Students will use a thermometer to measure the air temperature in several places around the school and then return to the classroom to graph the data. In addition, students will grow 3 plants in different sunlight and record the growth.
What jobs can the sun do?
- White construction
Plant and Light Experiment
- 3 small tomato plants
about the same size
- 3 large Styrofoam cups
or clay pots
- Potting Soil
- Florescent light and
sunlight if available
- Plant Growth chart (pdf)
- Amazing Sun Fun Activities, by Michael Daley (Learning Triangle
Press); ISBN 0-07-015177-6
Background for Teachers
When a temperature is reported on the news it is an official reading
taken at a weather observing station. At these stations, thermometers are
shielded from sunshine inside specially constructed shelters that allow air
in but not direct sunlight. This is necessary if you want to measure the
temperature of air. If a thermometer sits out in the sun the thermometer
itself, the glass, and the liquid inside will absorb sunlight and heat up.
You wouldn’t be measuring the temperature of the air anymore but rather
the temperature of a heated thermometer. On a sunny day that could be
about 30 degrees higher than the actual air temperature. So the next time
you hear a temperature of 80 degrees and your backyard thermometer
reads 110 you’ll know the reason for the difference.
Students should receive instruction on reading and using
thermometers as part of a math lesson before doing this activity.
The plant experiment shows differences in plant growth with
differences in light. Plant size and the amount of water are variables that
should be kept the same in this experiment. The two most important
climatic factors for ecosystems are sunlight and water. Light from the sun
gives plants the energy they need to grow.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1: Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
3: Understand Science Concepts and Principles
Invitation to Learn
What jobs can the sun do?
What jobs does the sun do? Discuss this question with students.
Divide class into groups of two or three and assign each group to make
and illustrate a page for a class book of the sun's jobs. Following is an
example of how pages may look.
Discuss: On a hot sunny day, we often go into the shade to get
cool. Is the air really cooler in the shade? How could we find
- Using the Sun or Shade? handout, and working with a
partner, go outside with your class and take measurements of
the air temperature around the school in five different locations.
Hang the thermometer in a sunny spot for five minutes. Record
the temperature. Hang the thermometer in a shady spot for five
minutes. Record the temperature. Try four other shady or sunny
- Compare the temperature in different locations. Why is there a
difference in temperature? Is the air really warmer in the sun?
Why does it feel like it is warmer in the sun? Is the sun's energy
hitting your skin?
- Complete a bar graph showing the temperatures you have
recorded using the Temperatures in the Sun
and Shade chart or computer graphing software.
- Write a paragraph in your science journal explaining what you
Plant and Light Experiment
- Plant three similar tomato plants in containers. (If you use
Styrofoam cups, poke small holes in the bottom for water
- Number the plant containers 1, 2, and 3. Allow each plant to
have the following amounts of sunlight per day: #1--no light,
#2--six hours, #3--continuous light.
- Measure and record the growth of each plant for ten days. Give
the plants equal amounts of water regularly. (Keep the soil
moist but not saturated.) Use the Plant Growth chart
- Write a paragraph in your science journal summarizing what
happened and why you think it happened.
Follow-up discussion questions: Which tomato plant grew the most?
(The one receiving continuous light.) Which plant grew least?
(The one receiving no light.) How does sunlight affect plant
growth? Are there ways that a location on earth would receive
less sunlight? (Volcanoes could blow dust high into the
atmosphere, decreasing sunlight reaching the ground.) How
would less sunlight affect an ecosystem? (Some plants may grow
less if they need a lot of sunlight, some may grow more if they
are shade tolerant; flowering patterns of plants may change;
cooler air temperatures.)
- Question: Is a paper cup of water cooler when it is not left in
sunlight? Place a thermometer in each paper cup filled with
water. Put one cup in direct sunlight and the other in the shade.
Record the temperatures, at the beginning and each hour for three
hours. Tell students to feel the water in each cup. What
happened? Is water hotter in the sun than in the shade?
- Two thermometers
- Two cups filled with
- Art—Sun Pictures
Students observe that energy from heat and light can cause
- Cut out several shapes (squares, triangles, free form, etc.)
from lightweight cardboard.
- Secure the shapes to an 8 x 10 piece of construction paper
with double faced tape. (The shapes will be removed later.
The tape should keep the shapes from slipping during the
- Tape the construction paper to a window where the sun will
shine on it.
- After a week, take down the construction paper and remove
Discuss: What happened? What caused the change?
Question: Do plants grow toward the sun? Cut the top off of the
box, turn it upside down, and cut a two inch square in one side of
the box. Place the plants near a sunny window and put the box
over the top of one plant. Adjust the box so that sunlight enters
through the small hole. Do not uncover the boxed plant except to
water it for about two weeks. Compare the growth of the two
- Two small plants
- Cardboard box to cover
- Masking tape
- Sunny indoor place
- Study pet needs in different weather conditions. Why does your
dog need shade in the summer? What kind of shelter is best for
- Assign students to survey parent’s feelings about, and use of,
sunscreen in their families. As a group, discuss the value of
sunscreen, problems with sunburn, etc.
- Survey students and assign them to survey their parents about UV
sensitive T-shirt designs, thread, or nail polish. Share with the
- Assign students to check temperatures of different rooms in their
homes. Are rooms with larger windows and more sunlight
warmer? Do students have sun blocking materials added to their
windows? Have students noticed furniture or drapes that have
faded in the sun? Share finding with the class.
- Check student’s temperature charts, graphs and science journals
after completing the sunny and shady temperature project.
- Check student’s charts and science journals after completing the
tomato plant activity.