Sunrise / Sunset

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The earth’s 23.5 degree axial tilt gives us our seasons.

In the summer of 1992, I was a Klingenstein fellow and got to spend three weeks at Columbia University learning and sharing about teaching, and, when we were divided into content groups, learning and sharing about math.  I have probably accessed everything I experienced during that institute mostly subconsciously over the past 25 years since those weeks are but another layer in the teacher lasagna that I have become.  But, there is one lesson the math content group wrote cooperatively that I have used, refined, used, refined, and used again many times.  The task was to employ the Almanac to create an assignment that could lead into a project, ideally an interdisciplinary project that involved some writing.  This was pre-Internet!

As we leafed through the thick tome, I immediately started investigating the sunrise / sunset tables.  Not all locales were available, just the big cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Seattle, etc.  I proposed to our six-person group that we should do something which involved these tables and everyone ran with it.  It was a huge success and I used it with my algebra two and precalculus students for years after that.  At the time, we thought we were the first ones to think of such an activity, but over the years I have met teachers who do a similar project with everything from rainfall to the lighting of the weekly Friday night Sabbath candles.

Many of my students had never handled an Almanac before and so it was a great introduction to that resource.  Many students were completely unaware (especially in the southern part of the United States where there is more parity in daylight / darkness year-round) that some places have more or less daylight than their home town.  I still get the question, “But how do they really know when the sun will come up on XX day?”  And of course, many students hadn’t ever thought of a periodic function before because until then so much of their study focused on linear, quadratic, exponential and rational functions.

I am lucky enough to spend my summer in New Hampshire where there is abundant daylight and my winter in Mississippi where there is not as much darkness as there is during the New England December.  This change of place makes me acutely aware of solstices and equinoxes; maybe it’s why I was drawn to those Almanac tables so many years ago.  Whenever I write about these special calendar days, I always promise to post my version of the daylight project.  I finally had time to write it up a few days ago!  (I wanted to include thorough teacher notes which took time to hone, and I had switched computers and not all of my files made the leap.)

So, you can click here for the free Sunrise / Sunset project!  Enjoy!  If you would like an editable version of the project, you can email me at, and I will send you the word doc, through sometimes I find they travel weirdly through gmail.

In addition, here are some helpful hot links in preparation for the project:

For data on sunrise / sunset and lots of other cool stuff:  US Naval Observatory

For a video your can show your students on axial tilt and the seasons:  Bill Nye

For the Fiddler on the Roof classic:  Sunrise Sunset

And now, back to enjoying all of the daylight!

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June 24th, 8:50 pm