Planning and Conducting a Moon Investigation

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SWBAT conduct an investigation to answer a question.

Big Idea

How long does it take for the moon to go through a set of phases? More importantly, what does it look like when first graders plan an investigation? Here, students will *plan* and *conduct* an investigation of the moon's phases.

Instructional Notes

With the NGSS standards, it is just as important for students to attain content knowledge as it is for them to participate in the actions and behaviors (practices) of scientists.  The NGSS standards call for first graders to plan and conduct investigations, collaboratively and with teacher guidance.  But what does it look like? How can teachers guide students to plan an investigation?  In today's lesson, I address this challenge by facilitating the student creation and completion of an investigation.  

Unfortunately, not all phases of the moon will be visible during the length of this unit.  Luckily, there are user-friendly online tools that track phases of the moon and can be used to investigate.  In today's exploration, I introduce a website students will be using to follow moon phases.  I guide them through decisions that will form their investigation.  How does this computer model help you?  How can you navigate within this tool?  Would you like to record the moon phases on a calendar, sequentially, in a chart?  Will you investigate each day for a month? How about from one full moon to another? How about different times of year?

Then, students will work in pairs using the website to complete their investigation.  Teachers can also assist a small group investigation for students who are struggling with recording observations and/or analyzing data.  If your school does not have student devices or a computer lab, you can complete a class investigation instead.

Finally, during the closing, we share and evaluate student data.

This is the first experience my students will have being a part of the planning process, so I will be guiding them by modeling the features of the website and providing options for recording their data.  Also, technology is always a bit unpredictable!  If possible, I suggest that you ask your school's tech support teacher to co-teach with you and assist with any issues that come up!  Having a co-teacher will also give you the opportunity to better monitor groups.  

Finally, if students do not complete their investigation in this time period, I am prepared to give them an additional class period the following day.  After Day 1, I will review their work to figure out the best ways to support them (or assign a peer to assist them) the following day.  When students finish, they will go to the meeting rug and partner-read books about space.  This way, it visually separates working groups (at desks) from finished groups (on the rug).  This helps me evaluate my lesson timing and see where I can best be of assistance.


Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

First, I introduce a new song.  This is a song that I wrote called Patterns in the Sky.  Songs are such a great way to sneak in content knowledge and reinforce prior learning!  We'll be singing only the first few verses, about sun and moon patterns.  The tune is Farmer and the Dell.

The sun rises and sets

As the earth spins around

One side is in the light

While the other says goodnight.


The moon changes shape

Sometimes it disappears

Earth’s shadow covers up the moon,

Just wait—don’t shed a tear!


The moon rises and sets

It’s out in night and day


As it travels round the Earth

That’s it orbiting way.

My students have a "Study Buddy" binder that goes home and comes back to school each day.  There is a Songs & Poems section.  Students put the song in that section, and then can practice it at home as part of their nightly 15-20 minutes of reading.  The Study Buddy is a great communication tool with parents as well, as they see the content students are exposed to in class.

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

First, I tell students that scientists plan investigations.  

Today, we'll be planning an investigation, just like scientists do, to answer the question, "How long does it take the moon to go through all of its phases?  How long from one full moon to another?"  Sometimes scientists use models on the computer, and that's what we'll be doing today.    

I introduce the website we'll be using.  I chose this website because it allows students to see how the moon moves across the sky by changing the time of day.  It also shows the moon phase of any day.  It's very user-friendly with arrows to move easily from one day to another.

I show how to navigate in the website by changing the time of day and dates.  I ask, "What do you notice changes when I click the time of day?  What do you notice changes when I click the date?  How about when I change the date really fast?"

This video shows how I use the turn-and-talk strategy to give students time to formulate answers, and it also shows the computer program.

Then, I facilitate the student creation of an investigation.

Scientists, today you are answering the question, "How long does it take for the moon to go through all of its phases?"  How could we figure it out using this website?

I have students turn-and-talk to figure this out.  Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge. 

Then, I call on a few to share with the larger group.  Students should respond by saying that by changing the date, the moon shape changes; you can start with a full moon and go to the next full moon.  If your students don't see how the website works, scaffold your instruction here by modeling and thinking aloud, "Look how the shape changes when I move the date forward!  It went from a full moon to a gibbous moon." 

Next, students will need to decide how they want to record the data.  Do they want to set up a calendar and draw or write moon phases on each date?  Do they want to record in a T-chart with the date on one side and phases on the other?  Do they want to record sequentially, by finding a full moon and then recording dates for each phase?  I show students options for recording, explaining each one, and let them choose.  It's also possible that a student will have another method for recording, which is fine-- with my approval!  Graphic organizers such as these options help students organize their thinking.

Then, I assign groups based upon which students chose to record in the same way.  To make this lesson flow, if possible, you should log-in to the computers and have the website displayed on the screen before the lesson begins.  I did not have the ipads quite ready, so we had some wasted time while I went from group to group.

While students are working, I circulate and check that students are recording in a way that makes sense and will answer the question.  I say things like:

How are you recording your data?  What does your data show?  Have you gone from one full moon to another?

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

After I play a transition song, students bring their recording sheets to the rug for discussion.

Student work #1

Student work #2

Student work #3

First I ask remind them of our purpose:

Today we collected data in order to answer a question, "How long does it take for the moon to go through all of its phases.  Take a moment to analyze your data.  Did you find the answer?  How long does it take?"  

Students are welcome to turn-and-talk and discuss as they are figuring out what their data shows.  I will support particular struggling students as necessary.  Then, I call on a few students to share their answer and their recording.  I follow-up their sharing with a question like:

How did you figure out your answer?  

To summarize the learning, we add to our KLEWS chart under "E" Evidence/Observations that the moon phases pattern takes 28 days.