Learning about the Moon this Semester (Rambling notes for me, but you can read them if you want)

Late Jan, February, and Early March: 

~2 months of observations, light discussion, and moon journaling during inquiry units on other topics. The 1st month was done without much structure, except bi-weekly self and peer evaluations assessing mostly whether it’s getting done. 2nd month had more explicit focus on measuring angle moon and sun (after instruction on some methods of doing this), and still bi-weekly peer evaluations but evaluating more explicit expectations about what should be in an entry. During both months, we made in-class observations whenever weather and phase were amenable. We also discussed our moon observations and thoughts on the moon about 15-20 minutes per week, sometimes spilling over more. There was one day where I think we spent 1.5 hours talking about the moon. Early discussions often revolved around, ‘When did we last see the moon? When do we think you will see it again?”, “How come we couldn’t see the moon last night?”, “Why (in the world) could we see the moon out during the day?” “Where do we think we’ll see the moon and sun if we come out at the same time tomorrow?” “When was the last time in our journals where the moon looked like this?”, “Does everybody see the same moon the same way around the globe?”, “Why does the moon sometimes appear orange?”

When I do this again, I will more deliberately introduce and give practice with compasses and coordinating that with looking at maps of our school and their homes.

Week One of Focused Moon Inquiry

Day One: Initial Moon Ideas with Crumpled Paper Toss

Everyone was asked to spend 5-10 minutes writing about why they thought the moon went through its phases. Everyone had to use words and diagrams. Everyone knew they were going to crumple up their writing and toss it in the middle of the room, and then go get one that was no their own.

With elbow partners, students read and discussed the ideas and diagrams in the paper they found, and had to prepare a whiteboard to share what they had found about other’s ideas. Here is a smattering of the ideas

  • The phases of the moon depend upon a little bit of everything: weather, temperature, the seasons, etc.
  • The phases of the moon are the result of the earth’s shadow passing over the moon as the moon goes around the earth
  • The phases of the moon are caused by the moon spinning (around its own axis), 
  • The phases of the moon are the result of a “blow out effect”, whereby when the moon is close to the sun, the light from the sun overwhelms our view of parts of the moon (like how too strong a flash can “obscure” details in a photograph).
  • The phases of the moon are related to the various orbits and rotations of moon, earth, and sun, 

This served the purpose of getting ideas on the table, focused us on the role of trying to understand other people’s ideas, and introduced us to the real challenges of writing about your ideas so that others can understand. This whole unit builds toward writing a moon paper, using structures from “They Say, I Say…” by Graff & Berkenstein, so students have also had reading assignments from the book. 

Day Two: Creating a Community Moon Calendar

We spent most of the day, taking data from our individual journals and putting them onto large calendars I had created on the whiteboards around the room. I’ve tried in the past of “structuring this” in various ways, but I found it went well this time to let students just go up and put something on the board free-for-all style. Not one at a time, just mob style. The only structure I gave was, before hand, suggesting that we all share convention of whether shading in a diagram will show “what’s lit” or “what’s not lit” of the moon. Otherwise it gets confusing. I also encouraged students to check if someone else in class had a similar observation before putting anything up and encourage students who hadn’t gotten up to do so. I also let them chat off-task if they wanted.

It was a low pressure situation with a relaxed tempo and vibe. Many groups were up and adding things to the calendar, discussing. Other were comparing notes from their journals at their desks. Some were hanging back. A previous me would have thought ill of the laxadasical flow and pace, which included a real lack of structure and even permitted off-task talk. Someone watching my class could have easily just been confused as to why I was just letting students wander around, some on task, some off task. It could seem to someone else that it took us a lot of time to do this, and someone could have been wondering if this could be done more efficiently. I think the feel and pace was near perfect. [Side Note: In general, my feeling, thoughts, and even response concerning off-task talk has changed dramatically over the last 3 years.]

Afterwards, we started looking for patterns. Patterns we discussed were ideas related to waxing and waning about how it seems to take 28-29 days to repeat. Other patterns focused on what side of the moon was lit and what time of the day. Next time I want to scaffold this a little bit towards “proposing possibilities” language such as “I’m noticing that, I’m wondering if…” One reason is that some patterns students will suggest will be “correct” (from scientist’s perspective) and others will not. I don’t want to be put in the position (now) of having to be the arbiter of that. Second, I want students to feel OK in proposing possibilities. Third, I want every student to be in the position of deciding whether or not they understand the pattern being proposed, whether or not they agree that pattern might be there. 

Day Three:  Analyzing Writing Moves (and Modeling a Specific Moon Day)

Students had just submitted their first writing assignment the previous night. I took an example from one student who had decided to write about the blowout theory–what the idea was and why they had come to believe that the blowout theory could not be an explanation for the moon phases. The assignment had to been to write about one idea from class and then respond to it–either agree and give reasons or disagree and give reasons.

In class, students were given the excerpt and the prompted to:

  • (A) Highlight phrases within the text that signal to the reader whether they author is discussing what “Others Say” about the moon or what “They say” about the moon. 
  • (B) Highlight phrases within the text that signal to the reader that an idea is about to be clarified, elaborated, or compare/contrasted. 
  • (C) Highlight any other important phrases or words within the text that you think standout. Be ready to explain why you chose a phrase, and what purpose you think that phrase serves in helping the reader understand the text.

Here is the (snippet of) student writing that was analyzed and discussed:

“One observer believes that the Moon’s phases are in direct correlation to the specific distance of the Moon from the Sun as it travels in an orbital path around the Earth. They say that when the Moon reaches its closest possible orbital position next to the Sun, the bright sunlight overpowers the lesser light of the Moon, thereby making the Moon virtually invisible to our eyes. Then, as the Moon continues to travel in its orbital path around the Earth – it is simultaneously changing in its distance from the Sun – and, that is what causes us to observe incremental changes in the phases of the Moon. This theory seems to imply that the further away the Moon moves from the Sun, we are then able to see a larger area of the Moon’s surface. 


Personally, I disagree with the first observer if by their explanation they are implying that the Moon is a lesser source of light than the Sun. Based upon that premise, we wouldn’t be able to observe different phases of the Moon’s surface. Instead – depending upon how far the Moon is away from the Sun along its orbital path around Earth – we would only see varying intensities in brightness of the light upon the entire surface of the Moon itself. Thus, I say the Moon merely reflects the light which originates from the Sun.”


After students worked in groups to read and discuss, we put the text under the document camera, and students suggested lines to highlight and gave reasons. 

After the writing discussion, we decided to pick a day/time that we had all made the same moon observation and try to explain/model what was going. We chose a day from our moon calendar where we had made an in-class observation–that way we knew everyone had seen the same thing and had a moon journal entry. The observation we picked was a crescent moon seen to the right of the sun around noon time. Every group had available to them for modeling– a globe, a styrofoam ball, a light bulb; whiteboard with markers; they also had a envelope filled with various two-dimensional laminated cutouts of suns, moons, day-time skies, night-time skies, grass, people, and even words like, “Noon”, “East”, “Up”, “Sunrise”, “Midnight”, “North”, etc. Students worked in groups trying to create a model that would help show them what was happening that day to create a crescent moon seen to the right of the sun. I circulated around as students engaged in the task, but we didn’t have time that day to share out anything. Students didn’t necessarily stick to the task of the crescent (which was fine). Many students were engaged in modeling the moon’s phases more broadly. Here are things I noted that day:

– One group had decided that the moon could not orbit around the equator, because it would seem that there would never be a full moon. They were excitedly toying with the possibility that the moon went over the pole’s instead.

– One group was becoming increasingly confident with the shadow theory.

– One group was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the shadow theory

It’s not true that the groups were so homogenous, perhaps it’s better to say that these three things were happening. There was a loose correlation with groups. But I know there was one anti-shadow person in the group that was swaying toward the shadow theory. And I know that two students in particular were driving the disenchantment with the shadow theory. 

I’ll write later about what happened the following week. I actually had to miss class the following Monday and so students had to run class without me. 

Here’s quick outline for me to remember:

Monday: Student-led Class–explaining the shadow theory in depth; and introducing objection’s. [Bubble Popper vs Brick Builders]

Wednesday: Building Foothold Ideas: “What We agree on, What we don’t agree on, What questions we still have”; Shadow Theory Revisited

Friday: Olaf’s Cousin who lives in a Rocket Ship; and Spinny Chair Modelling

One thought on “Learning about the Moon this Semester (Rambling notes for me, but you can read them if you want)

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: