Academic journal article Science Scope

Exploring Lunar and Solar Eclipses Via a 3-D Modeling Design Task

Academic journal article Science Scope

Exploring Lunar and Solar Eclipses Via a 3-D Modeling Design Task

Article excerpt

Understanding events involving the Earth--Sun--Moon system is a significant part of our study of the universe. However, students often have difficulty understanding the processes that cause lunar and solar eclipses. A common initial idea students have is that a total lunar eclipse is the same as a new Moon lunar phase (Barnett and Morran 2002). (For more information on Moon phases, see "Using Multiple Representations to Teach Science" in this issue.) Many students also initially believe that a solar eclipse is a global event viewable from everywhere on Earth (Kavanagh, Agan, and Sneider 2005). Based on our experience teaching this topic, we believe it is essential for educators to develop and refine students' initial ideas and understanding of eclipses and to have students explore eclipses not only because they are spectacular natural, observable phenomena, but also because they play an important role in scientists' development of a more complete understanding of the laws governing the universe. It is also important for students to know that scientists today still make observations of the Sun's corona and continue to take accurate measurements of the Sun's diameter, the shape of the Moon, and the distance of the Earth to the Moon during solar eclipses.

In this article, we demonstrate our approach for developing, enlarging, and refining students' initial ideas about lunar and solar eclipses by using a 7E (Engage, Elicit, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate, Extend) learning-cycle model (Eisenkraft 2003) to help illustrate how science teachers can immerse students in a range of inquiry-based science experiences. We also use the Know-Learn-Evidence-Wonder (KLEW) instructional teaching strategy (Hershberger, Zembal-Saul, and Starr 2006) to demonstrate evidence of student reflection on, learning about, and understanding of eclipses. Our approach further provides students with an opportunity to refine their thinking about eclipses, and to reflect on how their ideas have changed.

The instructional approach

We facilitated the following lesson with middle school science students who were beginning to learn about lunar and solar eclipses. We implemented this lesson after students completed inquiry-based lessons on the size and distance scale of the Earth--Sun--Moon system, the complex motion of the Earth--Sun--Moon system, shadows, and the phases of the Moon. Prior to this lesson, students learned that the orbits of the Earth around the Sun and of the Moon around the Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the Sun, Moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. Students also understood cyclic patterns of lunar phases and that the seasons are a result of the Earth's tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of the Earth across the year. Students further discovered that the diameter of the Moon was approximately one-quarter of the size of the Earth's diameter and that the distance between the Earth and the Moon was approximately 30 Earth diameters. To provide an example of how this 7E lesson can be implemented in a middle school classroom, we specifically describe how the teacher, Mr. Lance (pseudonym), facilitates the inquiry-based lesson with his students and how the students respond to the tasks he asks them to perform.


Mr. Lance engages students in the topic by presenting a slideshow he created with copyrightfree images of partial and total lunar eclipses as they typically appear from Earth. He instructs students to compile a list of observations individually on an Activity Worksheet (see Online Supplemental Materials. After a few minutes, Mr. Lance facilitates a whole-class discussion with students by asking them what observations they have about the images. …

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