The Sun and Directions--Second Grade


Program Goal

To develop, from observations of the sky and the sun, the basic concepts which allow for the understanding of the four directions: north, south, east, and west.

PA Standards

Orientation Objectives

The majority of the class will be able to recognize by verbal response the following information which is underlined:

[Young Earths]
Young Earths learn the motions and geometry for day and night and the sun and directions. Left: Day and night are caused by the Earth's rotation. Right: The sun is setting to the right as Earth rotates counterclockwise. Digital photography by Michael Stump...



      • Materials: a globe which will be used to locate where students live, and a light source for the sun.

      • The instructor will show students where they live on the Earth.

      • Students are asked how they would use the light source to make it daytime on their part of the Earth. The expected action would be to have the pupils shine the light over the region of Earth where they live.

      • The class will then be asked to demonstrate how it would be possible to make it nighttime on the same portion of the planet which is currently experiencing day. There are numerous responses which can be given by pupils:

        • They turn off the light.

        • They close their eyes.

        • They place their bodies between the Earth and the sun.

        • They move the sun to a position near the South Pole or place the sun underneath the table which is supporting the Earth.

        • They revolve the sun to the other side of the Earth.

        • They will take a cloth or piece of paper and cover the Earth.

        • They rotate (spin) the Earth, so that the portion of the planet which is in day, spins into a nighttime position. This is the correct response.

    [Day and Night Revealed]
    Second graders never have any difficulties demonstrating daytime (A), but ask these same children to show what makes nighttime occur, and imaginations run ramped. In photo “B” a child revolves the sun around a stationary Earth to make it night, a literal translation of what we see each day. In the third photo (C), another student shadows the Earth by placing himself between the Earth and the sun. Children can be incredibly inventive. Digital photography by Michael Stump...

  2. WHAT CAUSES DAY AND NIGHT? Alternate approach:

    • Materials: a rotating chair and a light source to represent the sun.

    • THE TEACHER SITS ON A ROTATING STOOL OR CHAIR and asks the children, sitting on the floor, where they are located. The answer which is sought is "in front of you" however, this response is rarely given. When the teacher notes that he/she is sitting in front of his/her pupils, the students will readily accept this as a correct response.

    • THE TEACHER THEN ROTATES THE CHAIR until her/his back is towards the children and repeats the same question, "Where are you?" The children’s' response is always, "In back of you." This situation is repeated several times.

    • THE TEACHER MAKES A BIG DEAL ABOUT THE FACT THAT IT IS THE STUDENTS WHO HAVE BEEN MOVING WHILE THE TEACHER HAS BEEN STATIONARY. The students insist that the teacher has been spinning while the teacher insists that it has been he/she that has been rotating. The cunundrum is resolved through a vote in which the students win.

    • THE TEACHER THEN BECOMES THE EARTH AND USES THE SPINNING CHAIR ANALOGY TO HAVE THE STUDENT'S DESCRIBE DAY AND NIGHT. The student's eyes become the city in which the student lives and the nose becomes a flagpole or a familiar landmark that the students recognize. The sun (light bulb) is placed in back of the pupils. During the day the sun is in front of the students. At night the sun is in back of them because the Earth spins or rotates the person into that position.

  3. THE CAUSE OF DAY AND NIGHT IS DUE TO THE EARTH'S ROTATION (SPINNING). The rotating Earth makes the sun rise, set, and move across the sky.

    • Materials: light bulb sun, large cardboard arrows to act as counterclockwise direction indicators.

    • Demonstrations of day and night: Two approaches:

      • Approach one is passive: A rotating globe illuminated by a stationary light source can be used to demonstrate day and night. The globe should have a marking on it so that the children can readily identify their location on the planet. The globe should always be rotated in a counterclockwise direction. "Round and round, the Earth does go. Where it stops, nobody knows." When the Earth does stop, students tell the teacher whether the Earth has stopped in a day or night position. This is also an appropriate opportunity to introduce the concepts of morning and evening.

      • Approach two is active:

        • STUDENTS' HEADS WILL BECOME THE EARTH. Their eyes will become their city looking into space. Their noses will become a prominent building, landmark, or a flagpole. A light bulb or an overhead projector will serve as the sun.

        • DAY AND NIGHT CAN BE MADE INTO A GAME in which pupils rotate their bodies (like the Earth) to make it day and night. Before beginning the demonstrations, students should practice rotating counterclockwise or towards the left. Cardboard arrows can be placed on each of the classroom walls to designate the direction of Earth’s rotation. During this demonstration, students will often begin to jump into the positions which will facilitate a day or night condition. Teachers should stress that the Earth rotates smoothly and slowly, and that it always turns in the same direction. Students should spin their bodies in the direction of the arrows to create this consistency of motion.

    [Earth rotates counterclockwise]
    Young Earths practice rotating in a counterclockwise direction, an essential aspect of understanding directions. Digital photography by Michael Stump...

  4. THE SUN APPEARS TO BE MOVING ACROSS THE SKY BECAUSE THE EARTH IS ROTATING. An excellent method of demonstrating this concept is to have students spin very rapidly. Pupils should be prompted to try to imagine that the room is spinning while they are rotating. When directed to stop, students will realize upon further questioning that it was not the room which was moving, but their rotating bodies which made it appear as if the room was spinning. Although the sun appears to move in the sky as it travels from its rising to its setting position, it is really the spinning Earth which is causing this illusion.

    [The Earth's rotation make the sun look like it's moving.]
    Young Earths rotate very rapidly, using their imaginations to make the room look likes it is spinning, in hopes of learning that the sun's motion across the sky results from the Earth's rotation and not any motion of the sun. Digital photography by Michael Stump...

  5. THE SUN RISES IN THE EAST AND IT SETS IN THE WEST. AROUND LUNCHTIME THE SUN IS IN THE SOUTH. The locations of sunrise and sunset are consistent enough so that they can be used to define directions.

    • The instructor asks the students to stop rotating when it is day.

    • STUDENTS CAN POINT TO THE RISING OR SETTING SUN WITH THEIR NEAREST ARM. The same arm is always used to point to the sun at sunrise and sunset. If the direction of rotation is counterclockwise, students will always point to the setting sun with their right arm and the rising sun with their left arm. The sun rises in the same direction. The sun sets in the same direction. These locations do not represent the same position on the horizon.

    • EVENING: After students comprehend the concepts of day and night, students will then rotate counterclockwise until the sun is barely visible from the corner of their right eye. Students point to the sun with their closest arm. The sun is going down to the right. It is now evening. The students continue to rotate until it is nighttime.

    • MORNING: The same procedure is then repeated for morning; only this time the students note when they first glimpse the sun after it was dark. Students point to the sun with their closest arm. This time the sun is rising to the left. The rotating game can now be expanded to include day, night, morning, and evening.

    • CONSISTENCY OF SUNRISE AND SUNSET POSITIONS: The sun always rises close to the same place in the morning and sets near the same place in the evening. These positions are called east and west respectively and represent two of the four directions.


    • SOUTH AND NORTH: At noon the sun is in the south. Shadows point to the north.

    • NOON: The students will then place the sun in the middle of their "sky" between the rising and setting positions of the sun. At this point it is noon (lunchtime), halfway between morning and evening. Around lunchtime, the sun is in the south. The day and night game can be expanded using morning (east), noon (south), evening (west), and night.

    • NEWS is a great acronym for having students remember the four directions: north, east, west, and south.

    [Sunset is to the right]
    Young Earths rotate counterclockwise so that sunset occurs to the right. This direction is then specified as west. Digital photography by Michael Stump...

    [Sunrise is to the left]
    Young Earths rotate counterclockwise so that sunrise occurs to the left. This direction is then specified as east. Digital photography by Michael Stump...

The Planetarium Program

  1. The concepts concerning day and night and evening and morning, where the students become the Earth, and a light bulb substitutes for the sun, will be reinforced. Pupils will also be asked to rotate very rapidly using their imaginations to make the room look like it is spinning. It is not the sun that is moving across the sky, but the rotation of the Earth which makes it look as if the sun is moving.
    (10 min.)

  2. Students will then be seated in the chamber and given a simulation of day and night. The earth will rotate so that the sun moves from its noontime position and returns to its noontime position. Students will be asked to determine when the Earth begins to rotate by clapping.

    • Students will then be required to predict the location of sunset and sunrise by indicating these positions with a pointer. These locations will be marked in the Planetarium and their observations tested by allowing the sun to set and rise again.

    • Several trials may be needed to determine the exact locations, but it will become abundantly clear that sunrise and sunset occur in approximately the same positions (directions). These places are called east and west respectively.

    • As part of the sunrise and sunset demonstrations, students will collectively determine the location in the sky where the sun reaches its highest position. This may also require several trials. This position occurs in the south at noon.

    • When west, east, and south have been determined a student will be asked to hypothesize where the direction north would be located.
      (sections a. through d.--15 min.)

    • The planetarium will then be darkened so that students can identify the location of the star pattern of the Big Dipper. The pointer stars of the Dipper will then be used to determine the position of the North Star, also called Polaris.
      (5 min.)

    • Students will then be asked to look at a slide showing a 10 minute exposure of the north circumpolar region. A volunteer will find the only star in the photograph which is not moving. The same student will then be asked to find the only stationary star in the Planetarium while the Earth is make to rotate. Students will identify this star as the North Star or Polaris. Directly below the North Star can be found the direction north. This position will then be compared to the hypothesized position of north made by the student a few minutes before.

    • Polaris is not the brightest star of the nighttime sky. Students will be asked to name the brightest star in the sky (sun) and to observe that Polaris does not even come close to becoming the brightest star of the night. The North Star is the 49th brightest star in the sky if the sun is included.

    • The program will conclude with a method of locating the four cardinal points by moving clockwise once the direction north is determined.

      • North never Eats Soggy Waffles...

      • North never Eats Shredded Wheat...

      • North never Eats Soggy Watermelons...

      • North never Eats Squished Worms...

      • WE: If you are looking north, then the direction west is to your left and east is to your right. This spells the word "we." South is then opposite to north.