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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Clearest Way to Teach Moon Phases...EVER!

This moon phase board was fairly easy to make.  After making a run to the Dollar Tree and rummaging through our science storeroom to collect the needed supplies to make this, it was pretty inexpensive and so worth every penny!

Essentially, this Moon Phase board allows students to visualize and better understand the cause of moon phases and comprehend the 2 different views that are often given on a diagram (view from space and view from the Earth). 

Up to this point, I've done a Lunar Lollipop Investigation, which I thought was great, but this beats it by a long shot!  A large majority of my students don't really understand why the lit part of the moon doesn't face the sun on part of the view as seen from Earth on every moon phase diagram (see below). 

Even though I give many different examples and explanations, I still see a puzzled look on several of the students' faces.  I really think this method will clear it up for even those puzzled kiddos. 

From this angle (see below), students can quickly see that the lit part of the moon is always the side of the ball that is facing the sun.  Pretty uneventful, but definitely clarifies this view.  But as students take the Moon Board and place their head through the hole, they are immediately taken to the view from Earth (their head being Earth or it could be explained that we LOOK out from Earth and see the moon as it revolves around the Earth). 

In order to give you a clearer idea of what the students will see, I placed my camera in the hole and continually rotated the board around counterclockwise (direction of the moon's revolution around the Earth).  Here, you can see the new moon.

Followed by the waxing crescent.
The first quarter.
Then waxing gibbous.
Full moon
Waning gibbous
Third/Last quarter (oopsy....this ball got a little tilted when I glued it down)

And finally, waning crescent.

I have chosen to leave each phase unlabeled for my 8th graders, but I am thinking about making one Moon Board with labels for my SpEd and ELL students until they get more comfortable with the names. 

To make your own, you will need the following supplies:
  • Black foam board (got mine at Dollar Tree for $1)
  • Box cutter
  • Circular shaped object to cut around (I just turned my office trashcan upside down and started cutting!)
  • 8 ball shaped objects to represent moon (ideas: ping pong balls [use black sharpie], Styrofoam balls (paint with black acrylic paint and sponge brush, wooden balls, etc....)
  • Hot glue gun
  • 1 ball to represent the Sun (larger than moon ball) This is optional; you could always just write "Sun" on one side of the board with a paint pen, but I think the added visual is great!

Since I didn't have these made when I taught moon phases earlier in the year, I am going to use them when we begin to review for the state assessment.  I can't wait to hear the oohs and aahs and FINALLY see the looks of confusion go away.


  1. Fantastic! Just in time. I am teaching my unit on Space right now. One thing I did NOT introduce them to was the moon phases. I will also have to run out to Dollar Tree and get some materials and make this during the week! I also would love to share with you my moon phases flip book...email me at teachingisagift@outlook.com and I'll send you a copy of the file. The students record a picture of the face of the moon each evening, and when they are finished a full cycle, you cut out all the pieces and make a flip book. When the students flip the pages quickly, the images they drew cycle through all the phases. The kids love it every year!

  2. I made two of these for my students to use this year and it worked really well. Not only did I use it with introducing moon phases, I was able to break it out for eclipses and tides to help them get a better picture of how the moon interacts with Earth. I had my neighbor coming over and borrowing the boards to help her students understand better. Her students loved the boards too. I was a bit rushed when I made mine this year. I plan on making some over the summer that I can really spend some time perfecting placements and painting. Thanks so much for posting this idea!


  3. Wow this is awesome! I just made one, and it took practically no time at all and only cost $4.84! I cannot wait to show my kiddies tomorrow!! Thank you so much for this idea!

  4. I'm making this as we speak! Is there a worksheet that you use with it? Just curious how you get it to stick or how you structure the students using it....

  5. Awesome idea. I'll be making it for those who still haven't got the concepts. Thanks for sharing

  6. Check out http://www.sciencewear.net/lunar-cycle.html for a great culminating project for moon phases. My students love this project! They also like the Moon Song that is also on this site! :-)