Moon Observations

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SWBAT make observations of the moon, look for patterns, and determine what causes the changes to the appearance of the Moon.

Big Idea

The Moon is the easiest object to observe in the night sky so it's a good way to introduce students to making nighttime observations. In doing this they will see patterns of the change in appearance of the Moon and will see the change in its location.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Plan

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 12 : Moon Observations.

5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science. The 5E Lesson Planning Template and 5E Lesson Planning Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about the solar system by studying the sun, the moon, planets and stars. In the first three lessons the students will learn about the Sun. Lessons 4 through 7 focus on the movement of the Earth around the Sun. Lesson 8 is about Orreries, lessons 9 and 10 cover solar eclipses, lessons 11 and 12 are about the moon, lesson 13 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 3 lessons; 14-16 are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will record their moon observations over a period of one month and look for patterns of change during these observations. They will also be able to explain what is happening during the changes to the appearance of the moon. If you don't have a month to carry out the observations, you can use the website linked in the narrative to have the students record these as the observations.

You will also need the following materials to complete this lesson: 

  • Pencils or markers
  • Copies for each student of the Moon observation worksheets
  • Black construction paper to make a cover for their Moon Observation book (optional).
  • Access to computers with internet access at school or at home.

Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson focuses on the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of the NGSS but not any specific performance expectations of the NGSS Standards. However, it is good background information for students for when they start learning about the NGSS Standard 5-ESS1-1:Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth. Since the Moon is the closest object to the Earth, it is easily observable. It also supports 5-ESS1-2: Represent data in graphical displays to reveal daily changes in the length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas: This lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Idea from the Earth and Space Science:

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System. The Earth’s orbit and rotation,and the orbit of the moon around the Earth cause observable patterns.

Crosscutting Concepts:


Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for natural phenomena. (5-ESS1-2)

Science and Engineering Practices:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Analyzing data in 3-5 builds on K-2 experiences and progresses to introducing quantitative approaches to collecting data and conducting multiple trials of qualitative observations. When possible and feasible, digital tools should be used.

  • Represent data in graphical displays (bar graphs, pictographs and/or pie charts) to reveal patterns that indicate relationships. (5-ESS1-2)




20 minutes

We have learned a few things about the Moon's movement around the Earth in previous lessons, but now we are ready to do some observations of the Moon.

I start the lesson by having the students write some things that they already know about the Moon in their Science Notebooks. I then show them a short slide show from Scholastic's Study Jams. This is a good starting point for the lesson to get the students thinking about the movement of the Moon around the Earth and about what causes the different phases of the Moon.

While the students watch the slide show, I have them take notes in their Science Notebooks. I have the students use a common note taking strategy called " 3-2-1 Notes". The students write 3 things they learn, 2 items that they thought were interesting, and 1 question they might have. I also have a 3-2-1 Notes Worksheet they could use that they can cut and paste into their Science Notebook.

After the slideshow I have the students do a Round Robin sharing one interesting fact they learned about the Moon from their 3-2-1 Notes.


30 minutes

After the science groups have talked about the interesting facts they wrote down about the Study Jams slides, I  ask them the following questions:

  • When can we see the Moon in the sky?
  • Can we see the Moon in the daytime? 
  • Why does the moon look different at different times?

We have a short discussion about these questions and then I take them outside to look at the Moon. (Make sure that the Moon is visible during the daytime by checking this website.) We then look to see how much of the Moon is illuminated or visible. I tell the students that by making these observations we will see a change in how much of the moon is illuminated or visible to us on Earth. 

After our observations, I tell the students that they will be observing the Moon over the next month and I show them this Moon Infographic from I hand out the Moon Observations Worksheets to the students and show them how they need to be filled out. I tell them that these observations will take place over the next month so they need to keep these worksheets in a safe place so they don't lose them. The directions are also included on the first page of the Moon Observations Worksheet. 

I also post the daily Moon Phases from the website so that the students can double check their observations or use the posts if the night before was too cloudy or they weren't able to go outside to observe the moon.

During a few of our science classes, I brought in iPads so that students could look up the phases and double check their work in their journals. A few of my students had a difficult time completing the nightly observations, so this was a good option for them. I wanted to make sure that everyone was able to participate in this activity. Here arestudents using the iPad for moon observations and Students using the iPad to record moon observations.




20 minutes

After we have had a month to make our Moon observations, I have the students get out their moon observation journal and share their observations with their science groups. We also check the class observation chart and see how they compare. 

I then ask the students to write a few sentences about the patterns they observed and why they think the Moon changes. They write these in their Moon observation journals. I guide the students in a class discussion to determine what causes the changes in the Moon and I let the students know that these changes are caused by the part of the Moon that is illuminated or visible to the Earth and lit by the Sun. 

I wanted the students to observe and record the moon phases over a period of a month so that they could begin to understand the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns and the NGSS Standard of 5-ESS1-2.

I asked them to look for the changes that are happening to the Moon each night and try to figure out what was happening. We have already learned about the movement of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth so I was looking for students' development of the concept of moon phases as it related back to those movements. 

A great resource for Cross Cutting Concepts is from this link and these symbols were created by Peter A'Hearn and James Taylor.

I show them a moon phases diagram and tell the students to look at their observations to see which of their drawings match the phases. I make sure the students draw and label a similar diagram in their science notebooks with the following terms and we define them:

New Moon-, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Last Quarter (3rd Quarter), Waning Crescent. Here are student's notes: Moon phase student notes and another moon phase student's notes.

For the evaluation of this lesson, I look at the student observation journals as well as at their Science Notebooks. I observe their discussions about the different observations they are making and make sure that they have a grasp on the moon phase terms since this will lead to our next lesson about making a moon phase model.