Earth and Space

The Sun's path

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

You can use this activity to check pupils' existing knowledge of the daily path of the Sun and present the correct information.

What to Prepare

  • paper and pencil

What Happens During this Activity

This does not need to be a long activity but it is very important that the pupils do know for later work that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Secondly, it is important that pupils know that there is a difference in the height of the midday Sun between mid-summer and mid-winter. This information helps with the explanation of the cause of the seasons. The questions might be completed for homework but are probably better discussed openly in class.

Start by establishing with the class:

  • The direction in which north lies.
  • The direction of west.
  • The direction of east.

Now ask the class to write down on a piece of paper which direction the Sun lies in:

  1. When it rises
  2. When it sets
  3. At the middle of the day
  4. How the path of the Sun changes from winter to summer
  5. Which moves, the Earth or the Sun?

Make sure the responses are anonymous. Collect them in, jumble them up in a hat and hand them out at random.

Now ask the class how many have west or east or north for Q1, Q2, and Q3. Encourage anybody who strongly believes that the Sun rises in the west to explain why. Make sure that the class ends up with the correct answers: east, west (but maybe not due east or due west – it does depend on the latitude and time of year!) and south.

For Question 4, ask pupils what is the evidence that the Sun is at its highest point in the middle of the day (length of shadows).

For Question 5 simply ask how they know. See what answers are provided but do not comment at this point in time.

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