Added Nov. 3, 2022 – This activity as a computer simulation from PBS
UPDATED AUGUST 7, 2017
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.
- Laminated placemat, Suns (larger and small version), Earth, and 8 Moon Phases (pdf)
- one per two students
- you can also set these up as stations with 2-3 scenarios per station
- Scenarios with Answer Key included (Google Slides – public)
- Student handout (Where is the Sun- Where is the Moon- Student Handout 2017 with eclipse)
- Additional Resources:
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.