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Teaching Time by Making Sundials

By Kathy Foust

These outdoor math activities were created to help teachers to get their students up and moving in the fresh air. Use these activities to reinforce math skills while encouraging physical activity!

Timely Walk

An important part of math is teaching students how to use it in their everyday lives. That can be pretty difficult if they are stuck at a desk all day long. Why not get up and out and experiencing math in the world? Use these outdoor math activities to help your students to enjoy math outside the classroom.

Telling Time

Won't your students be surprised when you tell them that the class needs to go outside and see what time it is! That's right, it's time to make sundials! Actually, the making of the sundial can be done inside, but would be just as much fun outside and may even give your students ideas of how to decorate theirs so that it includes some natural colors. For the class to each make their own sundial, you will need straws, paper plates, tape, paint and paint brushes. To make longer lasting sundials that can actually be kept outside, use handmade clay disks that harden upon drying and can be painted and sealed along with wooden doll rods.

  1. Help students to put a hole in the center of the disk being used.
  2. Insert the straw or rod. Please note if you are using a straw you will need to split the end of the straw so that you can tape it on the bottom to hold it up. If you are using the rod and clay method, simply insert the rod while the clay is not hardened.
  3. Once the clay dries, use the paints to paint the sundial. If using the paper plate method, it can be painted immediately.
  4. Once the paint is dry, take students outside at noon and have them mark the noon line with magic markers. Do this for various hours of the day over a week or so until the hours are marked.

The Walk

As you take your students outside to work on their sundials, use the view to brush up on other math concepts. Do this by asking students to look around and spy certain shapes or patterns. You can also ask students to come up with different math problems to describe items that they see. For instance, are there 3 swings or 6/2 swings?