Monday, December 22, 2008

Using the Clinometer

The Clinometer is such a fun instrument to teach kids to use!

Here is the process in a nutshell:

For the Sun:
  1. Hold the clinometer near the ground.
  2. Point the soda straw at the sun.
  3. When you see the bright spot of the Sun surrounded by the shadow of the soda straw (the sunlight is passing through the straw), on the ground or the palm of your hand,
  4. Read the angle where the thread (attached to the paper clip) crosses the angle indicated on the protractor.

For the moon, stars, and planets:

  1. Look through the straw at the object
  2. Read the angle where the thread (attached to the paper clip) crosses the angle indicated on the protractor.

Before you use the Clinometer outside, be sure to stress that every instrument MUST be calibrated first. Ask them how they can be sure their Clinometer is calibrated. This one is pretty simple. If they hold the Clinometer so the string swings to the 90 degrees, then there should be a right angle between the string and the straw. They can all use the corner of a piece of paper to check. Have partners check each other. Unless they did something drastically wrong, all of them will be calibrated.

Now help your students become "conversant" in the use of their Clinometers by measuring the altitude of objects in the room.First show them how to use the Clinometer by sighting objects through the straw and catching the plumb bob string with their finger and then lowering the Clinometer, carefully holding the string and reading the altitude.

This is NOT, of course, how they will use the Clinometer while observing the Sun! If you do choose to go outside to do some observations for the Using the Clinometer Activity, be sure to stress they are NOT to EVER look directly at the Sun!

Retinal Damage caused by looking at the Sun

They will be anxious after a couple of minutes to get on their own. Have them choose partners (or assign) and hand out the Using the Clinometer Activity. Each student gets their own page even though they will be working together.

My classroom used to be right across the hall from the school's auditorium. Perfect because of the height of the ceiling! I put masking tape X's about 4 inches across at about 10 - 15 places in the auditorium all around the space. I labeled each with a number and wrote what to measure, using a Sharpie. I took each class into the auditorium to take measurements with their Clinometers. (This works great because you can take all the measurements, and by looking at their papers, actually know who is really off and needs your help.)

You can do the same with your students. Pick a large space, such as an auditorium, gymnasium, or outside, even. Take your students there after some talk about proper behavior.

They all find an X and get busy. Each one takes a sighting with the partner taking the reading. Then they switch. They need to be sure they use their own Clinometer as you want them to be familiar with their own instrument.

They stay where they are and when all seem done, you can blow a whistle, ring a bell, or holler, "Time to move!" and they move in a ring around the auditorium/space to the next number. Be sure to remind them to record on the corresponding number on the Activity Sheet. This can also be done outside, especially if you have tall buildings and trees close by.

Click here for a fun Improve your Clinometer Activity. NOTE: Some possibilities for Improving: Adding more tick marks for degrees, Adding a handle, Adding a heavier weight such as a large washer, Attaching the Clinometer to the middle of the Compass Rose.

Come back tomorrow for How to Measure the Sun's Altitude.

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