Moon Phase Lesson
During this activity, students will use household materials to model the solar system and generate a basic understanding of why we see different shapes, or phases of the moon. This is most easily done in a darkened room, but doing outside is also an option, provided it is dark and you have access to a light source visible from 360 degrees. The moon is an interesting subject for everyone and phases are a phenomenon that everybody has seen.
Students will be able to:
Tip: It is helpful for the instructor to participate in this activity while also explaining.
- Waxing: means growing and it is used to describe the moon as it grows from the new moon to full moon.
- Waning: means shrinking and is used to describe the moon as it gets smaller from full moon to new moon.
- Gibbous: the shape describing the moon when the illuminated section is more than half but less than full.
- Crescent: The shape describing the moon when the illuminated section is less than half but more illuminated than a new moon.
Place your lamp (or light source) in the middle of the room. Have the students stand in a circle around the lamp. Tape an East card to each student’s left shoulder and a West card to each of their right shoulders. Darken the room and turn on the lamp.
Lamp = Sun
Ball = Moon
Have the student spin around one time (towards the East) to represent one day on Earth.
Midnight = back to earth
Sunrise = left shoulder pointing to sun
Noon = facing sun
Sunset = right shoulder pointing to sun
Then, have them walk around the lamp one time to represent one year on earth.
Now it’s time to pass out the “moons.” Each student should receive a pencil with a ball attached to the end. Have them start like this
Tell the students hold their moon at arms length and begin to slowly rotate in place, keeping their arm extended.
Q: What do you notice about the moon when you rotate?
Q: Where is the light on the moon coming from?
After students rotate a couple of times, ask them to position themselves so their ‘earth’ can see a new moon, then full moon, then first quarter, then last quarter.
Q: What causes us to see different phases of the moon?
- Lunar Eclipse: Have the students position themselves so they have a full moon. How can they make the lit side of the moon dark while at this position? This is called a lunar eclipse, which occurs when the Moon passes directly behind the Earth into its umbra (shadow). This can occur only when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned (in "syzygy") exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. Hence, and occurs only the night of a full moon.
- Solar Eclipse: Now have the students position themselves so they have a new moon. Have them close one eye, and try to block the light from their open eye using only the ball. Have them look at a classmate across the circle from them and notice the shadow on their classmate’s face. This is called a solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, and the moon casts a shadow over Earth. This phenomenon can only take place at the phase of new moon, when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth and its shadows fall upon Earth's surface.
Q: How many people can see a lunar eclipse? A solar eclipse?
- Fun facts:
- We can only see half of the moon from earth since the other side is always turned away from us.
- Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon.
- The moon is ALWAYS half lit by the sun (but we can’t always see the entire lit side).
- The moon is NOT made of cheese.
- A ‘blue moon’ occurs if there are two full moons in one calendar month. The blue moon is the second full moon in one month.
- The moon is a satellite, not a planet.
This video is a good demonstration of what the activity will look like:
Link to Wiki Moon Page:
The moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.