Earth and Space

Learning about the Sun

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

The children first make observations and then build on these, moving on to think about why these things happen. This is about developing a working model, sometimes known as an explanatory story.

What to Prepare

  • stickers to put on the classroom window

Safety note: Warn the children not to look directly at the Sun because it is so very bright that it will cause damage to their eyes.

What Happens During this Activity

Observing the path of the Sun is most easily done by putting a sticker on the classroom windows to show where the Sun is shining in. This is then repeated at regular intervals throughout the day. The children will see that the Sun appears to move around the sky in the course of a (sunny!) day.

Another way of doing this is to trace the shadow of the netball post on the playground with chalk at hourly intervals throughout the day. If the shadow is carefully, traced, both the direction and length of the shadow will change during the day.

The children could then use a torch and pencil standing upright in a piece of blu-tac to try to model the situation and explain why the shadow changes in the way it does.

Collecting children's questions

We think it's a really good idea to let your children first think what they want to know about the Earth, Sun and Moon. Put out three large pieces of a paper and write either Sun, Earth or Moon on the top of each of them.

Give them time to think about this, perhaps overnight, and then ask the children write any questions they'd like to figure out the answers to on the relevant sheet. Do ask them to put their initials next to their questions – this is a very interesting way of uncovering their existing understanding.

Example of an amazing question from a primary-age child who wrote on the Sun sheet:

Mary: How comes the Sun burns in space if there is no oxygen?

You do not need to worry that you don't know all the answers because you can then can model the pleasure of figuring things out together. However, this one is discussed in the physics narrative!

As the topic continues, the children can tick off the questions as they are answered. Those that remain unanswered at the end can be researched by the children themselves in their own time or left as intriguing questions for the future.

A series of big questions are ideal to really get the children thinking about the Sun. Using the steps of think, pair, share will give them time for deep thinking and also to learn from each other.

Teacher: What shape is the Sun?

Possible answers might be:

  • A yellow circle
  • A big yellow ball

Encourage the children to make links between the Sun looking like a flat disc and the fact that it is a sphere. It may help to look at a big plain yellow beach ball that someone holds up on the other side of the playground. It is a sphere but it looks like a disc in the distance.

Teacher: It is not safe to stare at the Sun in the sky. Why do you think this is?

It is likely that the children will know not to stare at the Sun but this asks them to consider why it is not a good idea. It is important to keep the emphasis on the why?

The Sun's light is so intense that it can damage our eyes. Show them a close-up picture of the Sun (these are freely available on the internet) and ask them to say what they see. They will be able to see how explosive it is and begin to understand that it is a very, very violent place.

is a type of Satellite
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