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Madison Metropolitan School District

Moon Motions Lab: Teacher's Guide

Outline of concepts to be presented

Expanded description: This program starts by leading the students through a series of observations of the moon's appearance and position in our sky through time. These observations include showing how the moon's position in our sky changes throughout a day or night; how its position in relation to the stars (including the Sun) changes from one day or night to the next; and the moon's phase appearance throughout a month. The students are then led through demonstrations and activities to help them discover the causes of the changes they've observed.

General Concepts

  • The Moon seems to move from east to west across our sky throughout the day or night due to the Earth's rotation.
  • The Moon orbits the Earth in a counter-clockwise direction which causes the Moon to appear to move toward the east against the background stars.
  • The Moon's phase is determined by its angle from the Sun in our sky, and the cycle takes about a month.
  • The Moon rotates (spins) and revolves (orbits) in the same period of time, which causes the same side of the moon to always face toward the Earth.

Connecting to the Classroom

This lab should be the culmination of a variety of observations which serve as building blocks toward understanding these difficult concepts. Most students are ready to tackle these concepts by late middle school age. This program supports the Wisconsin Science Standard E.8.8.

Pre-Visit Activities you might consider doing in the classroom :

  • Ask the students to write (and/or draw diagrams) to explain why the moon seems to change it's appearance (ex. full, quarter, crescent). You could call it a pre-test, and collect it for your information. This gets them thinking, and draws their attention to their preconceptions. There are many strong misconceptions that need to be addressed, and we can confront them in the lab.
  • It would also help if the students could recognize and name each phase and its appearance (first and last quarter, waxing, waning, crescent, gibbous, full).
  • They should also spend some time observing the moon outside. You can even do it a few times during the day (see our Daytime Moon Calendar online). This could be informal for discussion purposes, or you could have them record their observations, look for patterns, and collect them. The main goal here is to give them first hand, recent experiences seeing the moon in the daytime and nighttime sky in various phases.

Post-Visit Activities you might consider doing in the classroom :

  • Follow-up might include other modeling activities which reinforce the cause of the phases, eclipses, and the motions of the moon. It might also involve recording and summarizing these concepts.
  • Consider asking them to write/draw an explanation of the cause of the phases again.

Vocabulary: some of the words the students will likely encounter

  • rotate (spin)
  • revolve (orbit)
  • phase names (first and last quarter, waxing, waning, crescent, gibbous, full)