Patterns in the Sun’s Position: An Investigation For First Graders

Earth and Space Sciences Elementary Science First Grade Recognizing and Using Patterns

This morning my daughter and I investigated patterns in the sun’s position.  My daughter, B, is a first grader this year.

I have started to write some NGSS curriculum for first grade.  I really would like to see more time spent on science in lower elementary grades.  That means  teachers need easy to follow lessons that incorporate the new standards.

I wrote this investigation to be used in a first grade classroom, but B and I tried it out to make sure that it was first grade appropriate.  If you want the full lesson you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

This activity is aligned with 1-ESS1-1, The Universe and It’s Stars.

Patterns of the motion of the sun, moon, and stars  in the sky can be observed, described, and predicted.

To learn more about this standard, take a look at the evidence statement.


  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Art supplies

The art supplies were for creating a diagram at the end of the day.  I told B that a diagram is a fancy name for a science drawing.

The Investigation

B and I went outside 3 times today for about 5 minutes at a time.  Each time, I asked her to stand in exactly the same place and I traced her shadow.

We started in the morning at about 8:30 am  with the sun at her back.  She started making observations and asking questions right away.

“Look!  I am so tall! Why am I so tall?”

I told her roughly the same thing that I tell my middle school students.

“Let’s see if you know the answer later today!”

I made sure to trace around her feet so that she would know where to step later in the day.

There were rolling clouds all day long, so we had to adjust.  My game plan was to go outside every 2 hours to see how her shadow moved.  Unfortunately, the clouds had a different plan.  We returned at about 11:15 to record her next shadow and add a flower to the hair of her shadow person.

At this point she predicted that the next time we returned, her shadow would be on the other side.  We spent a minute talking about the position of the sun at this time of day.

“Its not in the same place!”

That is exactly what she is supposed to understand.  She doesn’t need to know that it rose in the East and will set in the west, only that it moves throughout the day.

Two shadows, one vertical and one at about a 45 degree angle.
Here is her shadow at 10:30 am from the same position. I had her stand back “in her feet” from before.

We came back at about 1:30 pm to do the third tracing.  She was a little upset that her prediction wasn’t correct.  But this time she did start to recognize a pattern.

The Discussion

“It seems like it is moving in the same direction!”

“Hmm.  That’s true,” I said.  “If we come out here later, what do you think will happen?”

“It will move that way,” she said standing in her footsteps and pointing further to her right.

“That makes sense,” I said.  “Why is your shadow moving?”

“Because the sun is moving!”  You could tell she had one of those AHA moments that we as teachers love to see.

“Does the sun always move?” I continued to ask leading questions.

“I think so,” She said.

“What other evidence do we have that the sun is moving?  What happens later in the day?”

“The sun goes down,” B said. “It makes the sky black.”

Patterns Repeat

If the ground is dry enough after tonight’s storm, we will go out and do the same thing at roughly the same time tomorrow.

If we do, she will see that her shadow is in roughly the same position at the same time of day.  She will see that the sun moves in a predictable pattern.

Analyzing the Data and Communicating Our Results

When we were done, I had her draw a picture of what happened throughout the day.

She had a little trouble fitting all of these shadows in her picture.  I encouraged her to redraw her horizon line higher on the page to give her more space on the ground.  This helped.

Picture of B's drawing. She drew three shadows on the floor turning. She included a sun with an arrow showing that it moved.
B’s picture of her shadow throughout the day. The blue shadow is the 8: 30 am shadow. The yellow shadow is the 11:30 am shadow. The green shadow is the 1:30 shadow. She used an arrow to show how the sun moved past her.
Drawing of cloud in the sky, green grass on the ground and a purple flower.
It was very important to B that she include the clouds and the little bits of grass that we in between the cracks in the sidewalk. The flower was added for artistic purposes.

Answer's to the questions I gave to B when she was done.

How it Aligns With NGSS

This activity avoids common mistakes that teachers make when aligning their curriculum to the NGSS standards.

I didn’t lecture or create the diagram for B.  I lead her on an investigation.

She learned the content with very little guidance from me.  Because she was asking the questions and finding her own answers, she is more likely retain this information.


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2 thoughts on “Patterns in the Sun’s Position: An Investigation For First Graders”

  1. In Texas, Science isn’t tested until 5th grade. SO, many lower elementary teachers teach science only a few times per week. Funny thing is that the students LOVE science!

    1. I know! And science is such a great way to teach math and ELA. My goal is to make it easier for elementary teachers to teach science in their classroom and have it align with math/ELA standards.

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