I absolutely love teaching moon phases and after 14 years, I feel like I've almost perfected the art of teaching this concept. I've created a lot of new things, come up with tips and tricks that will stick with my students, and created some pretty awesome hands-on activities for my students to be able to interact and experience the lunar cycle. And because I only use activities that give me 'a lot of bang for my buck,' I'm able to shorten the amount of time I need to teach the concept and students are mastering the material in less time than ever.
I begin on the first day with an engagement activity in which students receive a baggie full of moon phases and they are simply asked to place them in a logical sequence on their table. When they are done with the task, they raise their hand for me to come check it. Over 90% of the time, students will place the pictures in the correct sequence, but they will have the moon pictures laid out in a straight line. So I ask, "What comes after this last picture?" And they usually grab the first picture in the sequence and drag it to the end. Then I ask the exact same question again, followed by another card moving from the beginning of the sequence to the end AGAIN. So I ask, "Is there a better way you could lay these pictures out on your desk?" They very quickly realize that a circle is more appropriate because the moon phases are a never-ending cycle. There is no beginning and no end.
After this engagement activity, I begin the "Lunar Lollipop Investigation" in which each student gets to experience and discover for themselves what causes us to see various moon phases from earth and why the moon appears to be lit in the sky.
Day 2 involves some note-taking, diagram drawing/labeling, and tips and tricks. I created some large magnets with my Silhouette machine of the 8 moon phases, the Sun and the Earth. This allows me to model on the front board while students add information to their Interactive Science Notebooks. I have narrowed down learning moon phases into a few basic rules to memorize. And because a lot of my students struggle with drawing and labeling the moon phases if the location of the Sun varies on the diagram they are observing, I have also created 5 simple steps for students to follow to get the drawing and labeling of moon phases right every time.
In 8th grade, my students not only need to be able to identify the phase, but they need to be able to predict moon phases, so teaching the various time increments that pass between phases is crucial to them being able to master predicting. Day 2 ends with us drawing arrows (using 4 different colored pencils) to show the amount of time that passes from a new moon to new moon, new moon to full moon, new moon to first quarter, new moon to waxing crescent, etc...
On Day 3 students get to practice all of the information they've learned by "playing" with my moon phase cardboard circles and my moon phase boards. A few years ago, I went to a local bakery in town to ask if I could purchase some of her cardboard circles that she used under cakes. I happened to have taught all 3 of her daughters, so she graciously donated them to me. Score! I made 6 complete sets for my classes (6 sets of the moon as seen from Earth and 6 sets of the moon as seen from space - I call it the Gods-eye view). I do both of these sets because the view from space is often included in models and students don't quite understand the meaning or significance.
The students use Post-its to label the phases in both models and I come by to quickly check their answers when they are done. Once I've verified that everything is correct, I have them move to the other side of the model and lay the moons out again (with the Sun on the opposite side - once with the Sun on the left, once with the Sun on the right).
"Predicting the Sequence of Events in the Lunar Cycle Activity" product, students work with a partner to roll the dice and predict various moon phases before and after the rolled moon phase. They have to draw the rolled phase, label it, show its location on a Sun-Earth-Moon diagram, and then draw and label the phase that comes a designated time before and after the rolled phase. Each roll of the dice requires them to predict a different amount of time before and after (so there's no need to worry about students rolling the same phase. The answers will always be different!)
And that, my friends, is how you teach (and have your students master) moon phases in under one week!
For more great lessons, labs, and activities that related to moon phases, check out these products in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:
- Space Science for Interactive Notebooks
- Moon Phases and Seasons Task Cards
- Daily Science Starters for Middle School - Earth and Space
- Predicting the Sequence of Events in the Lunar Cycle Activity
- That's a Fact, Jack! Fact or Fiction Science Sorting: Motions of Earth and Moon
- Day/Night, Seasons, Moon Phases, & Tides Review Circuit
- Predicting Moon Phases Color-by-Number
- 8th Grade Science STAAR Review- Reporting Category 3 (Earth & Space)
- Moon Phases Reciprocal Learning Activity