Teaching Shadows – Evidence of Earth’s Rotation and Revolution

Teaching shadows strategically provides evidence of Earth’s rotation and revolution. Try these fun activities with your class!

Teaching Shadows to Illustrate Earth's Rotation and Revolution Cover

Mr. Grow Uses Shadows to Teach About Earth’s Rotation and Revolution

Our favorite fifth grade teacher sat at the side table with his mentor and sighed. “I’m struggling to find great space science activities,” he said. “In our next science standard, kids find specific evidence of Earth’s revolution around the Sun.”

Tentatively, he read the NGSS 5-ESS1-2 aloud:

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.

“For example, how can my kids get data on the length and direction of shadows?” he asked.

Ms. Sneed’s eyes twinkled. “You’re in for a treat,” she said. “Just break out the sidewalk chalk.”

Mr. Grow chuckled. “What?”

“Yep, it’s a great way to build understanding of Earth’s rotation and revolution.”

Observing Shadows Over the Course of the Day – Earth’s Rotation

Mr. Grow looked baffled.

Now it was Ms. Sneed’s turn to laugh. She pulled out her laptop and turned it on. “Here,” she said. “You’ll love this set of shadow activities.”

As Mr. Grow looked over the materials, Ms. Sneed explained. “First, you’ll need some sidewalk chalk. You can actually just pick some up at the dollar store. Second, watch the weather forecast. Pick a day that’s sunny. From there, it’s easy. Simply take kids outdoors and have them draw one another’s shadows. Schedule it for every 60 or 90 minutes. To record their observations, kids can use these sheets.”

Mr. Grow grinned. “What fun! I can see from the picture that kids’ silhouettes rotate around their bodies throughout the day.”

“Yep. They also shrink and then begin to grow again. Afterwards, you’ll have lots to discuss about how Earth rotates, which makes the Sun appear to move across the sky.”

Kids draw their shadows with sidewalk chalk periodically during the day. As the day wears on, the drawings rotate and shrink - then grow again! This illustrates rotation of the Earth.
Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Observing Throughout the Year – Earth’s Revolution and Tilt

Ms. Sneed scrolled to the next part of the resource. “In addition to Earth’s rotation,” she said, “shadows can teach kids about its revolution. However, this is a longterm activity.

“In my opinion, observing the outline of a building works best. My classroom, for example, overlooks the courtyard. Therefore, kids can see areas of light and dark when they look out the window. Furthermore, we walk through the courtyard every week on our way to the art room. About once a month, I ask them to look at the shadow cast by the building.

“In August, the Sun is high, and sunlight streams into all areas of the courtyard. Every month, however, it creeps farther to the south. And every month, shadows get longer and longer. Until December, that is. When the season changes, it reverses.”

“I’m afraid my students might lose these papers over time,” Mr. Grow said.

“No worries. Not everything needs to be recorded on paper. In this case, discussing works just as well.”

To study revolution of the Earth, kids can study shadows of an object (building, flagpole) over the course of the year.

Mr. Grow sighed. “Now I understand what you mean about purposeful plug-ins,” he said. “As a beginning teacher, I never understood how many things need to be layered throughout the year. Sure, I get it that kids need review. But this…”

Ms. Sneed smiled gently. “Don’t worry. Eventually, it will all come together. In every season, teachable moments occur. Like looking at shadows.”

“Or pulling out the globe at the equinoxes and solstices, as well as climate zones,” Mr. Grow added.

His mentor teacher nodded. “When you watch for opportunities to connect science concepts, you will see them all around you. Then, carpe diem!”

Having Fun with Shadows

She flipped to the last part of the resource. “Finally,” she said, “it’s time for some fun. Using these pictures as models, kids can create their own shadow animals. Just turn on your projector and let them have at it.”

Try these shadows just for fun!

The two teachers laughed together, envisioning the organized chaos, envisioning the joy.

Enjoy Teaching Science

Let’s face it: Shadow activities like these help you enjoy teaching. When kids engage in hands-on activities, they have fun – and you do too.

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