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The Phases of the Moon—a Middle School Science Hands-on Lesson

Updated on December 15, 2016
Janine Huldie profile image

Janine is a published author in Only Trollops Shave Above the Knees, appears on The Huffington Post and at Confessions of A Mommyaholic.

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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.

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Facts About the Moon, the Earth and the Sun:

Moon:

  • 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

  1. The New Moon
  2. Waxing Crescent
  3. First Quarter
  4. Waxing Gibbous (descending)
  5. Full Moon
  6. Waning Gibbous
  7. Last Quarter
  8. Waning Crescent
  9. Back to the New Moon to start the phases all over again

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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.

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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

Background:

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

Procedure:

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

Interpretation Questions:

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.

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Full Moons for the Rest of 2012

Month
Date and Day
Day
August
2rd
Thursday
August
31st
Friday
September
30th
Sunday
October
29th
Monday
November
28th
Wednesday
December
28th
Friday
Some of the Data about the next full moons are from the Planetary Systems Branch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Phases of the Moon—Kid Funky Video

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      jeremy kauffman 7 months ago

      The moon phases are wrong. The waning gibbous and waning crescent are switched in the picture at the very top of the page

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Prairieprincess, I taught 8th grade science and have pretty much a whole curriculum of lessons under my belt from it. What in particular are you teaching, maybe I can see what I have and try to help you if you need. Let me know, would be glad to help, because believe me I remember that feeling all too well. Thank you to for the pin and votes too :)

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      Janine, this is just what the doctor ordered! Like you, I am teaching Science for the first time this year, and honestly feeling intimidated. I will definitely print this off and try to put it together for one of our lessons on the Solar System, which is part of the Grade Six curriculum for us. Thanks for this --- very well done! I would love to read anything else you have for teaching Science! Thanks again! Pinned and voted up.

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Martie, thank you for comment on my science lesson plan about the phases of the moon, as well as your votes too. So very appreciated!!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting, informative and well-presented hub about the phases of the moon. Voted up and excellent!

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Joseph, what can I say but thank you of course. It would be my pleasure to be your teacher. Glad you enjoyed this hub article and thank you for the share too!!

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

      Gee! with Jannine as a teacher I'm not afraid to go back to school. Great explanations and superb graphics. This hub deserves to be read by our kids! Sharing!

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Mary, it is funny you mention the test, I was actually looking at some of my other saved materials from this class that I taught and still have it. A few of the questions actually came straight from this lab pretty much word for word. I never tried to trick my students and they always pretty much had all the questions either from their labs or do nows that ended up on my tests. If they went back into their notes and studied they should have had all the resources that needed to ace my tests.

      I once had a professor in college, who told us early on in his class that his tests truly came from his notes and he wasn't lying the questions he asked usually were word for word right out of his notes. So I did remember this and tried my hardest when I taught to pay it forward for my own students when the test came around.

      Thanks again for stopping, commenting and voting too!!! So very appreciated :)

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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      I'm glad I don't have to take the test! This was a great hub. Everyone is fascinated by the moon and especially eclipses (moon or sun). You're educating us along with your students and that's appreciated.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. (I think we need an educational button too.)

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      No worries about not being a science person, I really wasn't myself growing up, but lo and behold I go this position and really found myself loving teaching science. It is funny how things happen. Also I understand about summertime and your daughter. My niece is 8 years old and has to do work for school over the summer that is due when she first starts 3rd grade in September and I have been helping her. All she does is complain and she actually likes school, but during summer vacation. Thank you again for all your continued support too!!

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Joseph, thank you so much for all your input. Totally appreciate the help and will fix that momentarily. Had a lot going on here and must have just missed it, but do appreciate your help and pointing it out to me. Loved your poem and wish I could have heard your harp playing to the words too. I very much appreciate all your kindness and continued support, thank you!!!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

      Not a science person at all, but this was really interesting! Might even show my daughter although it is the summer and she points that out every time I want to show her something educational! Thanks for a good read.

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

      Excellent explanation. When I was reading define moon, I came out with poetry. Playing my harp and all:

      Met you on a waning crescent moon

      had to get a lighter pretty soon

      to be able to see that beauty in front of me

      as I got closer to, I found out you were a nightmare..you see?

      I loved your hub! Hope it gets ranked high on Google! Nice pics and settings. Just a little boo-boo on the chart, instead of 2nd, you wrote 2RD. Just a friendly check up! You are getting better, so I will share this one!

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Thanks Dianna for saying such lovely things about this lesson. It was my pleasure to share. Honestly there is nothing better than an exciting hands-on lesson in my book and do agree that this one was a winner and hope others do feel the same when they read it.

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      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Very well done, Janine! I felt like I was in an exiting science classroom. Thanks for the information. I think this will be a real hit with parents, teachers and kids.

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Thank you so much Sid. I honestly appreciate the positive feedback on this article and thank you also for the votes too.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Fun, very clear, and complete. Voted useful, up, and interesting.

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      When my girls go to bed tonight, I will definitely shoot you an e-mail. Thank you again Bill so much :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Send me an email and I'll get you started....holland1145@yahoo.com

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I wouldn't even know where to get started on doing an e-book, but it sounds like something I would be interested in, between the math and lessons lessons I have worked on, written and taught in the past, would love to be able to put something like that together. Seriously, how does one go about doing this?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I loved my three years of teaching science. There are so many fascinating lesson plans that you can teach....and this is one of them. Great job Janine! Have you ever thought of doing an ebook that has teaching lessons in it? I have done a couple and they are doing well....give it some thought!

    • Janine Huldie profile image
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      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Oh thank you so much Josh. I was a bit nervous in the beginning of that leave, because I was trained to teach Math, but ended up truly loving teaching 8th grade science believe it or not and this was one of the best lab lessons I taught, where the kids really did learn completely hands-on and loved that the classroom even for a day was transformed into moon stations. Thanks again for all your support!!!

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      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Janine,

      WOW! Very detailed and informative hub! I enjoyed the pictures you selected, the chart, everything! The project you made them was very detailed, I am sure they learned a lot! Looks like you did an awesome job teaching science as a replacement! Thanks for sharing Janine!