A Sun-Earth-Moon Activity to Develop Student Understanding of Lunar Phases and Frames of Reference

Journal Article by: Scott Ashmann Digital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

Lead students through a series of guided questions to explore the phases of the Moon.

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A selection from Science Scope—February 2012

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Reviews (2)
  • on Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:06 PM

Students of all ages continue to hold on to childhood misconceptions about Moon, Earth, and Sun relationships. They need to confront their misconceptions and replace them with correct models. This article provides an excellent approach to help students tackle lunar phases and other astronomical phenomena. The author shows how to use multiple frames of reference to help clear up students’ misunderstandings about how the Earth, Moon and Sun affect each other. The first activity has one student pretending to be Earth. A right shoulder is the East Coast, a left shoulder is the West Coast, and a nose represents a Midwestern town or city. A source of light is placed in the middle of the classroom and the rest of the students are asked several questions, including which way should the “Earth” rotate? Students figure out that the sun should hit Boston first and ascertain that the Earth rotates counterclockwise. Next the teacher asks the students which way would the Earth be rotating if they were on the floor looking up at the Earth? Would the rotation look different than if they were on the ceiling looking down? From this mental exercise, students quickly understand frames of reference. From there the author provides several activities that help students understand such concepts as lunar phases, Moon rotations and revolutions, etc. This is an excellent article for teachers of 5th through adult-aged students who want to teach for the understanding of important Earth-Moon-Sun relationships.

Carolyn M  (Buffalo Grove, IL)
Carolyn M (Buffalo Grove, IL)

  • on Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:21 PM

This is a step-by-step description of a kinesthetic method of demonstrating the relationship among the sun, Earth and moon. The inclusion of the relevant questions to be asked at each point was particularly helpful. The assessment seems to be ambitious for a sixth grade, but I am looking forward to attempting this to see if the students' understanding of the concept is strengthened.

Elizabeth Piesen  (Edison, NJ)
Elizabeth Piesen (Edison, NJ)

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