STEM Lab: Lunar Surface Model

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SWBAT create a model of the surface of the moon.

Big Idea

We know what the moon looks like from down here on Earth, but what does it look like to the astronauts who visit? Using media including photographs and video, students look closely at the surface of the moon and make a model.

Teacher Preparation

In this lesson, students will learn what the surface of the moon looks like from Earth and more closely through media when astronauts visited! Then, they will create models to represent the surface of the moon. This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.E.1, 'Recognize the features and patterns of the earth/moon/sun system as observed from Earth'. Click here to listen to my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.

It is important for my students to learn about this content and to make a model of it for two reasons. First, it adds to their overall understanding of the individual characteristics of the Earth's moon which will enable them to compare it to the Earth and sun as we continue this unit. Second, modeling patterns in the scientific world supports Science and Engineering Practice 2 and this particular unit lends itself to lots of modeling because of the unique physical characteristics! And, it really gets my students more interested in the lessons so they learn more!


*Internet/YouTube access

*Small trays for the models (1 per student)

*Model magic clay (or other soft texture to form the base of the model)

*Rocks & sand to imprint in the clay

Warm Up

10 minutes

Before my students can make models to show what the surface of the moon looks like or feels like, they need some background knowledge! First, I show this 1 minute clip of an astronaut from Apollo 16 who is pushing some kind of object into the surface of the moon and is surprised by how easily it goes in. This illustrates that some parts of the surface of the moon are soft, so after the clip I say,

"Just like on Earth how we have parts of the ground outside that are hard and dry and parts that are soft, the moon does as well. The astronaut fell because he expected the ground on the moon to be hard, but it was not! Today, we are going to make a model that represents the surface of the moon so we need to take some notes to remember what we learn. What should we add about this?"

Although I want the teaching to be explicit--that the ground was soft in some areas--the way that the students record the notes can be more flexible because it needs to be in a way that they can remember it.

The next thing I show them are these three detailed pictures of the surface of the moon:

Moon Landing, Apollo 17 Moon Boulder, & Iapetus Moon Ridge

As I show the pictures, I ask the students to describe what they see. The more detailed their descriptions are, the better their models will be so I really probe them to give specific responses. I explain that on the moon there are ridges and craters made from impacts over many years from different objects in space. Using media to learn about scientific content supports Science and Engineering Practice 8. Recording that information in students' journals and using it as the base on conversations throughout this lesson supports Practice 4.

I know students will have lots of questions about this and I tell them we will learn more specific information when we learn about the moon in our next lessons - today, we are focused on the physical characteristics. For the sake of time, we have to keep moving so they can have time to build their model.

After we have spent time looking closely at each photograph, we move into the activity.


15 minutes

To prepare students to create their model, I say,

"In your journals, draw a large rectangle. That will be the base of your lunar surface model. Then, think of the photographs and video we looked at and review your notes and decide what you are going to put in your model. Your model isn't big enough to show the entire moon - it is just a small piece of it, so don't try to show everything you learned about today. Take a few minutes to decide what you want to show in your model and then draw and label your picture so you will know what to build".

As students work on their diagrams, I pass out the trays and the model magic that will become their base. On each table I put a collection of small rocks and some sand that the students can share. As always, we are using the materials that we have available and the model magic clay that I have is crazy colors -- so, I will address that with my students and see what solutions they come up with.

After a few minutes, I say,

"Now  you are ready to create your models. Remember to use your diagrams as a guide and to share the materials on your table. I will come around and help if you need me. You have about 10 minutes to work."

As my students work, I help with technical aspects, such as making ridges, which can be tough for little fingers! After 9 minutes, I say,

"You have about one minute left. Finish your model and then start to clean up your materials, then we will share your models."

Science and Engineering Practice 2 calls for developing simple models based on evidence which students do during this activity.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

To wrap up this lesson, I say,

"Who would like to share their model and its features?"

I invite a few students who want to share to do so. Science and Engineering Practice 2 also calls for students to identify common features and differences of models, so after a few students have shared I say,

"What do you notice most of our friends have done that is similar? What do you notice that someone did that was different?"

This also engages students in discourse about scientific modeling and content which supports Practice 8, communicating about scientific design ideas and solutions.