Pupils explore the science, geography and mathematics of sundials: angle, time, reading scales, and making an 'origami' sundial.


The Case Study introduces pupils to the idea of using the sun to tell the time, applying a range of mathematical skills to understand some of the theory - and enabling them to construct at least one sundial for themselves. A video about sundials provides the context, including footage explaining the history of sundials and how they work. An interview with Harriet James, a gnomonist (someone who makes sundials) shows how maths is essential to the construction of sundials.

The classroom work is differentiated into three tiers. Depending on the route followed, the Case Study uses symmetry and the drawing of angles, nets, origami, circle work and comparing data. Each route includes reading information from graphs and calculating time.

Mathematical content

Design, examine the mathematics and then construct a sundial, using symmetry, angles, nets, origami, graphs and charts.

Specific Key Stage 3 National Curriculum areas covered include:

  • Key processes - analyse situations using mathematical procedures; interpret and evaluate, communicate and reflect on their results.
  • Number and algebra - use and apply ratio and proportion.
  • Geometry and measures - recognise and visualise the transformation of 2D shapes; find and describe loci; explore geometric constructions.
  • Curriculum opportunities - thinking and reasoning; links to problems from other subjects; work collaboratively; group discussion and communicate mathematical reasoning.

Organisation and pedagogy

Some of the tasks involve individual work, but most are best done in pairs. There is a game which is best played in small groups of around five pupils. Teachers should read through the notes before using these materials as a reasonable amount of preparation is needed. The homework tasks are there to consolidate the work done in class.

Full lesson notes are provided, differentiated for three levels.

Route 1: middle attaining learners in Y7 or low attaining learners in Y8 & 9

Route 2: high attaining learners in Y7 or middle/high attaining learners in Y8 & 9

Route 3: high attaining learners in Y9

Resources provided

The Case Study is presented as three "route plan" documents containing the lesson notes, which link to:

  • Video files
  • PowerPoint files, instructions for learners
  • Templates for making sundials
  • Nets of sundials to assemble
  • Optional activities

A brief 2-page summary is also available.

Resource requirements

(including hardware & software)

  • A computer and data projector (or interactive whiteboard) with soundcard and speakers will be needed to show videos and presentations to the class.
  • QuickTime is needed to play the video: see
  • Some optional activities require pupil access to computers.
  • The Case Study can be used on PC or Mac.
  • Microsoft Office or an alternative, such as OpenOffice, is required to view some of the material. OpenOffice is available from
  • For the basic 3 lesson "route", each pupils will need two non-reusable A4 photocopied card sheets, scissors, glue sticks and/or adhesive tape. See the Case Study for details of resources needed for other sundial models.