The Moon Project

By Trundle, Kathy Cabe; Willmore, Sandra et al. | Science and Children, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Moon Project

Trundle, Kathy Cabe, Willmore, Sandra, Smith, Walter S., Science and Children

Byline: Kathy Cabe Trundle, Sandra Willmore and Walter S. Smith

What do Australia, Alaska, Qatar, Indiana, and Ohio all have in common? Similar climates? Population numbers? No, the authentic writing More Observations Of Nature (MOON) Project! In this unique project, teachers from these disparate geographic locations teamed up to instruct children in grades four through eight via the internet on a nearly universally challenging subject for teachers in the elementary classroom-the phases of the Moon. Through a combination of authentic observations and writings, hands-on learning, and technology, the study both taught students accurately about the phases of the Moon and expanded their cultural understandings through communication with students and teachers in different parts of the world.

Here's a description of the project as it unfolded with a group of students from New Albany, Ohio.

Authentic Observations

Science educators have consistently called for instruction that involves making daily Moon observations for several weeks and analyzing the data (Abell, George, and Martini 2002; Trundle, Atwood, and Christopher 2002), and these observations are a central element of the Moon Project. To begin, students made and recorded daily Moon observations over a two-month period on lunar observation worksheets (Figure 1). Students shared data weekly as a class, looking for patterns in their data and noting any discrepancies among the observations. To facilitate this weekly data-sharing in class, the teacher drew seven circles on the board, and the students replicated sketches from their Moon calendars, including the dates, times, and directions of their observations.

Figure 1. Lunar observation form.

Mon., March 8

Time Direction Angle

Tues., March 9

Time Direction Angle

Wed., March 10

Time Direction Angle

Thurs., March 11

Time Direction Angle

Fri., March 12

Time Direction Angle

Sat., March 13

Time Direction Angle

Sun., March 14

Time Direction Angle

Question of the week:

Where and when will be a good time to look for the Moon next week?

Sometimes anomalies in the data were revealed- i.e., drawings from different students on the same day that showed Moons very different in shape or orientation to the horizon. The drawings from additional students were analyzed to seek consensus. Students also were asked to look for patterns in the shapes (e.g., the Moon appeared to be getting bigger each day; we saw more of the Moon from one day to the next), patterns in the times of day the Moon was observed (e.g., we mostly saw the Moon in the mornings this week), and patterns in the direction we had to look to see the Moon (e.g., we saw the Moon in the south when school started and at recess it was in the west). On days when the Moon was not observed by any student, sky conditions were noted.

Sharing Moon Observations

As the students made daily Moon observations, they also answered writing prompts once a week to reflect on their data (see NSTA Connection), and, via the internet they compared what they were learning with students around the world.

The writing prompts asked students to describe their most recent Moon observations and compare their observations with what students were seeing in other parts of the world.

At first, the students focused on the date and time they could see the Moon, the shape of the Moon, and the direction they had to look to see the Moon on one day. Later, students were asked to describe observed changes in the shape of the Moon and again to compare what they were seeing with what students were seeing in different geographic locations.

Each student also responded to at least two other students' postings each week.

Student participation was assessed using a checklist to record when students shared data, analyzed data, and completed writing tasks.

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