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Hands-on Activity: Lunar Lollipops
Contributed by: Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


The students work in teams of two to discover the relative positions of the Earth, Sun and Moon that produce the different phases of the Moon. The students will be given a Styrofoam ball that they will attach to a pencil so that it looks like a lollipop. This ball will be the Moon, the students will be the Earth and a hanging lightbulb will be the Sun. The students will move the "Moon" around them to discover the different phases. They will fill in the position of the Moon and its corresponding phase on the attached worksheet.

Engineering Connection

Relating science concept to engineering

The Apollo moon landings were one of the most important engineering achievements of the 20th century, and a thorough understanding of the positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun in space made it possible.


  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Materials
  3. Introduction/Motivation
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Procedure
  6. Attachments
  7. Investigating Questions
  8. Assessment
  9. References

Grade Level: 3 (3-6) Group Size: 2
Time Required: 30 minutes
Activity Dependency :Lunar Learning
Expendable Cost Per Group
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Related Curriculum :

subject areas Earth and Space
Physical Science
curricular units Solar System!
lessons Lunar Learning
Moon Walk

Educational Standards :    

  •   International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
  •   North Carolina: Science
Does this curriculum meet my state's standards?       

Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)

  • Students should be able to describe why the Moon is visible from Earth
  • Students should be able to describe the placement of the Earth, Sun, and Moon during the different phases
  • Students should be able to explain why the Moon appears slightly different in shape each night

Materials List (Return to Contents)

  • Large hanging lightbulb or a lamp without a shade (This works especially well with a high wattage bulb 75 Watts or higher.)
  • Styrofoam balls or other spherical objects such as fruit that are approximately 3-4" in diameter
  • Pencils
  • Plenty of room for students to move around

Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)

Ask students to describe why the moon might appear different on different nights. Have the students come to the board and draw the various phases of the Moon that they have observed to lead into the activity. If students have done a "Moon Log" as suggested in the lesson, Lunar Learning, a couple of them might draw their moon logs on the board.

Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)

Moon: name given to the natural satellite of the Earth, and sometimes applied to the satellites of the other planets in the solar system
Phases : the different shapes the Moon seems to have in the sky
Rotation: the spinning of an object on its axis
Axis: an imaginary line that goes through the north and south poles
Revolution: the movement of one object around another object
Full Moon : the phase when the entire lit side of the Moon is visible
New Moon : the phase when the entire Moon appears dark because the Sun is lighting the opposite side
Crescent Moon : when only a small lit edge of the Moon can be seen
Waxing : the lit portion of the Moon increasing, progressing from new Moon to full Moon, this is when the Moon is "getting bigger" in the night sky
Waning : the lit portion of the Moon is decreasing, progressing from full Moon to new Moon, this is when the Moon is "getting smaller" in the night sky
Lunar Eclipse: A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth's shadow blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. At night, the moon appears dark instead of light when it should be a full Moon.
Solar Eclipse: A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun blocking sunlight from reaching the Earth.
  1. Hand out Styrofoam balls – 1 per team of 2 students
  2. Tell students to pierce the ball with a pencil to make a "lollipop" out of it
  3. Clear the area around where the lightbulb is hanging and explain to the students that this is the Sun, the "lollipop" is the Moon, and they are the Earth
  4. Turn on the model Sun and turn off the other lights in the room. This will be more dramatic if the lights are turned off first before the "Sun" is turned on, but students might not be able to handle the lights being off completely. Have the students stand with their lollipop at arm's length somewhere in front of the Sun. Then have them rotate the Moon counterclockwise around the Earth (their body) so that they can see how the movement of the Moon around the Earth makes different parts of the Moon visible. Students will have to turn their bodies to be able to see the phases of the Moon that occur when the Moon is where their back would be if they had stayed stationary.
  5. Give the students their worksheets and give them time to draw in the phases they see at each of the positions of the Moon relative to the Earth and Sun to produce each phase. The worksheet has a set number of positions of the Moon so the students will know how to orient their bodies relative to the Moon and the Sun. They will simply have to discover what the phase of the Moon is in that particular position. Students may need guidance in understanding how the worksheet relates to the activity.
  6. Once the students have finished, have them look up the name of each phase that they discovered in their textbook and go over with them the 8 major phases and the position of the Moon that engenders that phase.
  1. New Moon - Moon is between the Sun and the Earth and they see the shadowed side of the Moon. A solar eclipse occurs in this phase when the Moon blocks light from the Sun from reaching a portion of the Earth. Students can close one eye and simulate this event.
  2. Waxing Crescent - rotating from a new Moon toward a first quarter, backwards "c" shape will appear on the Moon.
  3. First Quarter - right half of the side of the Moon facing Earth is lit. The right shoulder is pointed towards the Sun.
  4. Waxing Gibbous - rotating from a first quarter to a full Moon.
  5. Full Moon - Earth is between the Moon and the Sun, the entire lit side of the Moon is visible on Earth, (students' backs are to the Sun and Moons are above and in front of them so that they are fully lit). A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow. Have your students simulate this event.
  6. Waning Gibbous - rotating from a full Moon to a last quarter, less and less of the Moon is lit each night
  7. Last Quarter - left half of the side of the Moon facing the Earth is lit, left shoulder is pointing to the Sun.
  8. Waning Crescent - Waning Crescent - rotating from a last quarter to a new Moon, a "C" shape of light is seen on the left side of the Moon.
  1. Have the students repeat the phases on their own as you circulate through the room to correct any problems.
  2. Evaluate the lesson by naming a Moon phase and having your students rotate until they are in the correct phase. If the class is large, try to have several lamps with 3-4 teams around a lamp. If the class is smaller, the students will be fine to all cluster around one lamp. The teacher should know what position engenders what phase of the Moon and will be able to judge whether the students have aligned themselves properly. If students are having trouble, go around to help them change positions. Jumble the phases to make it more of a challenge. Also include the two eclipses and the correct Moon phases when they occur.

Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)

  • Why do we see the Moon ?
  • Explain what happens to our view of the Moon as it rotates around the Earth.
  • Were the students able to see the different phases of the Moon and accurately fill in the worksheet?
  • Were the students able to find each phase when called out as in Step 8 of the activity?

Lunar Lollipops
Lunar Lollipops, Hank Thoenes, http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/teacher_resources/lunar_edu.html,6/17/04. Lunar Lollipops - Lunar Activity


Catie Liken, Creator/Editor, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Teresa Tetlow, Creator/Editor, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


© 2004 by Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
including copyrighted works from other educational institutions and/or U.S. government agencies; all rights reserved.

Supporting Program (Return to Contents)

Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Last Modified: April 18, 2014
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