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MUSE | Earth-Moon-Sun Dynamics | Course Overview and Materials | Introducing Scientific Models | Course Material 1C: Moon Observations | Instructional Notes


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Intended Learning Outcomes
  • Recognize data patterns
  • Make observations
  • Organize data
  • Predict

Time Frame and Sequence

Data gathering is a starting point for model building. With this material, students have an opportunity to gather data that they will later be explained with their EMS model. This material should be introduced on the first or second day of the EMS unit. Ideally, the beginning of this data collection should coincide with waxing Moon phases since they are visible at a time when most students can observe them directly (early evening). The observations occur over a period of 28 days. Consequently, students compile data for a complete cycle of Moon phases. Teachers should take about five minutes each day to discuss this data. It will then be used extensively later in the unit with Material 2D: Moon Phases. The topic of model building in general is explored during the time students begin collecting this data.

Day 1:

Pass out "Tracking the Phases of the Moon: Daily Log." Ask students initial questions to point out what they know and don’t know about the Moon and observing in science. This should elicit the idea that observation is a major part of science. Tell students that the first thing that they will be doing in this unit is observing the Moon. They should look at it at every day and record the date, time, color, and weather. Teachers may also assign each student to record the data for one day during the month on a classroom chart. Such a chart should be put on the wall so that everyone can see and begin to note the patterns in the Moon’s appearance throughout the month (NOTE: All students have individual records and a larger class record is optional).

Days 2-28:

Spend about 5 minutes at the beginning of class each day or every few days to discuss what the students are seeing. Suggestions for conducting these discussions follow in the Ideas and Strategies section.

Student Ideas and Teaching Strategies
  1. Many students do not know that the Moon is in the sky for roughly 12 hours in a 24-hour period and that it rises and sets later each day. Thus, the teacher may want to hint about the time during when it would be best to look for the Moon on the first observation day (i.e. at sunset if there will be a full Moon).

  2. In the location column on the daily log chart, students should record what direction they are facing and how many degrees above the horizon the Moon is. Student knowledge about compass directions may vary widely, so instruction about this may need to take place. Also, students will need help in establishing a system of measuring how high above the horizon the Moon is during each observation. Inform students that one fist held at arm’s length is approximately 10 degrees. Demonstrate how to "walk" fist by fist from the horizon to the point in the sky where the Moon is visible. If it takes 3 fists to cover the Moon, then it is 30° from the horizon. Finally, note that if it is overcast and the Moon is not visible on a given day, students can look in the newspaper or on a website for information about the Moon’s phase.

  3. A class discussion about students’ Moon observations every day or every few days (for about 5 minutes) is recommended. This is a good way to begin the class since the students are usually enthusiastic about their observations. You may want to have students discuss what phase the Moon is in, its position in the sky, and the time of day it can be seen. You may ask three or four students to draw their observations on the board or classroom sheet. Ask students if they all saw the same or different things. Ask them if there are any patterns in their observations. You may also want to ask the students about the position and appearance relative to the time of day or the appearance of the Moon when it rises and sets. Again, encourage students to look for patterns. For example, students may conclude that the Moon is in the sky for approximately 12 hours in a 24-hour period and note that a waning crescent is out during the morning hours but a full Moon is not. The teacher may want to bring up the idea of what time students would look for the Moon on different days and have students look for the pattern of the Moon rising and setting slightly later each day.
  4. The following two transcripts are examples of daily class discussions about the Moon observations.

    The first transcript illustrates some of the types of questions that students raise about their data. For example, they ask whether the Moon looks the same at all locations on Earth on the same day. The students bring up new questions that they may not be able to answer with the model that they have developed so far. Such questions should be added to a class list of questions that students have about the Moon (see #4 below).

    The class starts out with the teacher asking students to talk about their data on Moon observations. Students notice some discrepancies in the data:

    Student 1: Why does mine look so different?

    S2: Does it make a difference where you are?

    Teacher: What do you mean?

    S2: Cause I was in Green Bay when I looked.

    Teacher: Does it make a difference where you are?

    (Some students say yes and some say "no")

    Teacher: It seems like there is some debate here. Why would it make a difference?

    S3: 'Cause if you were in the other half of the world the day is even at a different time. If you see a Moon here, how can you see it on the opposite side of the world (takes a globe and Styrofoam ball and illustrates this)? It could be dark here and noon there.

    S4: What about when it’s noon here and dark there. It would be the opposite wouldn’t it? So it would be the same thing.

    S3: Except it wouldn’t be at the same time.

    S4: It might not be the same time, but it would be the same thing.

    Teacher: Great question. That’s something that we’ll be looking at. Has anyone been looking at the Moon at the same time in the same place? Does it matter if you’re trying to find patterns if you change the time and where you are when you look? Will that affect the data you collect? You should look at the Moon one place and then go someplace else and try it again, right?

    (The teacher mentions that he was camping 40 miles northwest of the school and that his data is similar to BOTH sets of seemingly different data)

    In this second transcript, the teacher assists students in finding some patterns in their data. The teacher also brings up additional questions about protocol in collecting data such as whether it should be collected at the same time and at the same place everyday. In discussions about Moon observations, teachers may have a specific objective in mind, but many times students will introduce their own questions for discussion.

    At the beginning of class Mark, a student, said that he saw the Moon at 7:10 in the morning:

    Teacher: How many of you were looking for the Moon in the morning when we started about two and a half weeks ago when I first gave you this assignment? I said that your assignment is to look at the Moon for tomorrow. Was anyone looking for the Moon in the morning? You were? You didn’t see it in the morning? I didn’t know if we had any of that data about whether people were looking for the Moon in the morning. How many of you saw the Moon in the morning besides Mark?

    Student 1: I was.

    Teacher: For that particular date, does it matter when you look at the Moon?

    Student 2: No.

    Student 3: Yes.

    Teacher: Yes, it does. It does matter, because when you look at the Moon it seems to determine where it is. Correct? So you still need to write it down, but do you have to do it at night like 8:00 or can you do it at different times? It doesn’t matter when you do it as long as you do what?

    Student 4: Write it down.

    Teacher: Write down your time. Now that’s another point to talk about. Is it advantageous to do it at the same time everyday?

    Student 5: Yeah.

    Teacher: Probably. Would it also be… What does advantageous mean by the way?

    Student: An advantage to.

    Teacher: What does advantage mean?

    Student: Something that helps you.

    Teacher: Something that helps you. Doing it at the same time each day that might help you figure out a pattern? Also doing it at different times of the day might help you figure out a pattern. So we’ll talk about all those when we get there. We’re almost to that point. Anyone check the height and the angle?

    [Most students say yes.]

    Teacher: How many people just naturally look up for the Moon when you’re outside now?

    Student: I was just walking around and looking up.

    Teacher: Perfect. It’s working. So make sure that you keep looking up since we’ll be doing more with this.

  5. Students display much enthusiasm in the class discussions about this activity and often bring up many new questions as they share their observations. To help them remember their questions for a later time, generate a classroom list of questions as they proceed with the activity. Students may do this individually and then add to the classroom list whenever appropriate. There will be many questions raised and so keeping a record is helpful. Students can review and answer these questions throughout the unit as they build their EMS model.



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