1. Using models to explore night and day

Pupils have their own ideas about the difference between night and day based on their experiences. These ideas do not always agree with the scientific understanding. For example, in everyday life, we talk about the sun rising or setting, which implies that it is the sun that moves and not the Earth. However, by using a simple model, it is possible to challenge and extend pupils’ ideas and help them answer the question: ‘Why do we have night and day?’

Activity 1 provides a simple way of modelling night and day and Case Study 1 explores further ideas. You might like to try the activity with your colleagues first, before trying it with pupils. This will test your understanding and help you decide the best way to use the model in your classroom.

Case Study 1: Modelling night and day

Mrs Abdul, who works with Grade 6 pupils in a small rural school in North Sudan, was exploring her pupils’ ideas about night and day. For homework, she asked them to note down the answers they got when they asked friends, carers and other community members the following questions:

  • Why does it get dark?
  • How does night and day happen?
  • How could you show this to others?

The next day, pupils reported back what they had found out.

Mrs Abdul showed them her way of modelling day and night. She used a candle as the sun and asked several pupils, in turn, to come up and be the Earth and turn round slowly. As they turned, she asked them when they could see the candle. Next, as they turned a second time, she asked them which was day and night and when was it dawn and sunset.

They talked about their ways of showing night and day and compared these with Mrs Abdul’s day and night model and discussed how much their ideas matched.

Mrs Abdul was surprised at the number of questions the pupils asked about night and day, but also how the model helped them to understand what was happening.

Activity 1: Night and day

Working with the whole class, ask them to tell you what they know about how night and day happens. Accept and record each different idea and alongside each suggestion put the name of the person who suggested it. Once all the ideas are listed, ask the rest of the class to show, by raising their hands, which idea they support and put the number by the side.

Using Resource 1: Modelling night and day to help you, model day and night for the class.

Ask pupils to talk with their neighbour about how they would now explain night and day, and record their ideas.

To assess their understanding, use Resource 2: Day and night questionnaire. You might read out the questions or ask one pupil in each group to read out the questions to their group. Ask pupils to record their answers and then share the answers with them at the end.

Section 5 : From Earth to the stars - using models

2 : Using stories and observation to think about the moon