Sun Tracks I

Contributor
Activities Integrating Math and Science (AIMS)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

The key questions of the lesson are “What is the pattern of the sun’s tracks?” and “How do the sun’s tracks compare from season to season?” Students measure the angle of the sun at different times of the day using a protractor tool constructed from a provided pattern.  The tool allows students to measure the angle without looking directly at the sun.  They represent the angles measured on a line graph which is provided in the lesson materials.  Students also make comparisons of the angles of the sun at different times on different days throughout the year.  In the first part of the Extension section, the activity also asks students to compare the angle of the sun to the lengths of shadows created with a gnomon (or use a sundial).  A graph sheet is provided for the representation of shadow lengths.  The background information of this activity discusses Earth’s tilt in its orbit around the sun as a cause for the pattern of sun angle throughout the year.  It also links angle of the sun to directness of light and heat energy generated as a result.  These parts are more appropriate for middle school.  The 5th grade teacher can use this activity to emphasize the daily pattern of the sun’s angle as the cause of the daily change in length of shadows.  If data is collected over the course of the year, the yearly patterns observed can be discussed as well.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

5-ESS1-2 Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include the position and motion of Earth with respect to the sun and selected stars that are visible only in particular months.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include causes of seasons.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students represent sun angle data and shadow length data on graphs provided in the activity materials. The comparison of sun angle to length of shadows comes in the first part of the Extension section of the activity. The daily pattern of length of shadows is the phenomenon that is caused by the daily pattern in sun angle. Observation of this phenomenon would prompt the key questions of the activity.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students represent sun angle data and shadow length data on graphs provided in the activity materials. They compare the graphs, finding patterns in both. The materials do not provide a data table. Students use a pencil to mark their information directly on the graph and add yellow punch circles to it later as a visual representation of the sun’s position. The teacher could provide a method of collecting data in a data table prior to recording it on the graph if desired.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The activity links the sun’s movement to Earth’s rotation in the first part of the Discussion section. To connect sun angle data with shadow length data, the first part of the Extension section of this activity would need to be done. That provides the link in the cause and effect chain that explains the daily changes in length and direction of shadows.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The activity's Extension asks students to compare the graph of the daily sun’s angle to the graph of the daily length of shadows. The data represented by both graphs is collected on the same day at the same time so that students can look at a possible cause and effect relationship.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are asked in the Discussion section if the patterns of sun tracks would be the same the next day, a month later and at another time of the year. In the first part of the Extension section, students look at the patterns in the graphs representing the daily sun’s angle and the daily length of shadows and compare them to each other.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: If the first part of the Extension section of this activity is used, students represent data graphically, identify patterns and analyze the relationship of patterns of sun angle data and shadow length data to understand that Earth’s rotation causes the apparent motion of the sun in the sky which then causes the changes in daily length of shadows.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in authentic data collection at their home location around observations of the sun’s position in the sky and the changes in daily lengths of shadows. The discussion questions provide opportunities for students to express, clarify, interpret and justify their ideas. One suggestion to support students further would be to have groups share their findings with each other and compare their data before the class discussion. This is a single activity without the context of a unit, and as such, does not provide a method of identification of prior learning in the three dimensions or how to build upon that learning. The teacher will need to conduct formative assessment to determine student's ideas around the core idea elements. There are no supports for differentiation of instruction. The instructions for the sun angle graph asks students to use punched out circles to mark the hourly angles. This might be difficult for some students and is not necessary to see patterns. Stickers or yellow markers might be an alternate method to gluing small circles and be easier for students to do.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This activity has no method or provision for monitoring student progress. The teacher can use the student work and discussion to evaluate how students are progressing towards building understanding using the three dimensions. In addition, the teacher could add a written explanation component to the activity that includes a discussion of patterns, making each student’s thinking visible.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This activity or lesson does not have any technological interactivity components.