Exploring the Phases of the Moon

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SWBAT develop a hypothesis, observe how the phases of the moon are created, record observations and identify the cause for this predictable pattern.

Big Idea

As the moon orbits the Earth the moon appears to change shape. This is all due to the location of the moon and sun. Come and explore what causes this magical celestial!

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

In this lesson students will be introduced to the Earth, moon and sun (our star). 1-ESS1-1 asks students to use observations to explore the predictable patterns of our moon, sun and stars.  The Next Generation Standards also asks that students themselves carry out investigation and use first hand observations.  In this lesson students will use their observations of the moon to further their understanding of the predictable patterns of the moon.

Home to School Connection:

We will be learning about the sun, the stars and moon. The NGSS asks that students to observe, describe and predict how the sun and moon changes over a period of time. I send home two science bags that will allow students to observe the night sky.

The Sun Bag In order for students to observe the changes of our sunset, each day a different student takes home our Sun Bag that includes a Sunset Observations sheet, The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley, a box of crayons and a parent letter. Students record his/her findings on our class Sunset Calendar. We observe the sun for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the sunset changes.

The Moon Bag In order for students to observe the change of the moon, each day a different student takes home our Moon Bag which includes a Moon Observation Form (black paper), The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, white crayons and a parent letter. Then students record his/her findings on our class Moon Calendar. We observe the moon for a full month so that we can observe, describe and predict the changes it goes through in one full cycle. If the moon is not visible that student will record the night sky and then the next day we will predict what it would have looked like had it been seen.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.


KLEWS anchor chart - Does the moon have predictable patterns?

Investigation Worksheet - The Changing Moon

Access to computer lab

Science Journals:  I just use blank paper in my journals so my students have space and freedom to experiment with graphic organizers, illustrations, etc.

Science Journal Prompt: Why does the moon change shape?


15 minutes

I begin this lesson with my students sitting on the floor in front of our KLEWS chart.  Research shows that our students are more likely to gain a deeper understanding of the science concepts when they are actively engaged in doing science. The Science and Engineering Practice 1 requires students to ask questions and define problems.  Science begins with questioning and allows for curiosity to drive the learning in the classroom.

The NGSS states:

The actual doing of science or engineering can pique students’ curiosity, capture their interest, and motivate their continued study; the insights thus gained help them recognize that the work of scientists and engineers is a creative endeavor.

I activate prior knowledge by referring to our KLEWS anchor chart.  In this lesson we start by reviewing the questions we have already answered in our previous investigations.  I then move the questions that we will be investigating today.  Some of the questions are listed here:

How does the moon change shape?

Why does the moon have different shapes?

Why can't the moon be a square?

I know that the moon changes shape because of a shadow but what causes that shadow?

Boys and girls you have been observing our moon changing shape and we discovered that the moon has patterns that we can follow. One pattern is that the moon goes through phases. It starts with a New Moon, then changes into a Crescent Moon, then a Quarter Moon, a Gibbous Moon, until it becomes a full moon. Then is starts to shrink again. This is the pattern that we observed.  We even got to make some Oreo cookie Moon Phases as we studied these phases.  YUM!! 

Looking at our KLEWS chart, I notice you have asked a lot of questions about why the moon has these phases.  I thought that could be the question we investigate today!!  What do you think? 

Great!!  Let's get started!


25 minutes

Before diving into the investigation, I begin by asking my students to use their prior knowledge from our previous lessons to try and develop a hypothesis as to why the moon changes shape.  In order to scaffold the process of creating a hypothesis, students work with their workshop partners to first talk about their smart guess.  After some talk-time I ask the students to work in partnerships to record their hypothesis on their Investigation worksheet - The Changing Moon.

The students will be using the internet to investigate why the moon changes shape.  I make sure I have a computer for each child for this investigation. I ask our investigation question, "Why does the moon change shape?"

In this investigation you will be watching a video on your computer about the moon.  As you observe the moon I would like you to be thinking about our investigation question, "Why does the moon change shape?" Your job to watch this video to figure out what is causing this predictable pattern to happen over and over again!

I invite my students to watch this video of the moon's phases to develop some understandings of how the phases of the moon are created.

As my students are working I walk around and confer with each student naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching.  In this conference I am am careful to guide my students to observe what part the ball is lit and how it looks from Earth. I am hoping they will notice the as the moon travels around the Earth the reflection grows and shrinks in a pattern.  This pattern is predictable because the moon always orbits around the Earth in the same pattern.


10 minutes

The strands of science proficiency asks that students participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.  So, I provide a lot of opportunities for my students to think science and talk science.

After our investigation, I ask my students to find their workshop partners and share their observations. The room turns into an uproar! They are so excited to share what they have just observed.  After a few moments of sharing I ask them to fill in the "What did you observe?" section of their Investigation worksheet.

Next, I bring my students back to the carpet in a whole group setting. I ask for student partnerships to share their observations with other partnerships. This allows students to take ownership over their learning as well as provides support for students who are having a hard time knowing what to write down. As my students are sharing, I ask my students to compare their observations to their hypothesis recorded on Investigation Worksheet. I ask my students, "What did you observe?" and "Was your hypothesis right?" 

When we come back together, we fill in the Evidence section of our KLEWS chart - I write, "We observed the moon travel around the earth."


10 minutes

Science and Engineering practice 8 requires our students to obtain, evaluate and communicate information. By students sharing their evidence and explaining results students are allowed to engage in scientific reasoning. My students will communicate information how the phases of the moon are formed.

My students watch a video on this website to learn more about how the moon's phases are created. After exploring more about the phases, I ask my students to share what they have learned with their workshop partner.  After a few minutes of sharing, I ask my students to record what they have learned in the last section of their Investigation Worksheet - The Changing Moon.

I bring the class together and we record our answers on our KLEWS chart.  Under "Learned" we record, "The moon's phases are caused by the sun and the moon spinning around the earth."

We read over our wonderings and move only the questions we have answered to the "Know" section of our KLEWS chart.


10 minutes

The Science and Engineering Practice 4 asks students to analyze data. At the K-2 level this involves students collecting, recording, and sharing observations. In this lesson the students are recording information, thoughts and ideas in their science journals.

I send my students back to their science journals and ask them to write about our investigation today. I ask, "How does the moon change shape?"  As the students write I tell them to refer back to the research we did today. I tell them to use information from their recording sheet to help with their scientific writing.

I use my Document Camera to show students examples of quality scientific writing and illustrations to act as model for students needing extra support.