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One month of casual moon watching just barely breaks the surface of questions that could be asked and discoveries to be uncovered. Our one month of moon watching in New England was further hampered by frequent cloudy skies that blocked moon sightings. Initially, most students resisted keeping the moon journals, because they felt that looking at the moon each night was a pointless exercise, having “learned” the moon phases in elementary school. These students are now juniors and seniors in high school.

The assignment called for students to, each day, record their sighting of the moon and shape a question about that sighting. Their drawings, observations, and questions were to be assembled in a small booklet, which could be purchased or made from a stack of file cards, with each day on a separate page. Each entry was required to include date, time, and an indication of altitude and direction. I provided the students with daily tide information, and several times over the month data was shared in class. Students who stuck with the assignment, particulary the “ask a question” portion of it, found it surprisingly interesting and gained new understandings. Here are a few of the questions they had:

  • What is the angle [degree of inclination] the moon is at tonight?
  • How fast does the moon rotate?
  • How many hours is the moon out each day?
  • How much of a change is there each day?
  • How can no moon be visible at all?
  • Why can’t you always see the moon?
  • How many craters are on the moon? How deep are they?
  • How high does the moon go in the sky?
  • Does the height the moon rises to change with the seasons?

Many students turned in work that was no more than hand-drawn phases of the entire month, as gleaned from an internet site.

At the end of one month, students were to write a full page analysis that demonstrated how their thinking proceeded during this work and comparing tide data with moon phase observations. Portions of their reflections include:

“While doing my moon journal out of school, I seemed to learn a lot. It rekindled the things I learned in elementary school, about the Moon’s waxing and waning phases. Following the moon phases was kind of cool. One thing I missed was the connection between the tides and the moon phases. We added tide heights to the moon journal entries we did at the very beginning, but I never found out the connection. I feel as though that is an important piece that I am missing. Overall, the Moon in the days we were assigned to view it changed a lot. I really got the feeling that the Earth and the Moon are orbiting in space, and stuff, because the moon was always a different height in the sky and was constantly changing phases. Hopefully we will be going over the whole tide stuff  because I am very interested in them.”

“Through this activity it has brought back memories of moon journals in younger grades and I hope to learn about these phases more during class.”

“When we started this project, I did not understand where we were going to go with it. As we started to observe the moon I found myself noticing things that I never would have seen before. I also never knew that the moon had so much to do with the ocean tides.”

“This assignment was ok. It got a little boring after a while because the moon would be the same shape every night. I did this assignment in Elementary and 8th grade as well so it wasn’t anything new. Asking a question every night got a little tough. It was hard thinking of moon questions that I didn’t already ask.”

“The information recorded in my moon journal included the time I saw the moon, the angle of the moon, and a drawing of how it looked. The journal shows its phases from waxing to full to waning. I thought this was very interesting. I also thought it was interesting the way the angle and time of observation were directly correlated.”

 Reading these reflections highlights the need for more work, both in and out of class. While we discussed our observations during the first two weeks, I thought I had lead them far enough that they could continue on their own, which does not seem to be the case. The students are also wanting me to explicitly answer their questions, rather than continuing on their own and discovering for themselves. This makes me unhappy because I wish for them to have ownership of their discoveries, rather than me sticking them with factoids. As I was collecting the journals, I asked the students “Did anyone notice that Jupiter was full last week?”, expecting questions about the idea that Jupiter could be “full”; not a single student commented.

The moon acts as a clock for the planet that drives the tides of the oceans, the great lakes, and other fluids. Most humans are too involved with other pursuits to notice the effects of the moon on the planet and their lives, but animals, such as fresh water fish and migrating birds, have not tuned it out.  What else does the moon affect? What if there were no moon?

My students will be asked to continue their journaling and their observations, and I am hoping they will make their own authentic discoveries.

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