To observe and describe what the sky looks like at different times. To identify objects in the sky and recognize changes in their appearance. To look for patterns and develop interpretations based on extended observations.
This lesson is part of a four-lesson series in which students observe the daytime and nighttime sky regularly to identify sequences of changes and to look for patterns in these changes. At the K-2 level, learning about objects in the sky should be entirely observational and qualitative. The priority is to get students noticing and describing what objects in the sky look like at different times. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 62.)
The sun, moon, stars, clouds, birds, and airplanes all have properties, locations, and movements that can be observed and described. Ideally, students should engage in direct observation of both the daytime and nighttime sky throughout this lesson series. However, the recommended Internet resources can be helpful to enhance student experiences, or if opportunities for direct observation are limited. This investigation requires that observations be ongoing, so that students can look for patterns over time. As children become more familiar with objects in the sky, they can be guided to observe changes, such as nigh and day and the seasons.
In Sky 1: Objects in the Sky, students investigated objects in the daytime and nighttime sky.
In Sky 2: Shadows, students explored making shadows and tracking the movement of an object over the course of a day to look for patterns.
In Sky 3: Modeling Shadows, students constructed models to demonstrate their understanding of shadows.
In this lesson, students will draw the moon's shape for each evening on a calendar and then determine the pattern in the shapes over several weeks. Students' understandings should be confined to observations, descriptions, and finding patterns. Attempting to extend this understanding into explanations using models will be limited by the inability of young children to understand that earth is approximately spherical. Children at this age also have little understanding of gravity and usually have misconceptions about the properties of light that allow us to see objects such as the moon. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 336.) Thus, these topics should be avoided.
To introduce a study of objects in the sky, choose a sampling of Frank Asch’s books. Asch’s books are particularly appropriate for students at the K-2 level, and many of his books center around a young bear’s attempt to make sense of his physical environment. In Moongame, for instance, the main character interprets the moon’s apparent motion in the sky as its attempt to play hide and seek.
Finding Patterns: Lunar Phases
Create a large classroom calendar for documenting changes in the moon’s appearance. Have students observe or sketch the moon each evening, or assign the task to one or more students each night. Post a student sketch on the calendar each day so that students can see the changes in the moon’s appearance over the course of the month.
If students are unable to observe the nighttime sky themselves, they can visit Virtual Reality Moon Phase Pictures from the United States Naval Observatory.
If possible, continue this activity for at least two months. Have students look for patterns in the phases and cycles of the moon. At this level, it is not necessary for students to name the moon’s phases, however some basic vocabulary terms such as full moon and new moon can certainly be introduced. Encourage students to use terminology such as, "We can see less of the moon" or "The moon looks/appears smaller" rather than "The moon is smaller" or "The moon is getting smaller."
Engage in counting activities related to the phases of the moon. For example, over time you can have students determine how many days there are until the new moon, how long it takes for the moon to appear full again, or how many days it takes for the moon to complete its full cycle.
Read Moongame by Frank Asch. As a class, identify those aspects of the story that are purely fictional and those that “could happen,” paying particular attention to the references to objects in the sky.
Go to Birthday Moons at the NASA/MSU-Bozeman CERES Project. Using the materials and resources provided, students will be able to identify and graph the moon phase of their birthdays.