Shoebox Planetarium or Constellation Viewer

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Inside the Shoebox – Viewing The Constellation Scorpius


  • Detailed Instructions (pdf)
  • Constellations (one set using the front pages only) (pdf)
    • these will be used for the viewer
  • Constellation cards (photocopied front to back) (pdf)
    • cut these apart as a reference to help you identify the constellations
    • paperclip and keep inside the shoebox for storage
  • Large Paper Clips
  • Index Cards
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Metal Math Compass
  • Foam or Cork Board
  • Shoebox
  • Black construction paper
  • Duct Tape
  • Stickers

Steps 1 & 2: Cut out constellations and glue each to an index card, and then to a piece of black construction paper. Triple layering will make the cards more sturdy and let less light through. Using a metal math compass, poke a hole for every star in the constellation, using the foam board or cork as your backing.

20150526_140837Steps 3 & 4: Make an opening on one end of the shoebox slightly smaller than an index card. Trim the cards to fit inside  of your shoebox and line up the stars to make sure none are blocked. Use 2 paper clips to keep in place.

2015-05-26 14.16.4220150526_141005Steps 5 & 6: Make an opening on the opposite side of the shoebox so you can see inside the box. Put the lid on and decorate with duct tape. Change the cards to practice identifying the constellations. How many can you find in the night sky?

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Constellations (Star Lab) page added

Image Source: Star Lab
Image Source: Star Lab

I created a page of resources for stars, constellations, and myths to use with our Star Lab experience. You can also find information on Star Lab rentals and training. In NJ, Raritan Valley Community College offers workshops in the Summer and Fall.

We spend four sessions in the Star Lab:

  • Day One – Intro to the Star Lab – Using the Dippers & Cassiopeia to find your way
  • Day Two – Perseus & Fall Constellations
  • Day Three – Orion & Winter Constellation
  • Day Four – Summer/Spring Constellation & wrap up

Constellations (Star Lab) Page – (link)

Make Your Own Planisphere (Star Wheel)

Planisphere Supplies
Planisphere Supplies

I have my 6th graders make and decorate their own planispheres for our astronomy unit. It is a quick and inexpensive way to provide planispheres for all of your students, and you don’t have to worry about running out or ordering ahead/enough for each class. When it comes time to lining up the Star Wheel and inserting the brass brad, I do that part for the students so that it lines up correctly. Students will come up to my desk when they are ready and I assembly it for them pretty quickly.


  • Manilla folder
  • Scissors
  • Brass brad
  • Glue stick
  • Star Wheel Holder (pdf)
    • Additional Star Holders & Wheels (link)
  • Star Wheel – laminated
  • Metal Math Compass


  1. Fold the template along the (horizontal) dotted line
  2. Glue the template to the manilla folder
    • the folded template wraps around the folded edge of the folder
  3. Cut out the shape of the template
  4. Cut out the window – be careful not to cut both layers
    • I use the toilet seat and toilet lid analogy 😉
  5. Cut out the star wheel
  6. Insert the star wheel into the star wheel holder
  7. Find Polaris
  8. Center the Star Wheel, and with the pointed end of the compass, make a hole through Polaris and the back of the manilla folder
    • Be sure that the wheel can spin freely
  9. Insert metal brad & fasten
  10. Enjoy your new planisphere!



Additional Resources:

  • Using a planisphere worksheet (pdf)
  • How to use a planisphere (video)


Graphing Spring Tides, Neap Tides, & Moon Phases

Graphing Tides & Moon Phases

This activity ties together spring tides, neap tides, moon phases,  chart reading skills, graphing skills, and analyzing data skills. When making the worksheets, I used the data for high tides since it showed a better range of data for the students to create the graph.

This activity was also a good review on how to create line graphs by hand for two sets of data. Students are used to making bar graphs so we reviewed how to set up line graphs and plot points on the graph.

When plotting the data, you can really see the differences in the tidal heights. We also used the phrase “Neap ain’t that deep” to remember the difference between spring tides and neap tides.


  • Atlantic City, NJ – January 2015 High Tide Data worksheet (pdf)
  • Seaside Heights, NJ – February 2015 High Tide Data (pdf) (image link)
    • For example, in the year 2015, the February 18 new moon will closely align with perigee and the the September 28 full moon will closely coincide with perigee, to bring forth perigean spring tides.”~EarthSky
  • Blank Worksheet for students to choose data from a different location. (pdf)
  • Tide charts – select the state and city of your choice, set for Atlantic City (link)
  • Current Moon Phases – The Old Farmer’s Almanac (link)

Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram Activity

Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram
Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram

We recently started our Mars Unit and I wanted to have a fun/active way to connect our unit on the Moon to our new unit on Mars. This activity can be used in a few different ways, I used the first lesson posted below.


  • Google Slide (Public) Earth, Mars, & Moon
    • Updated July 2016 – when I used this lesson in early 2015, it was prior to the discovery of flowing liquid water on Mars – the slides have the updated fact in the Venn Diagram
  • Updated Answer key and handouts (pdf)
  • 16 facts, printed, cut apart, and glued onto index cards (in pdf above)


Whole class activity

  1. After discussing what we know about Mars (accessing prior knowledge) and guessing how big Mars is compared to Earth (many were not really sure), I gave each student one of the sixteen facts. They were not to share their facts with the class until it was their turn to present.
  2. They may or may not know the answer to their fact, and we discussed this first. I told them I would give them clues if they needed help and not to worry too  much about getting the answer ‘wrong’.
  3. After a minute or so to think about it, I asked the person with Fact #1 to stand and read their fact to the class. The rest of class was to think about the fact and where it might go into the Venn Diagram, but not share their answers.
  4. The person with Fact #1 then had to guess where the fact fit into the Venn Diagram. Once they gave the right answer, I clicked on the ppt and the answer popped up on the screen.
  5. Everyone wrote fact #1 into their notes.
  6. Then I asked the person with Fact #2 to read their fact to the class, and so on until all 16 facts were posted.
  7. We would discuss each fact and any questions they might have.
  8. If you have more than 16 students, you can have them work with a partner and guess together.

Cooperative Groups

  1. Instead of each student having only one fact, you can have the class work in cooperative groups and give one set of the 16 facts to a group of 4 students. They will cut apart the facts (or you can give them the facts pre-cut) and one student will work on fact #’s 1-4, another #’s 5-8, third on #’s 9-12, and the 4th on #’s 13-16.
  2. The students will discuss the facts within their group and place them on top of the Venn Diagram.
  3. Once each group has had a chance to discuss their facts, you can go over the answers as a class and have each student write the facts into their notes.

Independent Seat Work, or as part of a Station/Center/Review

  1. You can also do this activity where each student will cut out all 16 facts and work independently to figure out where each fact would go in the Venn Diagram. They will then write in the facts as each answer is discussed.
  2. As a station/center activity/review, you can have a blank laminated Venn Diagram, a laminated answer key, and laminated facts. Students can guess where each fact goes into the diagram, then check their work with the answer key and write the answers into their worksheet

Where is the Moon? Hands on Activity to show the movement of the Sun and Moon across the sky, including Solar Eclipse


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To help students better understand the phases of the moon and it’s relationship to the position of the sun, both in the sky and in space, I created this hands on activity. I also updated it to include a Solar Eclipse scenario.


Whenever I start an activity, I always call all the student to one of the student desks to discuss/demonstrate the lesson. We had been discussing the phases of the moon and reviewed the order of the phases as I placed the laminated moons onto the desk.

I pointed out the crater Tycho and how it looks like the moon’s belly button. The ‘belly button’ always points towards the Earth (view from Northern Hemisphere), it is the southern part of the moon. This will help them to orientate the moon correctly when they go back to their desks. We completed the first scene together and discussed where to place the Sun and where to place the Moon, keeping in mind what rising and setting means, how we are looking at the landscape and reviewing Eastern, Southern, and Western parts of the sky.

Once we have discussed the directions, students are ready to start. They can’t move onto the next scene until I have checked their work. Once it is correct, they draw the scene into their handout and move onto the next scene. When they were stuck, I reminded them to go over the hints, and gave extra hints if needed.

For part 2, they had to show the phases around the Earth and what they look like from where we are standing in New Jersey. I reminded them to think of the spokes of a wheel and the Earth is at the center, and that we are looking from here on Earth out into space. Also reminded them about the ‘belly button’ always facing Earth. Also, if we were looking at the Earth and Moon from space, half of the moon would always be lit up – the side facing the Sun.

Once the students were finished, we reinforced what we learned by making a moon clock that they got to take home and keep. Once they completed their moon clock, they learned how to use it and answered questions to demonstrate their understanding. This was a great follow-up to this activity.

If you use this activity in your classroom, I would love to hear how it went.

For related lesson plans, please visit my Earth Science page.

Moon Phases – Sort and Flip Book

Moon Phases Sort
Moon Phases Sort

As part of our study about the moon, we have been observing the moon and practicing moon phase identification. For the activity pictured above, students were given a moon phase finder, and laminated cards containing images of the phases of the moon, descriptions of phases, and the names of the phases. The handout included matching the names of phases and their descriptions and the template to create the moon phases flip book. Instead of stapling the flip book when done, we used a rubber band to secure one end.

For the lesson, I started with a demonstration/explanation. Students would sort and match the cards first and then call me over to verify the phases when they were done. They self checked the descriptions by using the matching worksheet. I posted an answer key in the front of the room where they verified their answers/made corrections. Next, they used the cards to help them identify the 29 phases of the flip book. When done, they self check the phases with my answer key in the front of the room. Afterwards, they cut and assembled the flip book. I had small plastic bags and rubber bands for them to take home their pieces if they did not finish during the class period.


  • I use the phrase “Wax on, Wane off” to practice identification. When the moon is waxing, the right side is getting brighter/larger, when it is waning, the left side is getting smaller/dimmer. (From where we are in the Northern Hemisphere)
    • Also: “Light-Left-Last-Quarter” to help differentiate between First and Third/Last Quarter Phases
  • Moon Phase Finder Template – glue onto paper plate, cut out center
  • Birthday Moons – this is a classic lesson that has I have used over the years. I made a Birthday Moon Phases worksheet (pdf) for my students to use based on the original lesson. We did this activity prior to the phases sort above.
  • The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids (link)
    • At the bottom of the page, you can select the year and month to view the phases for the month/year you were born

For related lesson plans, please visit my Earth Science page.

Quiz, Quiz, Trade – Apollo Missions

Recently, I tried the “Quiz, Quiz, Trade” (QQT) method of review to help my students study for their Apollo Missions assessment. How does it work? See the video below:



Before starting the activity, I modeled how to ask, answer, and trade using student volunteers. We also discussed ‘quizzing etiquette’. What do you do if your partner is stuck? How can you give clues to help jog their memories? What are some things that you should or should NOT say if someone can’t answer the question, even with hints? After you go over the answer with your partner, are there any tips to help your partner remember the answer? I stressed the importance of helping each other learn. It is not just about getting the answers right or wrong and no one ‘wins’ if they answered the most questions correctly.

Each student was given one question to start the activity. Because I had more questions than students in my class, after a student makes 3 trades, I had the students hand in/trade their cards with me to introduce new questions into the mix as needed. Some students will answer more questions than others, and that is ok. The students quizzed/traded with each other for about 20 minutes. While they were quizzing each other, they kept track of which questions they answered correctly, and which ones they needed to work on using this handout: Quiz, Quiz, Trade Numbers  (pdf)

Sample Question Card
Sample Question Card

For the second half of the review activity, I divided the class into two teams. I would randomly pick one question to ask each team. Before I asked the question, I announced the number of the question I was going to ask them. The students on each team then looked at their sheets to see who had that answered that numbered question correctly and chose one person to come up to answer the question. If no one had the numbered question answered correctly (or did not have a chance to answer it during QQT), they would volunteer a ‘tribute’ to try to answer the question. If the first team answers correctly after I read the question to the class, they earned a point. If answered incorrectly, the other team had a chance to steal and earn the point. We really enjoyed playing QQT and I plan on using it again in a variety of ways.

This is also a great way to practice vocabulary words. Using index cards, students can write the vocab word on one side and the definition on the other. You can also use it for identification skills – show a picture on one side, and the identification on the other. For example, one side can have a picture of a beaker, and the other side will have the word ‘beaker’ to practice identifying lab equipment. Other ideas include: plant identification, constellation identification, cloud identification, metric conversions or abbreviations, etc…

Graphing Sunrise, Sunset, and Moonrise Data

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In this activity, students collected data from different cities around the world and entered the sunrise, sunset, and moonrise times into an excel spreadsheet. I have the spreadsheet set up to automatically graph the data as it is entered into excel for 7 consecutive weeks. (I printed out and photocopied the 4th tab of the spreadsheet to make it easier for the students to collect their data and then enter into the spreadsheet)

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For my classes, I gave everyone the information for the New Jersey data (it is in the spreadsheet as an example, but you can easily delete it and modify as needed). This gave everyone a foundation to make their comparisons. Each student was randomly assigned their first city, and when done, were able to choose any city from the list for their 3rd choice.

Files needed for the lesson: