Seasons and Shadows: Investigate How Shadows Shift Throughout the Year

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In this activity you'll see how the sun's tilt on its axis changes the length of shadows. For example, why is your shadow longer in winter than in summer? It's easy to see the answer if you have a "sun" and an orbiting "earth" to demonstrate. Like many other ancient people, the ancient Chacoans used the annual changes in shadows to measure the passage of time and the change in seasons. You can too!

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • a dark room
  • basketball
  • 6–8 small paperclips (size = #1)
  • a large empty jar or coffee can (no lid)
  • masking tape
  • register tape
  • 100-watt bulb (clear, unfrosted) with a stand
  • pen or pencil
  • protractor


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth's History
      • Archeology
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
      • Days
      • Seasons
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color


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


  • Shore, Linda


Funding Sources:

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