Sunlight and space travel

Supports National Curriculum, Key Stages 1D, 3F, 5E
Suitable for years 4, 5 and 6. The first sections might be suitable for year 3.

The time for whole session is about 1 hour 30mins. This can be varied by taking shorter paths through the material e.g. by omitting the section on eclipses for younger children or by omitting the sections on shadows for older children. Choices will depend on the particular needs of the school.

Outline of content
Aims to:

  • Establish what the children already know, using demos and class experiments and to build on this knowledge
  • Recognise using fun demonstrations that light can be blocked by objects and shadows are formed - then develop this to explain day and night
  • Explain with activities that the Sun appears to move across the sky each day and that the effect is caused because the Earth spins on its axis
  • Explain that sundials can be used to tell the time and describe the Solar Pyramid
  • Demonstrate that the Earth orbits the Sun
  • To use demonstrations and class activities to show that seasons are caused because the Earth is tipped on its axis
  • Use fun demonstrations to explain the phases of the Moon
  • Encourage the children to explain ‘bad science’ from films
  • Use class activities to show that the Moon and the Sun appear to be the same size because they are different distances away
  • Explain an eclipse of the Sun using activities and briefly explain an eclipse of the Moon

Points to note:

Please read the notes about safety and agree the assessment with the teacher before the session!

Cross references

  • The slides in the PowerPoint presentation (3.7 MB) are referenced in the table.
  • Apparatus details are linked to the relevant sections.
  • Safety notes are referenced in activities and are listed below the table.
  • Vocabulary: The presentation uses expressions included in the KS1 and 2 strategies.

Misconceptions to be corrected:

  • The Sun and the Moon are about the same size
  • The Sun moves round the Earth
  • The Sun appears to move across the sky and then back
  • In winter the Sun is further away from the Earth than in the summer
  • The Moon is a source of light
  • The Moon always shows the same side to the Sun
  • An eclipse of the Moon is the same as a new Moon

The session should be held in a room that is not brightly lit. Curtains or slat blinds could be shut but the activities have been planned so that blackout is NOT required as this is difficult to achieve in most primary schools and also might cause behaviour problems.