Phasing in Lunar Observations
Wilhelm, Jennifer, McMillan, Sally, Walters, Kendra, Lovering, Emma, Science Scope
Byline: Jennifer Wilhelm, Sally McMillan, Kendra Walters, and Emma Lovering
Students create the correct geometric configurations for various Moon phases using styrofoam balls (representing the Earth and the Moon), and an overhead projector (representing the Sun).
This interdisciplinary Moon unit was recently taught in seventh-grade science, mathematics, and English classrooms with three experienced teachers and 186 energetic students. Within the unit we incorporate aspects of the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Principles and Standards (NCTM 2000), and the National Council of Teachers of English Standards (NCTE 1996). This interdisciplinary unit lasts six to seven weeks where students explore the phases of the Moon through science, mathematics, and language arts. In order to gauge students' prior knowledge regarding the Moon and its phases, we administer the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory or LPCI (Lindell 2002). Questions on the inventory include the time of a lunar cycle, the direction of the Moon's orbit, and the cause of the Moon's phases. Figure 1 illustrates an example question from the LPCI. (For a complete copy of the inventory, contact Rebecca Lindell at firstname.lastname@example.org.) We also use this inventory at the end of the unit to assess student learning.
We begin this unit by having students observe the Moon over a five-week time period. They are asked to make sense of their Moon observations and are required to keep a daily Moon journal. In this journal, students are given an invitation to write "whatever they wish and think is relevant," with at least two sentences per entry. Students can conduct their viewing sessions on their own, or invite family and even pets to accompany them. Students are encouraged to use descriptive language when making their observations, and to supplement their entries with poetry, sketches, and other artistic endeavors inspired by their daily viewings. This approach generates a mix of creative and scientific entries. On the same page you are apt to find the Moon described both as a "watermelon in the sky" and a "waxing gibbous." Meteorological conditions will often be layered below prose, as evidenced in this student verse.
The full Moon glows with its soothing light. Not a single star glimmers on this cold Thursday night. As I breathe, a cloud forms in front of my face, And I hear the wind blow, at a quick, steady pace.
In English class, students read multicultural, mythological tales surrounding the Moon and natural phenomena. Students also take turns each day reading a tale to their class from Thirteen Moons on Turtles Back: A Native American Year of Moons (Bruchac and London 1997). In addition, students compile lists of nature-oriented figurative language. These lists contain entries from their Moon journals, such as "the peaceful Moon calms the inner soul," and a portrayal of the Moon as a "lantern in the sky." This language broadens students' descriptive powers, and is put to practical use in their next assignment, The Moon Phases Poetry and Legends Scrapbook.
Over a period of approximately two weeks, students create their scrapbooks (using materials such as construction paper, yarn, markers, and glitter). Within the scrapbooks, students assemble their own images and depictions of the Moon. They can be original illustrations and prose; and/or imagery and descriptions taken from magazines, websites, and books. The language arts teacher provides additional instruction on painting, drawing, and collage techniques to help students express and organize their collections. Prior to these art lessons, we present students with an assortment of art prints of lunar images for the purpose of inspiration and to show the many different ways that people have visualized the Moon. …