Making Models of the Moon Phases

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SWBAT make a model demonstrating the phases of the Moon.

Big Idea

Making models is an important aspect to the NGSS and gives students a concrete and hands-on component to help them understand more abstract concepts.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 13 : Making Models of the Moon phases.

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. Lessons 8 and 9 are lessons about Orreries, lessons 10 and 11 cover solar eclipses, lessons 12 and 13 are about the moon, lesson 14 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 4 lessons; 15-18 are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will create models of the phases of the moon using ping pong balls, cardboard, and black paint or black sharpies. This is a good continuation of the previous lesson about Moon Observations.

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

  • 1 piece of cardboard or foam board for each group (I have 8 groups) a larger poster size would work best. I used foam boards for this lesson and cut the center holes out beforehand ( I used a large bowl to trace the circle and cut out the foam with an Exacto knife)
  • 8 ping pong balls per group
  • black paint or black Sharpie
  • scissors
  • yellow construction paper (for the Sun)
  • velcro dots to stick the ping pong balls onto the cardboard (I found that the Velcro dots worked well initially, but fell off after a few times using them).

** I also colored the Ping Pong Balls ahead of time. This saved us time during the model building.

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:

Making Models: 

Developing and Using Models


10 minutes

As we begin the lesson I tell the student what the CHAMPS expectations are for this activity that will include a "Lecture" portion and a "Lab" portion of the investigation.

I remind the students about the moon journals that we have been keeping and  I tell them about our learning objective today which is to create a model of the moon phases and to learn about what causes these phases. I share with them that this is a Crosscutting Concept concept of Patterns and that observing the moon is easier than observing other objects in  the night sky since it is closer to the Earth.

I tell them that I am going to show them a quick presentation about the Moon phases and that they should pay close attention to the position of the Sun, Earth and Moon in the presentation as well as take notes or draw diagrams of the different phases of the moon in their Science Notebooks. I click on the "Monthly Cycle" tab to show the students the diagram of the different phases and then I click on the next slide and then click on the "animation" tab to show the animation and the relationship of the Sun, Earth. and Moon during the phases. After letting the animation cycle a few times, I click on each moon to show where it is in the cycle and which phase it is in.



60 minutes

We start by doing a review of the moon phases by doing a cooperative learning strategy called "Fan and Pick". Here are the Fan and Pick Directions. I demonstrate with the students how to do the Fan and Pick before I tell them to start the strategy. 

Each Science Group has a set of Fan and Pick Cards that has the moon phases on one side and some questions.  Each group also has a Fan and Pick Answer Key. I circulate around the room to check that the students are participating and to remind Student #4 that they need to be coaching

After the "Fan and Pick" review I explain to the students that I want them to create a model that shows these phases. I explain that they will be utilizing ping pong balls, sharpies, foam board, glue or Velcro dots, and yellow construction paper to do this.  

I give the students the Hand out that is the "Moon Phase Model Criteria" and I go over it with them. I tell them that they need to have a plan and draw a diagram of what their model will look like before they can get the materials for making the Moon Phase Model. I show the students the foam board, the ping pong balls, and the Velcro Dots. They also have a materials basket that includes construction paper, scissors, glue and markers so that they can make a Sun and place the "moons" on the board. I also show them the laminated sheet of the Moon phases that they could use for reference when they are making their models.

I decided to cut the foam board and color the ping pong balls ahead of time so that the students can focus on the planning and building of the model. I remind the students that I need to see their diagrams before they can get the materials to make their models. Here is one moon phase model student sketch and here's another student's moon phase model sketch.

We complete the above part of the lesson and I decide to give the students a " Brain Break". The students love using Go Noodle and it's a great way to let them move around a bit after being focused and working for a long time.

I make sure to check the drawing the students made for the Moon Phase model and then tell them to have one person from their science group come and get the materials they need to set up their models. I remind them that a good idea would be to sketch where they will be placing everything on their foam boards before gluing or coloring anything. I also remind them to look back at the criteria worksheet to make sure they are following the directions. 

The students then start working on creating their moon phase models. I circulate and help as needed and remind the groups that they need to make the sun and place it on their foam boards first before they can place the "moons" on the board. The criteria sheet also tells the students to label all of the moon phases on their boards. Some groups decide to cut out and glue the laminated moon phase cards on their boards which is a good idea. 

I tell the students to make sure they go back to the notes they took from the earlier presentation as well as to refer to their sketch to make sure the placement of the ping pong balls on the board is correct. I help students who are confused about where to place the ping pong balls by reminding them about how only half of the moon is illuminated at any one time and that the Sun provided this illumination. Here are some students placing the ping pong balls on the foam board and students working on the model.


10 minutes

While the students are completing their Moon Phase models, I am checking to see that they are understanding why the Moon looks different at different times of the month and that they are labeling the phases correctly.

I tell them that when they have completed the model, I want them to practice using the model and name the phases as they are using the model. I explain that I will be having them share their Moon Phase Models with other classes and that they can teach these students about the moon phases by using this model.

I also do a quick assessment using Plickers to see if the students understand the different phases of the moon and  to reinforce what they worked on with the model. I ask the following multiple choice questions about Moon Phases to the students and have them answer using their Plicker cards.

  1. How long does it take for the Moon to make its full cycle (or orbit) of the Earth?
  2. What gives the Moon its light?
  3. What is a Quarter Moon?
  4. How much of the Moon is visible during the "Waxing Gibbous" phase?
  5. What is the "New Moon"?
  6. How much of the Moon is constantly illuminated by the Sun?

I use my phone and the Plickers app to scan the cards and I get instant feedback about which students got it right or who needs help. Each card is coded differently and the students hold it based on their answer to the question.



Here are Videos of another method of using ping pong balls for the model another video that explains the phases again. This video is a time lapse of the moon phases