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Simulated Moon Phases

Download Powerpoint file: Simulated Moon Phase Observations (Power Point, 177 KB).

The best way for students to learn about Moon phases is to first do Moon observations either by direct observation of the real Moon or observations of the Moon in a planetarium.

The GEMS Teacher Guide Earth, Moon, and Stars is premised on students making direct observations of the Moon and then modeling the Moon phase phenomenon in the classroom with a light bulb representing the Sun, each student's head representing Earth, and a white ball representing the Moon for each student. The GEMS Space Science Sequence also has this in Unit 4 about phases of the Moon and eclipses.

The Powerpoint file linked at the top of this page is a simulation for use when weather or other conditions preclude such direct observations. Project the simulation with a large screen display and have students stand in a large semicircle around the large screen display so that thay are all around the same distance from it.

For each slide, students

  • draw the shape of the Moon phase on a sheet of paper.
  • measure the separation between the Sun and Moon
    in "fingerwidths" at arms-length.
  • record that separation next to the Moon phase shape.

After about midway through the observations, at full Moon, students will no longer be able to see the Moon at sunset time and observations switch to sunrise time. It's important to realize that you can't see the entire cycle of phases at the same time of day through the month-long cycle.