As our chance to be in charge of our children's academic educations continues, so does this series of weather blogs designed by an old fire horse of a retired science teacher who heard the alarm and got antsy. Although the blog has to be one size fits all, the hope is that parents can take the ideas and run with them, tailoring them to fit your particular child and situation as you go. But mostly, have fun with it, learn a lot, and feel free to share what you do and what you find out on the Teton Valley Weather Facebook page.
As spring goes on with summer not far behind, there is a wonderful teaching moment going on in the sky each morning at sunrise and each evening at sunset. You can use both or either one of those moments, depending on your situation. The goal is to keep track of exactly where on the horizon the sun rises (or sets if you prefer) each day. You can use peaks of mountains, houses, or if your student wants to be more precise, degrees on a compass to do this. Be careful, though, never to look directly at the sun just like during the eclipse. But when you see that first ray peek out over the horizon (or last ray at sunset) that’s the spot to mark.
How you mark it is up to you and your student. You might mark a photograph with a sharpie, or make a drawing with pencil or paint to mark the spot with the date. If you’re using a compass you might just want to write down the heading in degrees each day of the sunrise or the sunset.
You can try doing this every day if you wish, but sometimes the clouds won’t cooperate; don’t worry if you miss a day or two. You will see more dramatic differences in the sunrise or sunset spots if you mark it every few days anyway, but try to be as consistent as possible so that you not only have a record of which way sunrise (or set) is moving but whether the spot is changing faster or slower. After several weeks, begin to look for trends and changes in the pattern. Does the spot keep moving in the same direction all year, or does it change direction at some point? What is that point? When do you predict it will change again?
The questions raised by this little long-term project will lead to inevitable learning about the path of the Earth around the Sun, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and the reason we have seasons. Let your student develop his or her research skills to find the answer to the question, “Why does the sun do that?” Words like solstice and equinox will take on whole new meanings when they learn how to see them happening with their own eyes from their own back yards. Educators call this making learning relevant, but you can just call it a fun and exciting exploration of the world around us. Enjoy.