colored sun face cut outs for each day. At the end of the first quarter there are nine sets of sun faces each one slightly lower on her window wall. The students watch as the sun faces are lower until when they come back from Christmas vacation when the sun faces are slightly higher each week. These students are gathering data and generating questions that leads to a rich unit on the seasons in February, just when we need to be thinking about warmer seasons.  I would assert that, after talking with these students in May, they have a better grasp on the seasonal patterns than most adults.
The big payoff, however, is that they are acting like real scientists and gathering data, asking questions, seeking evidence and discussions what they find out with a larger audience. Remember that big idea of systems? Well, fall is a wonderful opportunity to take a look at a system that impacts us all in a very direct way.

The Harvard Smithsonian Project asked recent college graduates to explain the seasons and the results will surprise you. Take a look at the video at: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/education/k12.html

For information on tracking the sun: http://starryskies.com/Artshtml/dln/5-00/tracking.sun.html

So, a sun face or a simple journal and a pair of eyes will get you started on the great adventure we call science.

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