Lunar Lollipops

An activity submitted by Hank Thoenes

Type of Lesson: Hands-on activity

Time Needed: 1 hour (or one class period with follow-up the next day)

Standards Addressed

MEGOSE ES4 - Describe, compare, and explain the motions of planets, moons, and comets in the solar system.
MEGOSE ES5 - Describe and explain common observations of the day and night skies.
MEGOSE ES8 Explain common observations of the day and night sky.

Quick Summary of Lesson

After completing this activity students should understand that the observed phase of the Moon is determined by the Moon's position relative to the Earth and Sun.


Light bulb (suspended from ceiling or on a stand)
Styrofoam balls 2-3 inches in diameter (1 per student)
Plenty of room for your students to rotate in!


1. Turn on the model sun and turn off the other lights in the room. Have your students stand. Tell them in this system the lamp is the sun and their head is the earth. Their nose is their hometown on the surface of the earth.

2. Ask your students to stand so that it is noon in their hometown. (Their nose should point toward the sun.) Have them turn (rotate) until it is midnight in their hometown. I have my students rotate in a counterclockwise direction to simulate the direction as seen from the North Pole. (Midnight is when they have their backs to the sun.) Students can also rotate to show dawn and dusk in their hometowns and get an idea why the sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west.

3. Hand out the lunar lollipops (moons) and tell your students that it should be held at arm's length away from their head. Demonstrate how the moon orbits the earth in a counterclockwise fashion (from right to left). As students watch their moon they will see that it will go through phases similar to those of the real moon.

4. Go through the 8 major phases of the moon with your students.
a. new moon - moon is between the sun and the earth and they see the shadowed side of the moon. A solar eclipse occurs in this phase when the moon blocks light from the sun from reaching a portion of the earth. Students can close one eye and simulate this event.
b. waxing crescent - rotating from a new moon toward a first quarter, backwards "c" shape will appear on the moon.
c. first quarter - right half of the side of the moon facing earth is lit. The right shoulder is point towards the sun.
d. waxing gibbous - rotating from a first quarter to a full moon.
e. full moon - earth is between the moon and the sun, the entire lit side of the moon is visible on earth, (students' backs are to the sun and moons are lifted up to be lit). A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the earth's shadow. Have your students simulate this event.
f. waning gibbous - rotating from a full moon to a last quarter, less and less of the moon is lit each night
g. last quarter - left half of the side of the moon facing the earth is lit, left shoulder is pointing to the sun.
h. waning crescent - rotating from a last quarter to a new moon, a "c" shape of light is seen on the left side of the moon.

5. Have your students repeat the phases on their own as you circulate through the room to correct any problems.

6. Evaluate the lesson by naming a moon phase and having your students rotate until they are in the correct phase. Jumble the phases to make it more of a challenge. Also include the two eclipses and the correct moon phases when they occur.

Notes to the Teacher

Before this lesson you'll need to do a little preparation. It is important to make sure the lights for the "suns" work. Also, either prepare the lunar lollipops by impaling the balls on a pencil, bamboo skewer or wood splint for a handle (or have students do this during lesson).

Need More Information? Try Using Windows to the Universe

Please use these links for further ideas or more information:
The Earth
Frequently asked questions about the Moon
Frequently asked questions about the Earth
The Moon
The Moon's orbit and rotation
Names of the phases of the Moon
The phases of the Moon

Last modified prior to September, 2000 by the Windows Team

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