Sunday, November 13, 2011

Solstice Lesson Planning

In a little over a month we will officially begin Winter, though it feels like we've been fully engulfed in it already here in Anchorage, Alaska. Solstices and Equinoxes are important markers this far north, where we notice the drastic differences from the midnight sun of June to the long dark & cold days in December. The winter solstice is our hub of reference and the peak at which we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You don't have to be at an extreme latitude to notice the differences and compare them to other parts of the world.

A local author, Debbie Miller and illustrator, Jon Van Zyle teamed up to create the fantastic book Arctic Nights, Arctic Lights. Each page illustrates the average day for each month, a short description about what a typical day in interior Alaska looks like, the average temp and the sunrise and sunset times. The border on each page is cleaverly a chart of the amount of daylight and darkness for each day. There is also a brief informational introduction about Alaska and the characteristics of life at this latitude and a great glossary of terms specific to this locale.

This book & topic provide so much fodder for all kinds of learning opportunities and integrated cross-curricular lessons. Math, science and social studies completely intertwined! No matter what level you teach there exist so many ways to extend from this simple & beautiful picture book.

Math -
  • Figure out the length of the day using the sunrise and sunset times from the book. 
  • Chart the daylight and darkness. You can do this together as a class, in groups or as individuals depending on your child, or classes developmental stage. I found my 6th grade students had some rather ingenious algorithms for correctly calculating the daylight and darkness. 
  • Compare the daylight & darkness charts or overlapping them is a power visual.
  • Then choose your locale (if you are in interior Alaska find the information for somewhere else in the world, perhaps closer to the Equator) and get your local sunrise/sunset info using the weather section of your local newspaper or the internet. Create the same kind of graph of the daylight and darkness in your neck of the woods.
  • Compare graphs.
  • Another extension for this lesson is to do this as an ongoing project - once a week get the local sunrise/sunset times for your local paper. Add a new bar or plot to your graph every week over the course of the school year
  • Have the students/class create a book using Arctic Nights, Arctic Lights as a template and tailoring it to your place.
  • I loved doing projects like this with older kids and then having them share/apply their knowledge by reading their books to a younger audience, for instance reading buddies.
  • Through comparison look at interior Alaska as an ecosystem and analyze how the drastic changes in daylight and darkness effect the biology of the organisms that live there. Compare that to a different latitude and how more balanced daylight might affect the ecology there.
Social Studies:
  • Again through comparison look at how the daylight & darkness effect the traditions, daily rituals & life patterns of people at northern latitudes vs your own latitude or one completely different.