Lesson 1: Building and a sundial


This activity requires approximately two 30-minute classes

  • 1 class to build the sundials
  • 1 class to test sundials outdoors and to recap how sundials are/were used and what other kinds of information we can find from sundials


Compare tools, techniques, and scientific ideas used by different people around the world to interpret natural phenomena and meet their needs (e.g., compare how different cultures over time, such as the Celts, the Aztecs, and the Egyptians, traced the positions of stars to determine the appropriate time to plant and harvest crops)
Demonstrate how Earth's rotation causes the day and night cycle and how Earth's revolution causes the yearly cycle of seasons

General Objectives

Through this activity, students will become more familiar with the history of sundials and how to use sundials to determine the time of day and geographic orientation. Students should also begin to understand the different positions of the sun in the sky corresponding to the different seasons.

Curricular Connections

  • Art: Tracing, cutting and pasting

Lesson Overview

The main component of this activity involves having students construct and use sundials to determine the time of day and to gain a better understanding of the Earth-Sun relationship.

Materials and Resources

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  • Sundial template (PDF format, 193 KB)
  • cardboard (supplied by students)
  • glue or tape
  • compass
  • sunny day


  • gnomon
  • axis of rotation
  • north celestial pole

Developing the Lesson

  1. Instruct students to bring in pieces of cardboard (cereal boxes work great)
  2. Mount a pre-constructed sundial on the blackboard
  3. Begin a brief discussion as to the history of sundials; have students start to think about how the sundials are used
  4. Distribute templates and have students trace out the hour indicator lines on their cardboard so they are clearly visible
  5. Demonstrate how students will construct the sundials
  6. Dismiss students to construct the sundials
  7. After students have completed their sundials, reassemble the class for a brief discussion as to how sundials work
  8. With the aid of a large flashlight, demonstrate how the sundial mounted on the blackboard works
  9. Talk about proper alignment (gnomon points north)
  10. Walk students outdoors to test out their sundials
  11. Have students align their sundials and report a time of day
  12. Discuss the location of the Sun in the sky (is it high or low)
  13. Return to the classroom


Teacher reassembles the class and discusses how students' sundials worked. Were they effective in telling the time?


This activity in intended to grab students attention and as a result does not necessarily need to be graded.