Creekside Astronomy Unit: The Moon

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We have had a great time learning  about the moon as we embarked on our Astronomy Unit recently.  We began with learning about the phases of the moon.  Using the diagram on the Moon Connection website, we learned about the order and direction of the phases.  I made this little poster for Firefly to complete (click on image at left to see a larger photo). I photocopied a picture of Earth, placed it in the middle of a black square piece of paper, then traced a big circle to represent the moon’s orbit.  I wrote the phases of the moon around the orbit and gave him the different moons to attach to the poster.

He did a great job putting them into order with only one mistake.  We then hung the poster on the wall near our calendar.

This will come in handy, as our next task is going to be to keep track of the phases of the moon throughout the months so that we can learn about how often the changes occur.  For that, I made some little laminated calendar cards.  Again, we used the Moon Connection website to show us the current calendar of moon phases for our hemisphere. These are just white paper glued onto black paper.  I used a one-inch circle punch for the moons, them trimmed them to the correct phase and wrote the name of the phase with a white pencil.

Our final Moon Phase project was to make a model out of Oreo cookies. I’m sure you’ve seen this before, it’s wildly popular on various blogs, Pinterest and I’ve even seen friends with publicly schooled kids posting about it on Facebook.  Yup, it was as much fun as it looks.

We also did a fun experiment about gravity and how the moon stays in orbit, rather than drifting off into space.  We took a paper plate, cut it in half and used a marble to roll around the edge of the paper plate.

When the marble is on the plate, it rolls in a curve, but as soon as it leaves the plate, it rolls in straight line. This demonstrates the concept that things (the moon, or marble) will move in a straight path unless some other force (gravity, or paper plate), pushes or pulls them.  This experiment is from Janice VanCleave’s 200 Gooey, Slippery, Slimy, Weird and Fun Experiments This is the first experiment we’ve done from the book and we look forward to doing more.

The kids had a lot of fun with this experiment, in fact, they turned it into a whole physics lesson by sending groups of marbles around the plates, using different forces to make the marbles move (bumping them, blowing air onto them, etc.), making different patterns with whole and half plates and so on.  They had so much fun with this.  It even entertained my three year old for quite some time, as you can see here.

After learning about phases and gravity, we moved on to the moon’s surface.  Here, we used the information and links from The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Space.  We also searched You Tube for videos of moon landings, as well as the NASA Kids website.

I am also in the process of setting up some field trip.  Here are some potential things I’ve come across, some of which I had no idea existed until I started searching on the internet:

Local observatories.  Look at local museums, military bases, and universities. I found four in the surrounding metropolitan area where I live! I only knew about one. They all have specific dates where they are open after dark for optimal night sky viewing, as well as daytime, provided the weather is clear. We have several dates on our calendar to visit some observatories over the next few months.
Contact a local astronomy club. I googled our state and “astronomy club” and found there is one that is quite active, and they have an outreach volunteer who brings presentations to schools and other groups. I’m hoping to set something up and invite our homeschooled friends to join us. They even have access to parks and other rural land where viewing of the night sky is optimal with the high powered telescopes owned by their club.
Museum classes and tours. We have several museums in the area that have space exhibits, but what I didn’t know is that they will set up classes and tours for “school groups”.  Again, how easy would it be to set something up and invite our other homeschooled friends for a group class or tour?

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