Knowing North: Understanding the Relationship between Time and the Sun

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This activity shows how our experience of the Sun changes with time and location. The sun dagger at Chaco Canyon is thought by many to be a sort of ancient timekeeping device. By creating a place where the movement of the Sun could be tracked day after day, Chacoans could mark the passage of time and gain an idea of when seasons were changing. If the Chacoans could use a particular location and the Sun to tell them about time, can we use time and the Sun to tell us about our location? In this easy experiment, you'll see how the position of the Sun in the sky is related to where we are on the earth.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • a dial watch (the old-fashioned kind with hands that move)
  • a sunny day
  • a compass (optional: for the activity in the “Going Further” section)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
      • Seasons
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History

Informal Categories

  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • The Exploratorium


Funding Sources:

  • Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum
  • Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Jim Clark Endowment for Internet Education,
  • McBean Family Foundation