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. Groups are each given a Styrofoam ball that they attach to a pencil so that it looks like a lollipop. In this acting-out model exercise, this ball on a stick represents the Moon, the students represent the Earth and a hanging lightbulb serves as the Sun. Students move the "Moon" around them to discover the different phases. They fill in the position of the Moon and its corresponding phase in a worksheet.
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- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- E. Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- North Carolina: Science
- Recognize the major components and patterns observed in the earth/moon/sun system. (Grade 3)  ...show
- Explain the causes of day and night and phases of the moon. (Grade 4)  ...show
- Explain the monthly changes in the appearance of the moon, based on the moon's orbit around the Earth. (Grade 4)  ...show
- Understand the earth/moon/sun system, and the properties, structures and predictable motions of celestial bodies in the Universe. (Grade 6)  ...show
- Explain how the relative motion and relative position of the sun, Earth and moon affect the seasons, tides, phases of the moon, and eclipses. (Grade 6)  ...show
- Explain why the Moon is visible from Earth.
- Describe the placement of the Earth, Sun and Moon during the different phases of the moon.
- Explain why the Moon appears slightly different in shape each night.
- a large hanging lightbulb or a lamp without a shade; this works especially well with a high-wattage bulb, 75 watts or higher; for small classes, have students cluster around one lamp; for large classes, have several lamps with 3-4 teams around each lamp
- Styrofoam ball or other spherical object such as fruit that is ~3-4 inches in diameter, one per team
- sharpened pencil, one per team
- plenty of room for students to move around
- pencils, to fill in the worksheets
- Moon-Earth-Sun Positions Worksheet, one per student
|An imaginary line that goes through the north and south poles.|
|When only a small lit edge of the Moon can be seen.|
|The phase when the entire lit side of the Moon is visible.|
|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.|
|The name given to the natural satellite of the Earth, and sometimes applied to the satellites of the other planets in the solar system.|
|The phase when the entire Moon appears dark because the Sun is lighting the opposite side.|
|The different shapes the Moon seems to have in the sky, as observed from the Earth.|
|The movement of one object around another object.|
|The spinning of an object on its axis.|
|When the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, blocking sunlight from reaching the Earth.|
|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.|
|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.|
Before the Activity
- Gather materials and make copies of the Moon-Earth-Sun Positions Worksheet, one per student.
- Familiarize yourself with what positions of the Moon, Earth and Sun engenders what Moon phases so you are able to guide students and judge whether they have aligned themselves correctly.
With the Students
- Divide the class into groups of two students each. Hand out the Styrofoam balls and sharpened pencils, one each per group.
- Tell students to work together to carefully pierce the ball with the pencil to make a "lollipop" out of it.
- Clear the area around where the lightbulb hangs and explain that the light bulb represents the Sun, the "lollipop" represents the Moon, and they represent the planet Earth. This representation is called a "model."
- Turn off all the classroom lights and then turn on the model Sun (it is most dramatic if the lights are all off before the "Sun" is turned on, but students might not be able to handle the lights being off completely.) Direct students to stand with their lollipops at arm's length in front of the Sun. Then have them rotate the Moon counterclockwise around the Earth (their bodies) so that they can see how the movement of the Moon around the Earth makes different parts of the Moon visible. Students must turn their bodies to be able to see the phases of the Moon that occur when the Moon is where their backs would be if they had stayed stationary.
- Hand out the worksheets. Give students 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 students know how to orient their bodies relative to the Moon and the Sun. They simply have to discover what the phase of the Moon is in that particular position. As necessary, guide students in understanding how the worksheet relates to the activity.
- Once students have finished, have them look up the name of each phase that they discovered in their textbooks and review with them the eight major phases and the positions of the Moon that engender each phase.
- Have students repeat the phases on their own as you circulate through the room to correct any problems.
- Test students' comprehension. Name a Moon phase and have the students all rotate until they are in the correct position to generate that phase. Judge whether or not students have aligned themselves correctly. If students have trouble, go around to help them adjust positions and clarify any confusion. Jumble the phases to make it more of a challenge. Also include the two eclipses and the correct Moon phases present when these events occur.
- Why do we see the Moon ?
- Explain what happens to our view of the Moon as it rotates around the Earth.
- Were students able to see the different phases of the Moon and accurately fill in the worksheet?
- Were students able to find each phase when called out as in Step 8 of the activity?
Theones, Hank. Lunar Lollipops activity. Last updated September 2000. Windows to the Universe, National Earth Science Teachers Association. Accessed 6/17/04. http://www.windows2universe.org/teacher_resources/lunar_edu.html
Catie Liken, Teresa Tetlow
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University
Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Last modified: November 26, 2015