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Analemma: A 6th Grade Collaboration

Analemma: A 6th Grade Collaboration


Starting a year ago in September 2013, middle school Mathematics teacher, Kathy Breen with the help of Donald Bufano and his 6th grade class, began plotting an analemma outside on the school’s pad. The analemma is created by marking the position of the top of a pole’s shadow on the ground at noon standard time. This marking is done at approximately weekly intervals over the course of the year. If you imagine what this mapping might look like you might expect that the longest shadow would occur at the winter solstice and the shortest would occur at the summer solstice, which is true. So the point furthest from the pole is at the winter solstice and the point closest to the pole is at the summer solstice. Surprisingly there is also some variation in the east-west direction. We marked the spots with white paint and a form was created week by week that looked like a figure 8 at the year’s end.

These observations and markings helped students appreciate the cyclical relation of the sun to the earth over the year time and notice how fast the shadow moves on the ground in minutes. Marking right at noon is important. We shifted to 1 o’clock during daylight savings time. This task also encourages a connection with the sky and weather as shadows disappear under cloud cover. Sometimes snow needed to be shoveled before a mark could be made.

The last markings for the year were made by this year’s 6th grade in September 2014. You can get a good view of the analemma by looking down on the pad from the 2nd floor window by the art gallery. A group of white dots on the black pad background take the shape of a figure 8. The larger loop is made from the winter markings and the smaller loop near to the chain link fence is from the summer markings. A beautiful mathematical form was created that mirrors the movements of the sun through the year.


View more photographs of the Analemma.
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Grade 6