STEM Lab: Lunar Phases Model

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SWBAT create a model to represent the lunar phases.

Big Idea

What's better than understanding lunar phases? Making the model out of cookies and then eating it!

Teacher Preparation

In this lesson, students create a model that represents the lunar phases using cookies. This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.E.1.2, 'Recognize patterns of observable changes in the Moon's appearance from day to day'. The essential question for today is 'Why can't we always see the moon?' which came about from my own student's list of questions developed at the beginning at this unit. Click here for my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question. This lesson also aligns to NGSS 1-ESS1-1, 'Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted' as students use their own observations and observations from media to describe the patterns of the phases of the moon.


*7 Oreo cookies per student

*1 popsicle stick per student

*1 piece of legal paper per student


*Internet/YouTube access

Warm Up

10 minutes

To start this lesson, we begin with reviewing our list of questions from the beginning of this unit and I say,

"Today we are going to learn about the phases of the moon and answer the question, 'Why can't we always see the moon?' You will make a model of the phases of the moon and you get to eat this model! While you watch this video that will explain a lot of information, just watch - do not take notes today because I want you to watch the models they show in the videos. Okay?"

I show this video (about 7 minutes long) which is a cartoon but it shows great visual models of the rotation of the Earth and moon and explains the phases of the moon in a way I think my student will really understand. Using media to understand natural phenomenon supports Science and Engineering Practice 8. 

After the video, we discuss how the phases of the moon repeat every month (almost!) and that they are a cycle that repeats in the exact same sequence each time. I show the image of the phases on the Smart Board and read the names of the phases, repeating when I get to the end to illustrate that the cycle simply repeats. I ask my students to join in with me and we repeat it twice together. This helps them to understand that this is a cyclical occurrence. Then we move into the activity.


20 minutes

For the activity, each student gets 7 oreo cookies and a popsicle stick to clean off the filling they won't need. The new moon and the full moon are the same cookie, that's why they don't need 8! I say,

"For our model today, we are going to make some cookies look like the phases of the moon. You will have to watch really carefully as I show you on the document camera how to make your cookies look like that! Don't nibble on your cookies or your moons won't look right!! Ready? We are going to use this photograph from NASA to help us with our model."

I pass out the supplies with the help of a few responsible students, and we get to work. I show my students first how to label their legal sized paper with each of the 8 phases we will make. Then, we make each phase of the moon, one at a time, and match it with the paper. Here is another website that explains this is more detail.

After we complete our model and I take pictures, I say,

"Now, before you can eat it, share with your neighbor the phases of the moon all the way through!"

Then, we eat our models!

Wrap Up

5 minutes

At the end of the lesson, I say,

"So, does the moon actually change shape?"

This brings us back to our original question. Asking and answering questions supports Science and Engineering Practice 1. I let several students answer the question, building on each others responses and explaining their new knowledge from today. Discussing and communicating their newly gained scientific knowledge supports Practice 8. 'Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information'.

Since this lesson takes place in one class period, there is no assessment or journal writing that takes place. However, we continue to learn about the moon in this lesson where I assess my student's understanding of the phases of the moon in their conversation and journal entries after the lesson.