Taking a Look at the Moon

Article excerpt

The communication skills of reading and writing go hand in hand with science as natural partners for fostering students' understandings of the world. The similarities science-process skills add depth to instruction when these subject areas are brought together. In this unit of study, students integrate reading, writing, and science to learn more about the Moon.

The Moon has a powerful allure--it is full of beauty, legend, myth, and romance. People have gazed at the Moon in the day and night sky since the dawn of humanity. Our curiosity as humans has led us to observe, speculate, and draw conclusions about this celestial body to the point it has become intertwined in the culture of humans.

Now You See It, Now You Don't!

The observable changes in the Moon's apparent shape make it an engaging topic for scientific inquiry. One complete cycle through all of the phases of the Moon takes about 29.9 days-a convenient length of time for student observations.

The lunar cycle is a continuous process and there are eight recognizable shapes that we have named phases (Figure 1). These phases are caused by the relative positions of the Moon and the Sun in the sky.

Figure 1.
Phases of the Moon.

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New Moon--The Moon is not visible to us
on Earth, except during a solar eclipse. This
is because the side of the Moon facing Earth
is unilluminated. Also, the Moon is very near
the Sun and therefore hard to see.

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Waxing Crescent--The side of the Moon
facing Earth is less than 50% illuminated
by direct sunlight. During this phase the
illuminated portion is increasing daily.

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First Quarter--One-half of the side of the
Moon facing Earth is illuminated by direct
sunlight. The illuminated portion is still
increasing daily.

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Waxing Gibbous--The side of the Moon
facing Earth is more than 50% but not fully
illuminated by direct sunlight. The illuminated
portion is still increasing daily.

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Full Moon--The side of the Moon facing
Earth appears to be completely illuminated
by direct sunlight.

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Waning Gibbous--The side of the Moon facing
Earth is more than 50% but not fully illuminated
by direct sunlight. During this phase the
illuminated portion is decreasing daily.

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Last Quarter--One-half of the side of
the Moon facing Earth is illuminated by
direct sunlight. The illuminated portion
is still decreasing daily.

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Waning Crescent--The side of the Moon
facing Earth is less than 50% illuminated
by direct sunlight. The illuminated portion
is still decreasing daily.

In the following unit of study, students use science--process skills as they observe and record changes in the Moon's appearance. Their growing knowledge of the Moon and its phases is strengthened through reading and writing strategies.

Taking a Look at the Moon:

Why does the Moon seem to change?

Objectives:

* Use science-process skills (observing, collecting data, inferring, predicting, and communicating) to understand the Moon and its phases.

Grade Level: 3-6

Engage:

Show the students, in no particular order, pictures of the Moon in different phases of the lunar cycle. Allow 10 minutes for small-group sharing. Gather back together as a whole group. Pose the question, "How and why does the Moon seem to change?" (This is a guiding question, not one to be answered immediately by the students.) Students may reply, "The Moon is always moving and turning, but not exactly the same as the Earth. So, we can't see all of it all of the time and that is why the Moon is always in a different spot in the sky each day;" "The Moon is like a mirror. It reflects the light of the Sun, but because it is moving we can't always see the part that is reflecting the Sun's light. …