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In this lesson the students will discover how the position of the earth, sun and moon cause the moon's shape to appear to change in the night sky. Students will calculate the moon's circumference and its distance from earth and will take part in demonstrations and activities that will help them to better understand the phases of the moon. Through classroom simulations students will become familiar with the names of each moon phase and be able to predict the moon's monthly cycle of magic.
Students will be able to:
Pre-Viewing Activities/Demonstrations "How Big is the Moon?" For the class:
"Moon Phases" For the class:
For each pair of students:
"Moon Magic" For each student:
It would be helpful if students have some prior knowledge of the moon before beginning the activities. The moon is Earth's natural satellite (an object that travels around a larger object - can be natural or man-made) and is our nearest neighbor in space. Because the moon is so close it appears to be almost as big as the sun, but this is far from true. The previewing activities are designed to engage the students' interest in our planet's nearest neighbor _ the moon.

Here are some earth and moon facts that the teacher will find useful to know: The diameter of the moon is approximately 3,150 kilometers. This is about one fourth the diameter of the earth. This means that the circumference of the moon is also one fourth that of the earth.

How Big is the Moon?

This first previewing demonstration should be done in a whole group setting. Before starting this activity ask the students to make a prediction about which ball (see materials list) they think represents the scale size of the moon if the earth was really the size of the classroom globe.

Wrap string once around the equator of the classroom globe. It would be appropriate to define this measurement as the circumference or distance around the globe. Cut the string to that length. Select a student to measure the string length (using metric and/or standard measurement).

Next, quarter the length of the string by folding it in half twice. Ask the students, "How many other ways can you think of to quarter the length of the string?" Discuss their answers.

Ask a student to find a sports ball (from the selected samples) whose circumference closely matches the length of the quartered string. Once the closest sphere has been found ask the students, "How many ways can you think of to prove it is the correct one?" Discuss their answers. (For the average classroom globe a baseball or softball is a good starting place.) Ask the students, "How closely did it match your original prediction?" It would be appropriate to discuss the word diameter and define it as the distance across the sphere. Help the students to understand that the diameter and the circumference of the moon is one fourth that of the earth.

How Far Away is the Moon?

In the second pre-viewing activity students will learn how far away the moon is from earth.

Here are more earth and moon facts you will find helpful to know: The approximate circumference of the earth is 40,000 kilometers. The approximate distance between the earth and the moon is 400,000 kilometers. By placing the smaller number above the larger, you create a 1 to 10 ratio. This means that the moon is ten times the circumference of the earth away from the earth. (For upper-intermediate students a more in depth discussion on ratio would be appropriate.)

Again, ask the students to make a physical prediction. Place the globe on a desk or table and begin to move away from it. Ask the students, "Tell me when you think I am at the correct scale distance that the moon is away from the earth." Mark the spot.

Wrap the string once around the equator of the globe. Mark that length off along the edge of a table. Keep measuring out more string until its total length is ten times earth's circumference. Cut the string and wrap it around a tube or bottle to keep if from tangling.

Next hold the roll of string near the globe. Have a student hold the free end of the string against the moon ball and walk away from the globe until the string is completely unwound. (You will need to do this in a hallway, multipurpose room or the playground.)

The stretched out string demonstrates the actual scale distance from the earth to the moon. Ask the students, "How closely did it match your original prediction?"
The focus for viewing is a specific responsibility or task(s) that the students are responsible for during or after watching the video to focus and engage students' viewing attention.

Give the students these specific responsibilities while viewing the video segment:

START the video at the point where Bill Nye is standing in front of the Nye Laboratories' door and says, "Do you know the earth goes around the sun, and the moon goes around the earth in a very predictable cycle? Very Predictable."

PAUSE the video. Ask the students what is meant by "predictable." Elicit that a predictable cycle would be one that occurs on a regular basis. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says "You see, the moon is always the same, it never changes. It's the same size and shape." Ask the students what two things about the moon are always the same. (size and shape) RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says, "But it looks different to us here on earth because of the way sunlight hits it." Ask the students why the moon appears to change its shape. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says "That's right, moonlight is really sunlight." Ask the students if the moon gives off light of its own. (No) Ask for a volunteer to explain what Bill meant by "moonlight". RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says " . . and it changes because the moon goes around the earth and the earth goes around the sun..." Ask the students to explain the two movements that are causing the changes in the appearance of the moon. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill says, "Okay, let's say this baseball diamond is the orbit of the moon." Ask the students what he meant by an "orbit". Elicit that the orbit of the moon is the path it follows as it travels around the earth each month. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says, "Notice, right now when you are standing on the earth (pitcher's mound) you can't see the moon at all. Ask the students if anyone knows what we call it when the we can't see the moon at all. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says ". . and the reason you can't see it is because the moon is between you and the sun." Ask the students what do we call the moon phase when the moon is between the earth and the sun and we can not see it. Elicit the answer new moon. RESUME the video.

PAUSE the video after Bill Nye says, "Now, the moon orbits the earth in this direction (he points to his left or your right)." Ask the students to describe the direction of the orbit that Bill is pointing to. Elicit that it orbits the earth in a counter-clockwise direction. RESUME the video.

STOP the video after Bill Nye has completed his orbit around the baseball diamond and says, "So with the orbits set up like this the moon will end up on home plate."

Ask the students to describe what the moon looked like at each of the bases. Elicit the following responses: first base (half moon), second base (full moon) and third base (third quarter moon), home plate (new moon). Then, ask the students if they remember which direction the dark and light move across the moon. (They both move from right to left.)

Help students use this information to predict what phase will occur next when they are looking at the moon. Review which side of the moon is dark or light with each phase. Ask a volunteer to draw and label these phases of the moon on the chalkboard as the class shares their responses.
Review with the students the motions of the moon. It revolves around the earth and it follows the earth in its movement around the sun. Discuss with the students and explain again that as the moon revolves around the earth, the amount of the lit surface that we can see slowly changes. These changes are called the phases of the moon.

Review with the students the motions of the moon. It revolves around the earth and it follows the earth in its movement around the sun. Discuss with the students and explain again that as the moon revolves around the earth, the amount of the lit surface that we can see slowly changes. These changes are called the phases of the moon. It would be appropriate to point out that the moon also turns on its axis taking about thirty days to make one rotation. Because this is the same time the moon takes to travel around the earth we always see the same side of the moon.

Moon Phases (Activity 1)

Explain to the students that they will work together to act out the phases of the moon. Clear a large space in the room and set up an overhead projector on one side. The projector represents the sun.

To form the "earth", have four students sit crosslegged on the floor about 5 feet in front of the projector. Have them sit with their backs touching and each child facing in a different direction (one toward the projector, one directly away from it, one to the left, and one to the right.) These students will act as the official spokespersons responsible for describing what the moon looks like.

Next, have the remaining students kneel in a fairly small circle around the "earth." These students will represent the moon's orbit. (These students will be passing the "moon" (medium-sized ball) from one person to the next.

The "sun" (light from the projector) should strike the ball so that half of its surface is lit, no matter who is holding it (otherwise this activity will not work!) The students in the circle may need to spread out or kneel closer together to ensure that the "sun" hits the "moon" correctly.

Turn off all the lights in the room and give the ball to the student in the moon's orbit who is kneeling directly in front of the projector. Have the student hold the ball directly over his or her head, making sure it is in the light.

Ask the "earth," "How much of the moon appears to be lit?" (none). Ask the other students, "What phase does this represent?" (new moon).

Next have the students in the moon's orbit slowly pass the ball around counter clockwise. As the moon travels along its orbit, have the spokespersons on earth report what they see. Make sure the students hold the ball over their heads so the light strikes it.

Ask the other students, "What phase is the moon in?" (It will be necessary to go around a few times before all of the phases of the moon are named.)

Moon Phases (Activity 2)

For this second activity students will work together in pairs. Each pair will need a meter stick, a styrofoam ball, a flashlight, and paper and pencil for recording. Before getting started, have each student fold his/her paper into four sections and label each section as A, B, C, and D. Students will use this paper for recording/drawing what they observe during this activity.

Have one partner hold the ball directly in front and at arm's length slightly above the head. Ask the partner to measure a distance of 2 meters in front of the ball and to shine the flashlight on the ball. Remind the pairs that the person holding the ball is the earth, the ball represents the moon, and the flashlight is the sun. In this first position A have the student observe how much of the moon is lighted. This position represents the new moon because no part of the moon is lit. Have the partners record or draw what part of the moon is lit in the box labeled A.

Tell the student holding the "moon" to keep the moon at the same height and turn to the left. This view will be drawn and labeled in box B. The partner will continue to shine the flashlight directly on the moon. Once again ask the students to observe how much of the part of the moon that can be seen is lighted and how much is dark.

Make sure the students notice that the movement of the light or dark across the moon is moving from right to left. So, in box B the student should draw/record the first quarter moon. (The right side is lit and the left side is dark.)

Ask the partner to continue moving to the left until they have made 2 more turns. Remind the students to draw and label each position. Box C should have the full moon and box D would be the third quarter moon.

Let the partners switch and repeat the activity, once again, drawing, recording and labeling the phases of the moon. The partners can compare their drawings and labeling. Make sure that the students notice the difference between the first quarter and the third quarter moon. On the third quarter moon the right side will be dark and the left side will be lit - just the opposite of the first quarter.

It would be appropriate to wrap up these two activities with a general review of the phases of the moon and their names. The students should be able to predict which way the dark or light will move across the moon (right to left) and in this final activity they will apply this knowledge when they assemble a "Moon Magic Booklet."

Moon Magic (Activity 3)

Pass out the "Moon Magic' handout and have each student cut out each picture. Next, ask the students to glue each picture onto a half-sheet index card. Remind the students that in our lesson we discovered the four main phases of the moon cycle but that this activity will help them to see the complete moon cycle as it appears in the night sky each month.

After each picture is carefully glued on to half an index card have the students arrange the pictures in order of how they will appear in the real moon cycle. The booklet should start with the top picture indicating a new moon. After students have arranged the index cards in order from top to bottom, have them staple the stack of pictures in the left corner to complete their booklet. Tell them to "flip" through the booklet to watch the moon's phases change! That's Moon Magic!

You may chose to explain and discuss with the students the following names/vocabulary for the additional moon phases covered in this final activity: waxing and waning crescents, and the waxing and waning gibbous moons. The students could label each picture in the booklet with the appropriate name for each phase.
Have students visit a local planetarium to study more about the moon and our solar system.

Arrange for a class field trip to Craters of the Moon National Park, where astronauts experimented with their lunar land rover.

Have students utilize the internet or World Wide Web to research current information and findings about our moon and the moons of other planets.

Arrange for a guest speaker from NASA to visit the classroom to discuss space exploration to the moon and beyond.

Arrange for Barbara Morgan, Idaho's Teacher in Space Candidate to speak to the class about her training and preparation for a future flight into outer space.
Language Arts: Have the students write and illustrate a poetry book about the moon. Or, students could create their own story book complete with pictures about the "Man in the Moon".

Math: The moon's gravity is one-sixth that of earth's. Have students work in groups to calculate their moon-weight or the moon-weight of objects in the classroom.

Science: Have students research solar and lunar eclipses and create posters or models that explain how and why they occur.

Have students research how the moon's gravity affects earth's tides.

Students could research more about the moon's surface and its lack of atmosphere and present oral presentations to other classes.

Social Studies: Students can research the first lunar landing and present information to the class on this historical event.

Students can prepare reports on famous astronauts that went to the moon.

Send e-mail messages to NASA inquiring about any current information they have about the moon or moon exploration.

Art: Using paper, paints, crayons or markers, etc., have students create pictures of moon "creatures" and display these in a booklet.

Music/Technology: Have the students write a song about the moon and produce their own musical video for Bill Nye's program on the moon. (Send it to Bill Nye!)

Taped from air. Contact your local PBS station for broadcast schedule.

Lesson Plan Designed by Master Teacher Wendy Eveland, Frontier Elementary School, Meridian, Idaho
Click here to view the worksheet associated with this lesson.

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