Introduction: Welcome to the Moon! - a Comprehensive Lesson Plan All About the Moon

About: Hey there! My name is Chris and I live in Massachusetts. I have been a teacher since 2006 and love the fact that I have the opportunity to bring real-world, hands-on skills to my students. I love learning new …

This lesson plan is designed for middle school science students between the ages of 10 and 15

The moon is an enigma. It's just too darn big to be orbiting our planet and even with the theories behind its creation, it seems unfathomable that we have this massive object zipping around Earth every day. The moon is approximately 1/4 the diameter of Earth, making it one of the larger planetary orbiters out there in proportion to the planet. There are heaps of surprises (one could say craters) one learns when they start diving deep into what we currently know and understand about the moon. Ask a friend to accurately describe how we can see the lunar phases day in and day out. Better yet, start off by asking them when the moon typically rises. I bet that if they don't understand the first question they will answer at sunset for the latter question. Most adults can't explain how it is possible that we see only one side of the moon, even more didn't even know that we see only one side of the moon. So here's the thing... if you present these ideas and questions to a group of young minds you are bound to get kids excited. The moon is a perfect object to first get kids excited about space science, mainly because it is so easy to see and investigate (at least visually).

I have been teaching middle school space science for the past thirteen years and always found the discussions in our class that were centered around the moon to be some of the most meaningful. Kids always have a level of thoughtful intrigue with the moon because it's just so darn alien to us. It leaves lot's of what-ifs and how-cans. Because of the obvious level of intrigue my students expressed I thought it would be prudent to create a comprehensive lesson plan that begins with the very basics of the moon and progressively moves along the lines to more complex concepts involving Earth's nearest neighbor. The work I am presenting here took approximately 120 hours to complete and has now been successfully used by numerous colleagues of mine. I am providing the entire lesson plan, which, if completed from start to finish, can take an entire month. I am providing all of the materials I have created with this lesson plan along with some additional lessons I used to get things off on the right foot.

I am not going to go through each page of the teacher instructions since it is neatly written in order in the packet provided, instead I am going to go through each "phase" of the lesson and give you some basic information to help guide you.


Step-by-step teacher instructions

Google Slides Presentation

Student Packet

Video: Field Trip to the Moon

Rock samples of basalt and breccia

Overhead projector or some other bright light source

Tennis balls or other smooth sports ball (to be used as moon models held by students, you will need at least 9 of these)

Marbles (you will need at least 9 of these)

Graph paper

Rulers and protractors

Softball attached to a string (to be hung from the ceiling representing the earth)

Ball 1/4 size of softball attached to string (to be hung from ceiling representing the moon)

Flashlights (at least 9)

Step 1: Format of the Guide

Format of this Guide:

Students will use a “student packet” throughout the entire lesson which clearly follows along with the material the teacher presents. The teacher will present the material using a PowerPoint presentation or Google Presentation. Using this format helps keep both the student and teacher organized throughout the entire curriculum. The student packet completely replaces note-taking and if wanted, summative assessments in the form of quizzes and tests. Although there are no extension activities taken out of the classroom during the lesson such as homework or short research projects, the curriculum is easily adaptable to additional assignments. There will be examples and additional information of extension found in the supplemental information section of this guide. There are three distinct sections (phases) separating the curriculum. The first phase (“New Moon”) focuses on basic concepts necessary for later understandings along with pre-assessment activities to hook student interest. There is an additional section that focuses on how scientific laws compare to scientific theories. The main purpose of this is to help students understand why we discuss the explanation for the formation of the Moon as “theoretical” and not fact. This understanding also helps students understand why much of what they are learning is still up for alterations and changes if new discoveries or findings are made. The first phase starts with a “KWL- What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned” chart to help jump start the lesson. It is suggested that the teacher effectively use this chart by having students go the “L” or “What I Learned” section each time something new is learned to insert the information and keep a sequential timeline of what the class has learned. The second phase (“Quarter Moon”) is where the real meat of the curriculum is discovered. The second phase is broken down into five sections: Our Moon's composition Our Moon's period of rotation (day and night cycle) and our Moon's period of revolution (year) Scale: Our Moon's position in space relative to the Earth and the sun (angle and distance) Lunar and solar eclipses and the Moon's involvement Our Moon's apparent "phases" as viewed from Earth and Space Each section is prerequisite to the following section and helps foster a complete understanding of the Moon, ultimately leading up to the final assessment. Students follow along with the lessons and activities in their student packet. With phase two of the student packet students will first work on a “what do you think?” to pre-assess their understandings. After the short pre-assessment and discussion the students will have a set of questions to answer based upon the information presented on the teacher presentation. Most sections will have a “challenge” directly after the questions. The challenges will often incorporate applicative thinking and mathematics based upon the information the students just learned. After the challenge students will work on two or more “focus questions” to assess their complete understanding of the topic. It is suggested that the teacher uses the focus questions as a form of summative assessment, although some modification might be necessary for students with disabilities. This section relies heavily on student interaction and group work and it is suggest that students work with multiple partners to experience different learning methods and various ideas. Students can work in groups of 2 - 4 for most of the activities. Many of the activities are adapted from tested and proven lessons found in the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publication Science Scope. I have used these these activities for four or more years and have found great success over that time. The third and final phase (“Full Moon”) completely involves the application of what the students learned during the entire lesson through the creation of a “Moon Story Book”. One of the best ways to determine if a student completely understands the material is to have the student teach it. This idea helped develop the “You Learn. You Teach.” method used in this guide. In this case students will be teaching through writing a book appropriate for fourth grade students. This involves a hefty amount of literacy know-how and application so it is recommended that the teacher acquires the help of any literacy professionals in the school. This final phase can be completed mostly in class with the initial brainstorming and rough draft but I have had students complete the final draft of the book as an out of class project due to the time it takes to create a quality product. This does pose some problems with group projects assigned out of class, so this will be at the teacher’s discretion. Accompanying this curriculum is the entire lesson for the “You Teach. You Learn. Moon Story Book” along with the rubric used to grade the final product. What follows are details to help the teacher effectively take full advantage of this curriculum. Teachers can access the presentation either through PowerPoint or Google Presentation. The other material can be accessed through PDF files and/or Google Documents. There are some materials necessary for this curriculum, which are not included such as rock samples, videos and other various products. It is recommended that the teacher review the entire guide prior to starting the curriculum to insure that all materials can be secured easily (by the way, they are all inexpensive and pretty easy to find). The guide is organized in the order explained above and includes a section of supplemental information to help find additional resources, materials and extension activities. I hope that you find this guide of great use to you and your students and if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to email me at

Step 2: Phase #1 - “New Moon” - Welcome to the Moon!

The entire purpose of the first phase of this lesson is to introduce the students to what they are going to learn about in regards to the moon and hook their interest. It's so important to set the stage so that the kids are excited about learning this new curriculum. There are so many misconceptions surrounding the moon that both kids and adults hold on to, therefore it is so important to get the kids thoughts out there and shared with the group prior to diving into the depths of moon learning.

With this phase you will discuss the apparent size of the moon, the changing appearance of the moon (i.e. Harvest Moon) and some basic ideas surrounding the formation of the moon. You are welcome to skip sections that might not fit into your curriculum or might seem to advanced for your students.

Step 3: Phase 2A - “First Quarter Moon” - Moon's Composition

With this next moon phase you will discuss the moon's composition and general appearance. You will need to acquire some moon rocks for this next phase... just joking, that would be some serious $$. I end up using local basalt samples and some breccia samples I picked up like these here. The entire purpose of this phase is to give students a better picture of what the moon looks like and how it has similar geologic composition and structure to that of the Earth. The kids love handling the rocks and asking a multitude of what if questions about impact craters and the mountains found on the moon. What really blows their mind is the fact that a footprint on the moon remains there for all eternity (barring no meteors find it) due to the low gravity leading to a lack of atmosphere, leading to no weather and no wind.

Step 4: Phase 2B - “First Quarter Moon”- the Moon’s Rotation and Revolution

I love this section of the lesson plan since it involves so much interaction with the students. With this phase you will model how we are inter tidally locked to the moon and we only see one face of the moon, the near side. I love seeing the students work together to determine how this is possible and then we do it as an entire class with a couple of students acting as the earth and moon. I would say that after the activity there are at least 80% of the students who "get it" and another 20% that might need the model explained again. Many students struggle with geometry at this age and this lesson actually involves a fair amount of geometric reasoning.

Step 5: Phase 2C - “First Quarter Moon”- Scale, Angle, and Distance

With this phase you will be teaching students some important facts about the moon's position in space so that they will better understand the next two phases involving eclipses and moon phases.

I ended up using a National Science Teacher's Association article for part of this lesson and I included the link to the article in the teacher packet. The lesson is an excellent connection between science and math and further reinforces any other scale activities you might do with your students.

Step 6: Phase 2D - “First Quarter Moon”- Eclipses

Now that the students have an understanding of the positioning of the moon in space and no longer have the misconception that the moon is directly across from the earth at all times you can move on to modeling eclipses. Once again the students will be using hands on models to help explain this next phenomena. After the students create their group models you can model eclipses as a class by using an overhead projector as a light source along with a softball (or similarly sized ball) attached to the ceiling and a ball 1/4 the size (golf ball works well) attached to the ceiling. I use two binder clips attached to the ceiling with the strings passing through them so that I can adjust the height of the ball and cast a shadow onto them with the opposing ball.

Step 7: Phase 2E - “First Quarter Moon”- the Moon's Phases

I have found that everything up to this point has moved in such a logical order that this next phase (I know, I gotta stop with that pun) is so simple for the students. Nonetheless, it is important to use a number of hands on and minds on models that allow the students to take complete ownership for the concepts. I once again use an NSTA article to help reinforce the concept. The article clearly explains all the materials that you need to create the models but overall it's just paper or plastic plates and some laminated labels. It's amazing how much the kids love using the models and solving the problem. I then use the projector and a tennis ball to help the students visualize the phases in a 360 degree model that allows them to see the changing phases as time passes. Everything is clearly explained and detailed in the teacher packet.

Step 8: Phase #3 - “Full Moon” You Have Learned, Now You Must Teach!

We are lucky to have our elementary school just up the road from us and we have utilized the opportunity for our students to interact and work with the second grade students at the elementary school. I have always found that when a student can clearly explain a concept she/he truly understands it to the utmost extent. In this case the student's final assessment is a colorful book that takes the reader on a journey to the moon. In the book, the reader learns about the moon's composition, eclipses, and moon phases. I had my students work in pairs to create these books and had our ELA teachers join in on the literary components accompanying the creation of the books. After the books were fully assembled and finalized we headed up to the elementary school to read the books to the second grade students. This is a fantastic way to end this hefty lesson and I have loved teaching the entire thing for the past seven years. If you do end up using some of the components of my lesson plan please share with me what you did end up using and how you used it.

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