The Phases of the Moon—a Middle School Science Hands-on Lesson
As a teacher, I was trained to teach math, but one of my first jobs was to do a middle school science leave replacement class, believe it or not, because the school felt science and math were closely related enough for me to handle the job. One thing I liked about teaching science was the lab period where you would get to do hands-on lab lessons pretty frequently.
One unit we covered in 8th-grade science was the Solar System. Of course, we covered the planets and such, but the Moon Phases was also a topic covered. Well, the teacher I filled in for had a whole bunch of labs already put together and this was one of them. I amended it slightly, but really this lab was just perfect and taught this topic so nicely with the kids interacting with each other and seeing the actual phases of the moon first hand during this lab activity.
Facts About the Moon, the Earth and the Sun:
- The Moon is a natural satellite of the Earth, a celestial body that orbits a planet.
- It is the 5th largest natural satellite in the Solar System.
- It is the quarter of Earth's diameter and 1/81 of Earth's Mass.
Motions of the Moon:
- Orbits and rotates at the same speed
- The same side of the moon always faces Earth.
Sun, Earth, and Moon:
- The moon reflects the light of the sun, it does NOT make its own light.
- It takes 29.5 days (approximately one month) to go around the Earth in its orbit.
The Phases of the Moon
- The New Moon
- Waxing Crescent
- First Quarter
- Waxing Gibbous (descending)
- Full Moon
- Waning Gibbous
- Last Quarter
- Waning Crescent
- Back to the New Moon to start the phases all over again
Eclipses of The Sun and the Moon
Solar Eclipse—The Sun Is Blocked
Occurs when the Moon passes directly between Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow on Earth and blocking our view of the sun.
Lunar Eclipse–The Moon Is Blocked
- Occurs when the Moon moves through the shadow of Earth during a full moon.
The Lab Activity:
Students will work with lab partners to be able to model the positions of the earth, moon, and sun during various stages of the lunar cycle and will observe and draw the phases of the moon.
The room was set up with 5 circular moon stations with eight spots to represent each of the eight moon phases. The window was used to represent the sunlight that was coming from the sun and represented the SUN. Each group was given a Moon Pop (which is a styrofoam white ball, where one-half colored black and is on a popsicle stick). You (the student) are the EARTH and your Moon Pop is, of course, the MOON. As you rotate on the circle, you should be able to view all eight different phases of the moon.
Once the activity is completed by each group, they will then analyze their data and answer interpretation questions pertaining to the activity. The summary for this lesson was for me to review the lab activity at the end of the class period by showing the eight phases of the moon using an illuminated moonlight to once again prove that the moon does not make its own light, but that that illuminates the light from the sun.
Here Is the a Copy of the Actual Lab and Questions to Be Answered
A moon is a celestial object that is a natural satellite to a planet. Many planets have multiple moons, each given a different name. Earth, however, only has one natural satellite that we call “the Moon”. You have probably noticed that our moon does not always appear to be the same shape. The moon phase we see on any given night depends on the positions of Earth, the sun, and the moon in space.
The moon does not generate its own light. Instead, it receives light from the sun just like Earth. Just as half of Earth experiences day while the other half experiences night, one half of the moon is lit by the sun while the other half is dark. As the moon revolves counter-clockwise around Earth, we see various parts of the side of the moon that is facing the sun. This makes the moon appear to change shape in the sky. Waxing refers to a moon that is growing larger night after night. This occurs as the moon moves from the position of a new moon to the position of a full moon. The moon is said to be waning when it appears to be getting smaller night after night. A waning moon is moving from the position of full to new moon. A new moon is when the sky is absent of an illuminated moon. It takes the moon 29.5 days to go through a complete lunar cycle.
Problem: How do the positions of the sun, the earth, and the moon affect the phases of the moon?
Hypothesis: If the moon is positioned ____________________________ ________________________________, then we will see a ___________ moon, because the moon reflects the light of the sun and orbits the earth.
Materials: “sun”, “moon pop”, lab handout, “Earth” observer
Open the blinds to the window which will represent on the sun. Turn all other light sources off.
Face the sun and hold your “moon pop” at arms length so that the white side is entirely facing the sun. You represent the Earth. You should ONLY see black. This phase is called “New Moon.” Shade in position #1 on your diagram to demonstrate a new moon.
Rotate an eighth of a turn counter-clockwise. Make sure the white side of the moon is still facing the sun. Shade in position #2 on your diagram to match the amount of the black/white you see on your “moon pop.” Compare your observations with your lab partner.
Continue moving in a counter-clockwise direction, stopping at positions 3-8 to make your observations and shade in your diagram. MAKE SURE THE WHITE SIDE OF THE MOON IS ALWAYS FACING THE SUN!!!
Label each phase on the diagram: New Moon (done for you), Waxing Crescent, Waning Crescent, Waxing Gibbous, Waning Gibbous, First Quarter, Last Quarter.
Raise your hand to get your diagram checked and initialed by your teacher.
Answer the interpretation questions and write a 5-10 sentence conclusion about the how the positions of the sun, the earth, and the moon in space affect the phases of the moon we see from Earth.
Data and Observations:
Moon Phases Diagram
Define: Moon: _________________________________________
What is a lunar cycle? ___________________________________
How long is the lunar cycle for the Earth’s moon? _______________
Describe the sequential appearance of a moon that is going through the waxing phase of the lunar cycle. _________________________ ____________________________________________________
How would the moon appear to change to an observer on Earth during the waning phase of the lunar cycle? ________________________ ____________________________________________________
Explain why the moon often appears to be illuminated in the night sky. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In which direction does the moon orbit Earth? _________________
Explain why the moon appears to change shape. _________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
A solar eclipse can occur when a new moon is precisely positioned between the sun and Earth. In the space provided below, draw and label a diagram to show the positions of the sun, moon and Earth during a solar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth comes in between the sun and a full moon. In the space provided below, draw and label a diagram to show the positions of the sun, moon, and Earth during a lunar eclipse.
Full Moons for the Rest of 2012
Date and Day