Chaco Canyon in Your School

Occasionally, I get ideas for projects that won’t necessarily work in my course, but I would love to see someone else run with them.  Here are one and a half, which would be great for Geometry, and possibly World History, Art, even Engineering.   Feel free to take them.

Idea 0.5:  Shade Structure Louvre Angles
Idea 1:   Ancient Solar Observatory in a Modern Facility

This is actually a 2-for-1 deal with ideas, because the observatory idea occurred to me as a sort of follow up from a previous project idea.  Our school building has a beautiful south-facing glass wall, and in order to ensure that it is not overly hot, there is a permanent shade-structure with angled louvres – you can see the yellow arrow pointing to them in the pic below:

nex+Gen Academy, viewed from the southwest.

Idea 0.5 is simply a pair of questions:  “Why do the louvres have the angle that they do?  Is there a better angle for them?”    These questions were met with great success and engagement by our geometry students, who, as a result of their answering those questions, came to understand angle relationships between latitude, incoming sun rays, and time of year.  

And that brings me to Idea 1.   With the sun creating different light & shadow patterns inside our school over the course of the year, I was reminded of Chaco Canyon, and some of the intentional architecture and art that presumably helped the Anasazi keep track of the seasons.  One such piece of art near Chaco is the sun dagger – a petroglyph onto which a strip of light shines at various times of year, like so:

A dagger of light falls onto a spiral petroglyph near Chaco Canyon.

In this case, the sun dagger falls upon the center of the spiral (carved into the rock) on exactly the summer solstice.   There is a nice explanation and interactive diagram here.  

So – if you have a central room or hall at your school with some windows, why not set up a competition or challenge with your students?   They could put up some sort of translucent or opaque material on the window, with perhaps a hole (dagger shaped?) in it.   Learners could measure positions of the shadow or shape or sun dagger at the same time each day as it falls on the wall or floor, and using what they know about the trajectory of the earth, make some predictions about where the dagger might end up on the winter solstice, or the spring equinox, or some other point in time you would like to specify.    To that end, they could place something like the Anasazi spiral in the hall or room where they predict the dagger (or smiley face, or cutout of a school mascot, or whatever) will fall on the future date.

The integration possibilities here are great.   World History – how do cultures mark the time?  What is the purpose of architecture?  Is planting the only reason to keep track of the seasons?

Art:  What can we do with the sun’s light to create an interesting projection?  What kind of interplay is possible with a static image that will receive illumination on the day?   And does it have to be static?   And what if it was electronic, so that you had a photocell that flipped a switch?  

Culture:  How do we celebrate the confluence of light and static art?   What kind of ritual can we create around the anticipation of the confluence?    And why would we do such a thing as a so-called post-agrarian society?

Someone, please do this.

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