THIS DAY IN SCIENCE: Rideau Canal - Construction Begins in 1826

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The sky has been mystifying civilizations for thousands of years. Many civilizations have performed religious ceremonies and timed agricultural activities based on celestial events such as eclipses and full moons.

Arguably the most important benefit of making observations of the sky was the ability to record and determine time. Earliest civilizations were able to count days (by observing as the Sun set and then rose the next morning) and months (the time between two new moons). The year is an important length of time because it divides time into complete cycles of seasons. The seasons dictated growing times for crops and the times when animals migrated.

Many cultures therefore divided up the year according to the appearance of the Sun, Moon, and stars. The day could also be divided into smaller units according to the passage of the Sun overhead. The first recorded use of sundials was in ancient Greece. Later civilizations used the sundial to create a work week. The construction of an accurate sundial, with the correct orientation and spacing of the time markers, is challenging: its operation depends on the latitude and longitude in which it is being used.

In this activity students follow instructions to make and use a simple paper sundial. They evaluate its effectiveness and make suggestions for improvements.

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