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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Summer Solstice Shadow Watch

Every June, the summer solstice marks the first day of the season, as well as the longest day of the year.

Some say there are no shadows on this day, based on the way the Earth is tilted toward the sun. Let’s test that theory with a fun STEM activity, and see what observations and conclusions you can draw!


Materials Needed:

  • Paper
  • Pencil, marker or sidewalk chalk
  • Toy figure or small object


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Find a toy figure or small object and place it on a piece of paper, either outside or in a window.

    If needed, you can tape your object to a piece of paper to keep it from moving during the day.
  2. Using a pencil or marker, make a mark where the top of the shadow lands on the paper. Then, label the mark with the time of day.

    If your object is outside, you could use sidewalk chalk instead.
  3. Throughout the day, check your object’s shadow and mark where it lands. Be sure to label the time on each mark.
  4. At the end of the day, consider if and how your object’s shadow changed … or maybe didn’t!
  5. Share your observations of the sun on the summer solstice with family or friends.
  6. As a bonus, you might consider saving your object and piece of paper for the winter solstice, so you can see how the shadows might be similar or different.


What Are We Discovering?

The summer solstice occurs when the Earth’s tilt toward the sun is at its maximum. It is the longest day and the shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. As the sun is at its highest in the sky, you’ll notice that the shadows of objects around you, like your toy figure, are the shortest they will be all year. Look down and you’ll see this is true for your own shadow, too!

Many inventors have used the sun to make discoveries. National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Mária Telkes invented solar thermal storage systems that can store energy from the sun and put it to practical uses, like in solar ovens. Inductees Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin and Gerald Pearson co-invented the silicon solar cell, which has powered everything from the space program to the internet!

The sun’s energy is incredibly powerful, and these outstanding inventors have discovered valuable new ways for humans to benefit from it.


Keep the Fun and Learning Going!

To find more fun, at-home STEM ideas and activities like this one, visit our blog.

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