Did you know that the Romans used the position of the sun and the length of shadows to estimate the time of day?

This fun investigation is a good way for children to learn about Romans, light, shadows and the movement of the earth in relation to the sun. It is ideal for KS2 but could also be adapted for KS1.

Creating a hypothesis to test

Children can first create their own hypothesis by making a prediction in how they think the length of their shadows will change throughout the day.

light and shadows

Measuring shadows

This investigation is really easy to set up. All that you need is a sunny day, an outdoor area and some tape measures. Children will need to measure each others shadows at different times of the day and record their results. They will need to consider how they can ensure that their test is fair.

The results of the investigation can then be plotted onto a clock face to give a graphical representation of the length of the shadows at different times of the day.

Measuring shadows worksheet – download now

The downloadable worksheet above also allows children to record and explain their results by answering the following questions.

  • What time of day is the sun highest in the sky?
  • What time of day are shadows the longest?
  • What causes a shadow?
  • What else could affect the lengths of the shadows?

The worksheet also contains the following diagrams that can be used to explain why the lengths of the shadows change at different times of the day.

measuring shadows

Common misconceptions

  • Children can sometimes be confused about shadows thinking that a shadow is a reflection from the sun
  • It is often though that the sun is moving across the sky rather than the earth rotating.

Extension Ideas

  • Can children explain the apparent position of the sun at different times of the day using the relative position of the earth and sun.
  • Children can make their own DIY sundials using paper plates to explore how Roman’s developed a more accurate way of telling the time long before clocks were invented.
  • How does time different parts of the world. Children can look up the time in different time zones and relate them to their positions on a map or globe. Can they explain why time is different in different parts of the world?


Learning Outcomes

National Curriculum 2014 – Maths

Year 1 – Measurement – pupils should be taught to measure and begin to report lengths and heights

Year 3 – Statistics – pupils should be taught to interpret and present data using bar charts, pictograms and tables.

National Curriculum 2014 – Science

Years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – working scientifically

Year 3 light – pupils should be taught to:

  • recognise that shadows are formed when the light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object
  • Find patterns in the way that the size of shadows change

Year 6 – light – pupils should be taught to:

  • recognise that light appears to travel in straight lines
  • use the idea that light travels in straight lines to explain why shadows have the same shape as the objects that cast them

Year 5 & 6 – Earth and space –  pupils should be taught to:

  • describe the movement of the Earth and other planets relative to the sun in the solar system.
  • Use the idea of the Earth’s rotation to explain day and night and the apparent movement of the sun across the sky.

What fun science activities have you been doing this term? for more ideas visit our science page or follow us on Pinterest

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