Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Teacher's Lab
A Private Universe ProjectIn Class Activities
IntroductionWhat are Your Ideas?

Earth Moon Activity

Additional Resources

Moon Journal Activity

Access the printable version of this activity.

Man has long observed the Moon. And disciplined scientists have long recorded thoughts about their observations. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, Leonardo da Vinci--painter, sculptor, architect, and engineer--was doing both, the results of which appear in his now famous notebooks. This excerpt from The Art of Science Writing (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1989) represents just how expressive one can be when recording observations and learning about distant phenomena.

What sort of thing the moon is... The moon is not of itself luminous, but is highly fitted to assimilate the character of light after the manner of a mirror, or of water, or of any other reflecting body; and it grows larger in the East and in the West, like the sun and the other planets. And the reason is that every luminous body looks larger in proportion as it is remote. ...And if you could stand where the moon is, the sun would look to you as if it were reflected from all the sea that it illuminates by day; and the land amid the water would appear just like the dark spots that are on the moon, which, when looked at from our earth, appears to men the same as our earth would appear to any men who might dwell in the moon.

Using a journal for science education is a strategy for teachers and students to gain insight into the student's understanding and learning process. Students can record their predictions, observations, explanations, and questions about the things that puzzle them, and express their pure joy and amazement about the phenomena they witness. Teachers can use the journal as a tool for ascertaining the student's prior knowledge and understanding, for identifying any alternative ideas a student might have, and for monitoring the student's progress in the learning process. See also Tips on Using the Moon Journal at the end of this activity.

The strategy of journal keeping helps students challenge their own ideas about the Moon, just as scientists use it to record and test their own theories. By carefully viewing the Moon over several days or even weeks, students can record their observations about the movement and appearance of the Moon. They may find that their ideas about the way the Moon spins and orbits Earth do not accurately describe what they observe.

Here's a journal-keeping activity for making observations of the Moon over a three-week period. If you wish, you may also have students compare the nine possible scenarios from the model of the Moon's motions with the actual movement and appearance of the Moon.

  1. Start by asking students to think about the following questions and to write down their responses in a journal:

    Does the Moon orbit Earth? If so, how long does it take the Moon to orbit once around Earth?

    Does the Moon spin on its axis? If so, how long does it take the Moon to spin once on its axis?

    How long does it take the Moon to go through one complete phase change (from one full Moon to the next)?

  2. Have students keep a moon journal and carefully observe the Moon for two weeks (from the new Moon to the full Moon).

  3. Encourage students to work in cooperative groups. Students can share observations with each other and alternate nights for viewing the Moon.

  4. In the third week, have students compare their observations of the Moon with their responses to the questions in step 1. Do their initial ideas match their direct observations? If not, have students work together to figure the differences.

  5. Ask students in each group to make a presentation to the class, summing up what they have learned. What conclusions did each group make about the way the Moon spins on its axis and orbits Earth? How did each group come to its conclusions?

  6. Record students' remaining questions about the motions of the Moon on the board. Then ask them, How can we find the answers to these questions? Be prepared to suggest these and other follow-up activities: do research, design experiments, and make additional observations. At the end of these tasks, students may submit final research reports, models, or illustrated journals, or hold a "moon fair" to which they invite other classes to view and discuss poster exhibits.

Tips on Using the Moon Journal
Encourage students to comment on their observations as they go along. What do they understand? What is confusing? What are they learning? Suggest that they use their own vocabulary, expressions, and personal codes when recording entries to their journals. Be nonjudgmental when reviewing their journals. Rather, be reflective about their ideas. Watch for questions that puzzle students. These will indicate what is or is not working and where students might need to explore further. Never write in the journals. Make your comments on separate sheets of paper or on sticky notes. Allow students to show their individuality and creativity as they interpret the changing movement and appearance of the Moon.


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