It's a Pattern! The Moon's Phases

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SWBAT describe patterns of the moon.

Big Idea

Why can't you book a hotel room on the moon? It's always full! Today we teach students about the phases of the moon. And we make models using Oreo cookies!

Instructional Notes

In the previous lesson, we determined two patterns for the moon: 

1) The moon changes shapes.

2) The moon appears to rise, move across the sky, and set.

In today's lesson, we focus in on the first pattern-- the moon's phases.  I have chosen an activity that helps students actually see the moon go through its phases, a related text, and a follow-up way to make and record the phases.  The final activity is all about the Oreo cookies!

The NGSS standard calls for students to use their observations to describe patterns that can be predicted.  The cross-cutting concept is that we can use patterns from the past to help predict the future.  During our math block, we have Calendar Math on the whiteboards.  Starting this month, one of my slides will display 3 months on the screen.  The first month will show the full moon.  Then, we will count 28 days into the subsequent month to predict the next full moon, and 28 more days to predict the next full moon.  There are plenty of websites that give exact dates for full moons, just in case you want to double-check the starting dates!


(If you don't want to use Oreo cookies, students can use a white crayon on black paper or vice versa.)

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:


To start out today, I remind students about the patterns of the moon that we discovered the previous day. Then, I tell them that today we'll be learning more about the different shapes of the moon.  I show two shapes of the moon (gibbous and half moon, since they are most likely new) and ask students for a thumbs up or thumbs down if they know the name of this moon shape.  A thumbs up, thumbs down is a very quick way to assess prior knowledge.  I find that first graders are usually quite honest, and I make it funny so they are comfortable choosing thumbs down.  I say something like, "Give me a thumbs up if you know what this moon shape is called.  Give me a thumbs down if you think Mrs. Yablonski is nuts and have no idea what that shape is called!"  I call on a thumbs-up friend to share their schema.

Then, I tell them that the shapes are called phases, and there is a repeating pattern.  I add the word phases to the S section of the KLEWS chart.

Today we are going to learn more about the pattern that the moon's shapes take.  Here I have a model of the moon.  The light side is facing the sun.  The dark side is facing away from the sun.  As I move around the room, watch to see how the amount of light and dark you see changes!  This model shows the phases, or changing shapes, of the moon.

I walk around the room with the Styrofoam ball, which represents the moon.  This ball is colored half-black.  As I walk, I keep the white side facing the center of the room.  As they watch the ball from their seats, students will see the phases of the moon transitioning to one another.  Check out my video to see how this works!

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

I chose the National Geographic text because it has great photographs and identifies the phases of the moon as crescent, half moon, gibbous, full moon.  First graders do not need to understand and say whether it is a waxing or waning gibbous... that's just too much!  

Some of you have been using the words "crescent" and "full" to describe the shapes of the moon.  Today, we will read to answer our question, "What are the phases of the moon called?"

I display pages 2-3.  First, we look at only the photographs.  Common Core ELA Informational Text standard RI 1.6 asks students to distinguish between information found in the text and information found in the illustrations.  So, I don't want students to miss the opportunity to gain as much information as possible from observing the photographs closely.

First, I want you to look at the photographs.  What can we learn about the moon by looking at the photographs?  How do they help us as a reader?  Turn-and-talk with a partner about what you notice.

This text has a great graphic image of the moon going through all phases across the top of the page.  This is such a rich text feature!  I ask students if this is just one photo, or photos over many days.

I make sure to point out the this is time-lapse photography.  In other words, we would never see this in the sky; instead, it shows multiple days next to each other.  How does this help us as a reader?  It shows us the entire pattern in one image.  The Science Circle is wonderful because it allows for genuine conversation between students, which I facilitate with students listening and responding to one another.

Next, after we read the introduction, I emphasize the words in the text that reinforce the concept that the moon does not actually change, rather, it appears to change.

While reading, we discuss the content and also how the text features help us as readers.  For example, the bold print for names of the phases help us locate the name quickly.  It also tells us that the name is important information to remember-- a key detail.  Common Core ELA Informational Text standard RI 1.5 asks for students to know and use text features (like the bold print and labels in this article) to locate key details.

While reading today, the word gibbous will be new learning for the majority of my friends.  I reinforce the word by having students use it immediately in a retelling of the moon's pattern.  I also have them place their hand in the middle to see that the gibbous is more than half.

After reading the article, I tell students that we will now be making a model to show the phases of the moon.  I pass out a paper plate with 4 Oreo cookies and a plastic knife to each student.  I model each step of the process using my overhead projector.

First, we will make a full moon.  To make the full moon, gently twist the top off of 1 Oreo.  Now you keep the full amount, the circle, of white frosting inside to show the full moon.

Next, we will make a gibbous moon.  Gently twist off the top of your second cookie.  Using your plastic knife, scrape off a big of white frosting along one side, like this.

Now we will make a half moon.  Gently twist off the top of your third cookie.  Using your plastic knife, draw a line down the middle of the frosting.  Scrape off half of the frosting.

Next, we will make a crescent moon.  Twist off the top, and scrape most the the frosting away, until you are left with a small arc.

Finally, take one of the black tops.  This phases is called the new moon, and it happens when we can't see the moon at all.

After making each phases, we record it on the Moon Phases Recording Sheet.  Students will glue this foldable into their Science Journals.  I use marbled composition notebooks as science journals; they are a great place to keep work from the unit together!

Here are some pictures as we worked:

Yummy models     Moon phases models     Student sample     The cookie models

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

The objective of this lesson is to describe the pattern of the moon's phases.  Now, I ask students to touch and name each one of the phases in order.  First, I model going left to right, touching my Oreos, and back again right to left.  Then, students take turns telling the pattern to a friend.

I want this concept to stay with students longer than the Oreos will last, so I have students draw to record each phase.

Finally, I come back to the science practices by asking, "Why do scientists use models, like the Styrofoam ball and Oreo moons?"  It is important that students connect these activities to the science practices and see themselves as scientists!

After the lesson, I glue the National Geographic image to our KLEWS chart, close up of the updated L and E sections.

PS-- This lesson ends with eating the cookies.  They go best with milk-- straight from the Milky Way!